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11 November 2016
Archaeological evidence at major risk in British wetlands

In the first study of its kind to assess how changing conditions affect the preservation of organic remains at wetland sites, scientists at the University of York analysed bone and wood artefacts collected from the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire, finding unexpectedly rapid levels of organic decay.
     Important previous research at Star Carr includes a Postglacial project examining a unique Mesolithic engraved pendant, and the uncovering of incredibly rare headdresses made out of red deer skulls, thought to have been used in shamanic practices.
     Although the very first excavations at Star Carr in the 1940's revealed excellent preservation of organic materials, excavations from 2006-2007 showed an alarming level of both bone and wood deterioration.
     Such rapid decay is thought to be the result of acidic conditions caused by fluctuations in water levels at the site resulting from changing climate and human activities such as land drainage, however lack of knowledge about the timescale of deterioration or rapidity has limited the strategies available to protect the archaeology.
     Researchers are now urging the archaeological community to prioritise excavations to retrieve valuable organic remains.
     Doctor Kirsty Penkman, Senior Lecturer in York's Department of Chemistry and co-author of the study, says: "As potential threats to wetlands such as pollution and changes in land use continue to occur on an unprecedented scale, it is increasingly likely that other waterlogged archaeological sites are at risk from similar processes to those seen at Star Carr.
     Doctor Kirsty High, Research Fellow in York's Department of Chemistry and lead author of the study, is set to continue research into the preservation of waterlogged archaeological remains, and to advise and transfer this new knowledge at other wetland sites across the UK and Europe.

Edited from PhysORG (31 October 2016)

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