The recent unveiling of the road signs around the township of Greasby, championed by local retired architect Rod Hutchinson, provided the opportunity to bring full circle archaeological work started more than 30 years ago.  The prehistoric site at Greasby, investigated by the Museum of Liverpool between 1987 and 1990, has the museum site code number 01, essentially the first excavated site in our quest to expand the sparse understanding of the prehistoric settlement of the local area after the setting up of the archaeological department in the early 1980s. 

It was soon recognised that the site, lying in farmland near the Arrowe Brook, had been well chosen, as it produced a range of prehistoric evidence of a kind that has not been repeated in the region until the last few years.  The excavations at Greasby revealed a hearth or fire-place set in a tree hollow with other surrounding hollows used for occupation.  About.12500 stone tools, the raw material for which very likely came from north Wales, were recovered alongside, crucially, burnt hazelnut shells, the remains of some of the earliest meals eaten in the region.

A core element of the prehistoric display in the Timeline display in the Museum of Liverpool, opened in 2011, was subsequently dedicated to the Greasby site where it is exhibited as the region’s earliest settlement, with a date of 8000 BC. This date was based on the style of the stone tools from the site.   However, dating using this method can involve wide ranges, generally covering a thousand years or more, which can allow alternative interpretations of a site.

More precise dates can be obtained through radiocarbon dating of organic remains, although these are very expensive.   Because the site was investigated in the early years of the archaeological service, funding to allow the proper study of the remains has always been scarce.   But with the help of recent fund-raising initiatives by the Friends of Greasby Library and support from the Museum, alongside the impetus afforded by the need for accurate wording on the Greasby road signs, the burnt hazelnuts from the site were used to acquire three radiocarbon dates.

These all show that people were living here even earlier than presumed from the stone tools: in fact, sometime between 8300 BC and 8500 BC. The relative precision of the carbon dates now allows us to appreciate the significance of the site much better.   This is now the earliest, best dated site in the western part of Britain.  The dates allow us to say with some confidence that these were some of the first pioneer hunter-gatherer people to move into the west after the end of the last ice age when Britain was still joined to the continent.   They were part of a second wave of early population expansion from southern or perhaps eastern Britain, into what must have been a landscape of untouched woodland on Wirral with a coastline much further to the north than today.  

Next to the radiocarbon-dated site there is in fact another settlement belonging to hunter-gatherer descendants of these first groups. This one though does not have the possibility for carbon dating and so can only be dated from the style of the stone tools to sometime between 7700-4000 BC. 

Ron Cowell                                      
Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology 
Museum of Liverpool                       

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