"It looked pretty normal at first": Young archaeologist recalls finding 11,000-year-old pendant at Star Carr

By Ben Miller | 17 March 2016

The archaeologist who found the possibly shamanic pendant at Star Carr last month initially thought it was an ordinary stone

© Suzy Harrison
The student osteoarchaeologist who dug up an 11,000-year-old prehistoric necklace at North Yorkshire’s Star Carr site last month has been in disbelief at his luck following a find which has drawn attention worldwide.

Tom Bell, a 21-year-old from Widnes who is now taking his Masters at the University of Sheffield, was studying at the University of Chester as a final year undergraduate when he volunteered at the Mesolithic heartland near Scarborough, where some of his favourite finds have been red deer stag headdresses from around 8500 BC.

“I discovered the pendant on the last few days of the excavation,” he says. “I was just working on taking back the last of the lake sediments when I noticed something that I originally thought was a smooth stone. It looked pretty normal at first if I'm honest.

“The mud covered the perforation and the decoration so I didn't know what it was until I picked it up and had a look. I noticed that it was perforated on one side. I thought it was one of the beads that had previously been found at Star Carr. Then when I turned it over I noticed that lines had been scratched into the surface of it.

“Like I say, at first I thought it was a stone so it was hard to be excited initially. I think once I realised it had decoration on it was more exciting. And it's much more exciting when you start to see how excited everyone else is. I'm super lucky to have been the one to find it.”

Even among the team of experts, conjecture surrounds the three-millimetre thick triangle, crafted from a single piece of shale and extremely rare in its engraved motif. Some people – including one respondent when Bell held an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit – think it could be the world’s first guitar pluck. Bell received plenty of interest during a press day with the Co-Director of the project, Dr Barry Taylor.

Bell and Dr Taylor show the pendant (or pluck) to the press© Suzy Harrison
“The site was originally on the edge of a lake, and Tom was excavating the deposits that formed in what would have been an area of swamp about 11,000 years ago,” says Dr Taylor.

“It’s very pleasing that it was one of our students who found this pendant – particularly as Tom has been volunteering on our excavations for a number of years.

“This is a joint project and it’s always great to see students finding things. Because this is something that a person wore, that had significance to them and to the people around them, it allows us to have a direct and tangible engagement with people from the past.

“Up to this point we’d found hunting equipment and the bones of animals that people had caught.”

The pendant is on public display at the Yorkshire Museum in York until May 5.


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums to see prehistoric treasures in

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough
Head here to see a selection of exhibits from Star Carr. Items on show include flint tools, animal bones and a stag frontlet which was used as a head-dress.

Torquay Museum
The museum is home to the second oldest anatomically modern human fossil in Europe, along with a large collection of stone tools and animal remains from the nearby Kents Cavern - one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe.

Museum of Islay Life, Argyll
A main collection of over 2,700 objects as diverse as stone implements used in the Mesolithic era, Victorian and Edwardian items from the Laird's house, farming implements
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