11,000-year-old pendant with etched design found in England

Shale artifact is one of Britain’s oldest known pieces of art

pendant

ENGRAVED SAVE  An etched design on an 11,000-year-old pendant discovered last year is one of the oldest examples of art in England. The pendant might have belonged to a shaman, researchers say.

Harry Robson

One of England’s oldest artworks turned up last year on a tiny piece of stone.

An engraved shale pendant unearthed at Star Carr, a site under excavation since 1947, dates to around 11,000 years ago, a time when Britons were transitioning from foragers to farmers, researchers report online February 25 in Internet Archaeology. The pendant, roughly the size and shape of a guitar pick, includes a carefully fashioned hole through which it may have been strung, say archaeologist Nicky Milner of the University of York and her colleagues.

Many of the pendant’s etched lines are now barely visible. Microscopic analyses determined that the engraved pattern — which includes clusters of short lines connected to long lines — resembles etched designs on amber pendants from around the same time and found in Denmark, southern Sweden and northern Germany.

Milner’s group doesn’t know who made or used the ancient pendant, or what meaning the etched pattern had for its makers. One possibility is that the pendant belonged to a shaman. Headdresses made of red deer antlers found in earlier Star Carr excavations may have been worn by shamans, Milner says.

Star Carr has also yielded shale beads, a piece of perforated amber and two perforated animal teeth. Those finds contain no engravings.

Animal engravings and carved reliefs on the walls and ceilings of several British caves date to at least around 13,000 years ago.

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