Lessons from Star Carr on the vulnerability of organic archaeological remains to environmental change

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Examples of wetland deposits can be found across the globe and are known for preserving organic archaeological and environmental remains that are vitally important to our understanding of past human–environment interactions. The Mesolithic site of Star Carr (Yorkshire, United Kingdom) represents one of the most influential archives of human response to the changing climate at the end of the last glacial in Northern Europe. A hallmark of the site since its discovery in 1948 has been the exceptional preservation of its organic remains. Disturbingly, recent excavations have suggested that the geochemistry of the site is no longer conducive to such remarkable survival of organic archaeological and environmental materials. Microcosm (laboratory-based) burial experiments have been undertaken, alongside analysis of artifacts excavated from the site, to assess the effect of these geochemical changes on the remaining archaeological material. By applying a suite of macroscopic and molecular analyses, we demonstrate that the geochemical changes at Star Carr are contributing to the inexorable and rapid loss of valuable archaeological and paleoenvironmental information. Our findings have global implications for other wetland sites, particularly archaeological sites preserved in situ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12957–12962
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number46
Early online date31 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2016

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© 2016 by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details


  • Analytical chemistry
  • Environmental change
  • Geochemistry
  • Organic artifacts
  • Wetland archaeology

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