Tonight’s lecture took us back 9000 years to the era of the Mesolithic hunter gatherers, at a site in South-West Lancashire, near the River Alt.
Ron Cowell began by putting the site into context. It is one of many in Lancashire stretching from the coast to the Pennines. These people lived a highly mobile life, exploiting different habitats on a seasonal basis, camping at each place for maybe a couple of months, but returning again the next year. This life style lasted about 5000 years.
The actual site was excavated prior to flood protection works along the River Alt, following a 1990s wetland survey which had shown it to be of potential archaeological interest. The Mesolithic surface lies a metre below the present surface, so it has been completely protected from recent agricultural interference. 9000 years ago, the surface consisted of fine, wind-blown glacial sand, well drained and lightly wooded. However, sea-levels were still rising and so was the water-table. Since the Mesolithic, the area has been subject to both marine and freshwater flooding. depositing layers of clay and peat.
So what was found? There were many small post holes forming rough circles, suggesting that people lived in flimsy, teepee-like structures, which were rebuilt many times. Perhaps one or two families would camp here at any one time, not large groups. Roasted hazel-nut shells were recovered: these are common on Mesolithic sites and seem to have been an important source of winter food, suggesting the site was occupied in late Summer/early Autumn. No bones were found – the soil is too acid – but this lightly wooded environment would have been good for hunting red deer, which was probably the main source of meat. Many stone tools were found, mainly tiny microliths, used as blades and arrow or spear points: there were also larger stone tools, burins and scrapers. The stone used was both local flint from glacially-transported Irish Sea pebbles, but also chert probably from the Clitheroe area, or perhaps from North Wales. This indicates either long-distance travel, or more likely a trading/exchange network. There were also larger pebbles or rocks with flattened surfaces, the purpose of which is not known.
Most interestingly, the excavators found two large round pieces of a granite-like rock with crystalline specks making the rock sparkle. They appear to have been deliberately placed in association with small flints, possibly with some spiritual or symbolic significance.
Around 7300 years ago, the site flooded and was abandoned. Today, the Lunt Meadows site is still being excavated. It is now a Merseyside Wildlife Trust nature reserve. and is open to the public, with an explanatory display. A site plan can be downloaded from the Liverpool Museums website.
All in all, a fascinating talk, taking us back to a remote time and a very different way of life
Text by Mavis Shannon
Ron Cowell of National Museums, Liverpool
Photo of excavation at Lunt Meadows taken from the Liverpool Museums website
Posted by Wendy Ferneyhough