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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.