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 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.
The first group of visitors arrive, escorted by Ron Cowell the site Director and Curator of Prehistory at the Museum of Liverpool. They see and hear about the site and have chance to handle artefacts. Having passed hazel trees on their walk out to the site, it is the burned discarded nut shells that seem to connect with people. One man even has a freshly-picked nut in his pocket to compare with the samples collected eight millennia ago.The group fall silent as they survey their surroundings and imagine the lives of people who depended on this landscape for their survival and who were intimately at one with nature.
“How many people lived here?”, “what were the houses made from?”, “could they stay all year round?”, “where did they get the stones to make their tools?”, “have you found animal bones?”, “what did the special stones left in the ground mean to them?”. In these surroundings archaeology comes alive.
Once all the questions are exhausted and our first visitors have left, we have chance for a short lunch break before the second group arrive. Black clouds are streaming towards us from the west bringing the prospect of rain – not something we want when the whole site is open and freshly cleaned. But the Day of Archaeology is turning out to be such a success that our spirits refuse to be dampened.
Our second group of visitors are equally entranced by the story of Lunt Meadows, despite the effects of the rain on the site. As the sand is splattered about, postholes and boundaries marked on the surface begin to disappear from view and even the intensity of the stone pits fades away. There is little point in excavating in these conditions and so we wet sieve our cleaning spoil instead.
At the end of the day, with the visitors heading back across the wetlands, we cover up the site and take a moment to reflect. The rain falls gently down on us, birds sing and sound alarm calls, the wind rustles through the reeds. Nearby, something moves through the undergrowth.
Do we, perhaps, have a glimpse of how this special place may have been for the people of the Mesolithic?