It looks like a prehistoric campsite. But it’s actually an outdoor laboratory.

And survival supremo Ray Mears will open the pioneering YEAR Centre (York Experimental Archaeological Research) this week.

Located in a wooded area near the University of York’s lake, the centre was created to look like a prehistoric campsite.


The idea is that students and researchers could experience first-hand what it would have been like to craft objects, such as bows and arrows, ritual headdresses, and cook with traditional methods and pots, using the natural materials available to our human ancestors.

The YEAR Centre is unique in the UK and one of only a small number of on-campus university outdoor experimental centres in the world.

Bushcraft authority

The YEAR centre. Photograph: University of York
Ray Mears is known as an authority on the subject of bushcraft and survival and presenting several popular television series, including World of Survival, Real Heroes and Wild Britain.

Ray, who will also be receiving an honorary degree from the university this week, will open the centre on Friday (19 July).

He will join the team in the making and using of a replica bow found at the internationally renowned Mesolithic site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire. Over the past few years he has advised the Star Carr project team on aspects of bushcraft related to the Mesolithic period.


Dr Aimee Little, director of the YEAR Centre, said:

  • We have found that this type of outdoor working, which encourages experiential learning, not only improves our knowledge of how past societies used to live, but also has a really positive impact on the way in which students engage with each other and the curriculum which is helping them progress their research into future careers.

Artefacts that have been recreated at the YEAR Centre include a Neolithic antler pick from Melton, Yorkshire, which were found in large quantities at Stonehenge, and thought to have been used for digging ditches or pits, and quarrying.

Students were given the challenge of working with curators and educators from York Archaeological Trust in order to better understand the manufacture and function of the artefact using experimental archaeology approaches in the outdoor lab.

Other work includes a significant breakthrough in how hunter-gatherers made iconic headdresses 11,000 years ago.