Mesolithic

Lunt Meadows Mesolithic Settlement, Merseyside: A Site for Sore Eyes

Over the last four years I, and a faithful band of volunteers,  have been excavating a rare kind of Mesolithic site at Lunt, Sefton a few miles north of Liverpool, on behalf of the Museum of Liverpool. This dates to about 8000 years ago, in the Mesolithic period, when groups of hunter-gatherers lived in the flood-plain of the River Alt leaving behind relatively well-preserved traces of a series of building floors dotted with pits in two defined, adjacent areas.

Information board next to the excavations

My day of archaeology though has been less concerned with investigating the intrinsic importance of the archaeology than with another important facet of the site, as it passed an important milestone in its development this week when it was officially opened for public viewing while the excavations continue.

Open Day

The Open Day was organised through the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside which now manages this part of the valley, after being farmland for the last thousand or more years. It was during the Trust’s creation of a wetland nature reserve here that, along with several other deeply buried Mesolithic sites, the Lunt Meadows settlement was discovered in 2012.

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of viewing platform

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of the viewing platform

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

The Open Day attracted over 500 people many of whom were given tours of the site and learned about hunter-gatherers and the local Mesolithic landscape.

It is hoped that as the site becomes better known more visitors will seek it out. Once the excavations are finished the ground essentially will be left open and the vegetation managed, and possibly there may be reconstructions of some of the buildings on the excavated site.

 

Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral.....

Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral …..

... who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

… who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

For me, such visits will be made worthwhile by its location. The site lies in the floodplain and formerly lay on a slight rise of sand which had been buried by later wetland sediments after the settlement was abandoned. Choosing this location was a deliberate strategy by the hunter-gather population of this area. Previous archaeological survey has shown that there is very little evidence for sites of this period away from the floodplain throughout the valley.

It is hoped that visitors will be able to gain a deeper appreciation of this ancient connection through seeing at first-hand the (re-)integration of a prehistoric wetland settlement into a modern day version of its former setting that has been made possible by the kind co-operation, support and help of the Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, who cannot be thanked enough.

landscape and site2

In turn, it is hoped that visitors looking primarily to visit a wild place on the fringes of Liverpool for its modern amenity value of peace, greenery and wildlife will be inspired to see the landscape in a multi-dimensional way when encountering this special, long-lost place nestling into what looks something like its former ancient wild landscape.

Snapshot 1 (05-08-2016 16-20)

It is this integration that many of the volunteers who excavate on the site tune into: the subtle changing sounds and sights of the natural world giving partially glimpsed reflections of a former world which is pulled into more focus through the immediacy of working from day to day on the ancient surface, or through lifting from where they had been dropped, placed or thrown the stone artefacts that once helped sustain the people who lived in this environment.

And soon, as the days shorten the relative quiet of summer will be broken by the noise and sights of the incessant flocks of migrating wildfowl who will make their home in the wetland this winter bringing another year’s excavation full circle and we witness the latest modern installment in a seemingly timeless, long-interrupted cycle of life in the wild in the flooded wetland.

Snapshot 4 (05-08-2016 16-30)

 

Sieving the Mesolithic

The rain was mercifully holding off and the mid morning breeze had all but blown itself away as I crouched at the edge of a sand lined pool in the rough corner of a reed-thick, marshy field and slowly lifted the tarnished metal object like some venerated long lost relic, dripping from the shallow water. A swallow dipped silently, swiftly low to my right and was gone.

The on-site sieving pool.

The on-site sieving pool.

As a complete and utter novice when it comes to archaeology, I’d been thrilled to be offered an opportunity recently to be a volunteer for a day on the mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows, Sefton, near Liverpool. Fortunately, my enquiry to participate in the dig had neatly coincided with the run up to the Day of Archaeology. It was Friday 29th July 2016 and I was actually, finally, having a close encounter with prehistory.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

The site was identified beneath low-lying farm land close to the river Alt in 2012, by the Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, Ron Cowell. During his team’s four-year long dig some intriguing finds have been unearthed, perhaps most notably and mysteriously a shiny yellow stone consisting of iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

What the meticulous excavation process at Lunt Meadows is gradually revealing includes datable evidence within and around the surface of a number of curved walls, shallow pits, tree roots and what appear to be traces of several post holes.

