Digging Up the Past: Liverpool. (Frontline).(history of Meols Sea port)(Brief Article)

Article excerpt

SCHOLARS are rediscovering Liverpool's earliest predecessor as north-west England's leading commercial sea port. The research is revealing how the port -- just six miles west of the city -- came into existence two and half millennia ago.

A two-year study of finds from the site is now indicating that this first Liverpool had wide-ranging international links and flourished for almost 2,000 years, from the Iron Age to the high Middle Ages.

The port -- known today as Meols -- declined until it ceased to exist and the site became submerged beneath sand dunes in the sixteenth century.

In order to rediscover the significance of the lost port and to reconstruct its history, archaeologists from Oxford University, Liverpool Museum and the Museum of London have studied around 3,200 archaeological finds discovered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stored in museums in Liverpool, Chester, Birkenhead, Warrington and London, the long-ignored artefacts are now revealing how Meols had direct or indirect trade contact with north Africa, southern Europe and even the Middle East in the Iron Age, and the Byzantine Empire and Egypt in the Dark Ages.

The range of coins discovered at the site has shown that Iron Age merchants at Meols were being paid in Carthaginian, Armenian, continental Celtic and Roman currency.

Meanwhile, Roman evidence suggests that the port was used for commercial, military, industrial and religious activities. 120 Roman coins and substantial numbers of brooches, bracelets and earrings suggest the commercial role, while fragments of Roman armour, weaponry and other equipment prove a military presence. Roman bronze metal-working debris hints potentially at the port's ancient industrial role, while the discovery of tiny bronze models of axes and hammers point to a religious aspect -- probably the existence of a shrine or temple.

Dark Age finds testify to the continuing importance of the port in the sixth to eighth centuries AD. Three Byzantine coins, two minted in Constantinople, the third in Carthage and a Christian holy water flask from Egypt show how international Dark Age Meols' connections must have been. …