Mesolithic Seal Hunters On a Hilltop Near You

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Today I joined my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell for a day of digging on an Early Mesolithic seal hunting station in the landlocked former archipelago of Tyresta. The Urskogsstigen 4 site is currently on a wooded hilltop at about 77 meters above sea level, and thus likely to date from about 8000 cal BC, shortly after deglaciation. It's not in the area denuded by the 1999 forest fore. What's really striking about this particular site (Mattias & Roger have found hundreds) is that it's very early, it has enormous amounts of quartz débitage and it has a tent-sized cleared area surrounded by large boulders (similar to the one that blew Mattias's mind last summer).

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I found a lot of unusually finely knapped quartz -- bipolar cores and blade-like things, thin, semi-translucent -- and Roger picked up a really nice little hammer stone with unmistakable use wear. It's probably the oldest one collected in the entire county. The guys already have a piece of hazelnut shell for dating. Pretty amazing to find all this insanely old material in a tract of completely nondescript woodland just like I've been hiking in since I was a kid.

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We heard cuckoos and ravens calling as we worked, and toward the end of the day, the jingle of a distant ice-cream truck. All the while, a few hundred meters downhill a small television crew was shooting a kiddie TV program about a cartoonish Stone Age where people were grimy and wore chicken bones in their hair.

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Did you walk over to the TV team and show them what real stone age stuff looked like?

I'm amazed by how you keep finding meaning in stuff that I would have disregarded as just another piece of rock, probably...

Hans, we limited ourselves to sniffing the lead actress and grunting amicably & meaningfully.

Quartz is difficult, but these are particularly nice bits that couldn't have been produced by anything other than knapping.

Micke, I got you and Fredrik Molin mixed up and told him (via Roger) that I had re-directed the Bob Lind article in Wikipedia to his name.

He seemed unperturbed by the suggestion that he and Bob Lind might be the same person. "All publicity is good publicity", was his response.

And I just heard from Micke that he is busy excavating even better Stone Age seal killers: Pitted Ware culture. Honestly, settling for quartz when you can have lovely, lovely pottery sherds...I've always said Roger was dropped on his head as a baby. ;-)

BTW Martin. Any info on which channel this kiddie show was meant for and when we can look forward to seeing it?

Pitted Ware is very good. For instance, this culture produced the finest mortuary house in all of Sweden, excavated by yours truly and Claes Hadevik at Bollbacken back in 1993. It was very fine. I hear that the guy who excavated some simpler version of our splendid mortuary house in Turinge parish around the same time envies us greatly and wishes that his feature had been just like ours.

As for the TV show, I'm sorry, I forgot to ask. All I can tell you is that Katarina Cohen looks pretty good with chicken bones in her hair.

Pretty amazing to find all this insanely old material in a tract of completely nondescript woodland just like I've been hiking in since I was a kid.

The artifacts that I collected as a child were not nearly as old as these, but I actually have found a lot of stone tools in the woods I walked as a child, mostly when I was a child. The area I grew up was a central gathering place for the Creek nation. So it is really pretty common to find stone artifacts there, mostly arrow heads. An archaeologist explained that this is not because there aren't a host of other stone tools around, but because people don't recognize them for what they were.

Apparently though, the oldest of these are all less than two thousand years old. They still make me giddy though, in spite of their relatively young age. It's rather like my love of old books, I get very giddy contemplating the hands that touched them, the people who read them. Imagining the lives of people who made and used these stone tools is even more exciting at times.

It is a wonderful feeling! And stone tools are particularly good: given reasonable preservation conditions, they're identical to what their makers and users saw all those thousands of years ago. That is otherwise only really true for gold objects.