In what may resemble the beginning of a plot line from "Indiana Jones" or "Tomb Raider," a mysterious stone pendant has been found in an 11,000-year-old excavation site in the United Kingdom. Uncovered by a research team from the Universities of York, Manchester and Chester, the purpose of its engravings remain unknown – leading to some pretty interesting speculation.
As reported in the study, published in the journal Internet Archaeology, this pendant was crafted from a single piece of shale and dates back to the Mesolithic – the middle of the Stone Age. At the time, humanity had managed to craft a variety of stone tools, including a range of blades used for construction, art, hunting and even gruesome warfare.
Several plain ornaments have been found at this site before, including one crafted from a piece of amber and others made from several animal teeth. However, this engraved ornament – just 31 by 35 millimeters – is the first of its kind, the earliest known piece of Mesolithic art in the country.
When it was first retrieved at the site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire, some of the intricate scratchings could not be easily seen. Using a range of digital microscopy techniques to highlight the faintest scratches, a series of high-resolution images were produced, allowing the researchers to try and decipher the pendant’s marks. Numerous speculations have so far been thrown around, with suggestions that it could be a map, a code, or even just an artistic series of engravings.
There is also a possibility that the pendant belonged to a shaman – a person thought to have access to a world of both benevolent and malevolent spirits. “Headdresses made out of red deer antlers found nearby in earlier excavations are thought to have been worn by shamans,” said Professor Nicky Milner, the lead author of the research and a professor at the University of York, in a statement.
The Star Carr engraved pendant. Harry Robson.
“We can only guess what the engravings mean but engraved amber pendants found in Denmark have been interpreted as amulets used for spiritual personal protection,” she added. Intriguingly, this seems to suggest that there may have been a close cultural connection between Britain and Scandinavia during the Mesolithic.
The sea level back then was far lower than it is today, and the North Sea was somewhat crossable as a land bridge. Different cultures may have met in this way, taking their cultural practices – including pendant making – with them.
Artwork is sparsely distributed throughout the archaeological record of the British Mesolithic, although identifying its purpose is often fraught with difficulty. Recently, archaeologists found an engraved tablet from the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago.
Although it seems the tablet had no functional purpose and was likely used as art, the specific meanings of the scratchings has eluded the discoverers. Similarly, this new pendant’s purpose will probably never be truly revealed, leaving it a tantalizing mystery for the ages.