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

These findings appear to suggest that nomadic hunter-gatherers of 8,000 years ago could have created simple structures there, in the form of semi-permanent dwellings. It is thought that generations of family groups may have inhabited the North West England site seasonally and that individual occupations were intermittent.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

By late morning I’d been shown how to correctly sieve a bag of Shirdley Hill sand. Once all the finer particles had passed through the sieve’s one millimetre mesh, I was able to confidently identify, separate and quantify what remained from each sample. The three and four litre bags of grimy-looking sand, troweled systematically from various levels and locations on the site, might contain material of real significance. The analysis of the sand’s contents could indicate what might have taken place there around 6,000 BC.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

What I could see as I scrutinised the ancient evidence trapped in the seive, were the tell-tale small chunks of charcoal, along with a few unmistakable fragments of blackened hazelnut shells, both of which were evidence of burning. These were intermixed with small clumps and threads of the brown fibrous material I’d been told to expect.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

However, what delighted me was the presence of the elegant, tangible thing that had first caught my eye. I’d pretended to ignore it as I clumsily separated the ancient spoils. But there it was, a small flint flake, stark and glistening in the sieve, like a tiny shark’s fin. Even though this lithic was only a byproduct of probable tool making, it was nevertheless an indicative link to human prehistory and represented a rare encounter for me.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Having done the best I could to divide and estimate the proportions of fibrous and burnt material from my sieving, I consigned them together into small bags on which I’d written the original sand sample numbers and the rest of the relevant data. The extracted ‘lithics’, in the form of my flint shark’s fin and another smaller dark flake, went into a separate bag which then re-joined the sample material.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

I spent what remaind of my Day of Archaeology sieving, bagging and recording the data relating to the sand samples. Towards the early evening, as I gazed across the Nature Reserve to the skyline, I began wondering whether there may be other opportunities for a novice like me to continue learning, while helping in some small way to unlock the secrets of prehistory.

And the moorhens called to each other and a reed bunting sang.

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.

(more…)

Into the Bronze Age, commercial excavations at Llanfaethlu Anglesey

Since 2014 C.R Archaeology have been the principle archaeologist at the new school development at Llanfaethlu Anglesey on behalf of Anglesey council. A desk based assessment, geophysics and trenching uncovered a large amount of late #Neolithic pit and a possibly #Neolithic house. Further evaluation in 2015 led to the discovery of three #Neolithic houses,the largest Neolithic settlement in Wales.

As of June 2016 C.R Archaeology have been carrying out a watching brief on behalf the construction company. To the south of the #Neolithic settlement this watching brief uncovered a large group of early #Bronzeage pits and a classic #Bronzeage feature in #Wales a Burnt mound.

A break in construction this week has given the opportunity to start processing the large amount of pottery and stone artifacts.

8000 Year-old Hazelnuts in a Prehistoric Landscape

The outskirts of Liverpool may not be the first place that springs to mind for a phenomenological exploration of prehistory – but Lunt Meadows in Sefton offers just such an opportunity. On Friday 24th July visitors had the chance to walk out across a wetland landscape little different to almost 8,000 years ago, when groups of people lived here in some of the first houses ever built in Britain.

The site, on a sandy island nestled into a bend of the River Alt

The open landscape at Lunt Meadows is a haven for wildlife and archaeology

The site cleaned and ready for visitors

The site cleaned and ready for visitors

The day begins with a small team of archaeologists opening up and cleaning the site, revealing a fresh surface of damp sand with subtle signs of long-past occupation. The outlines of three houses can be seen, together with pits, stone tools and debris, burnt hazelnut shells, preserved reeds and carefully arranged groupings of pebbles, including iron pyrites or fool’s gold – striking to modern eyes when sparkling in the sunlight, but even more so to people who had never seem a metallic object. (more…)