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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.

 

Mesolithic Man at Tatton 10,000BC - 5,000BC
by

Mark Olly

 

Untamed Forest
 
"For many centuries after Britain became an island the untamed forest was king. Its moist and mossy floor was hidden from heaven's eye by a close drawn curtain woven of innumerable tree tops, which shivered in the breezes of summer dawn and broke into wild music of millions upon millions of wakening birds; the concert was prolonged from bough to bough with scarcely a break for hundreds of miles over hill and plain and mountain, unheard by man save where, at rarest intervals, a troop of skin clad hunters, stone axe in hand, moved furtively over the ground beneath." From Trevelyan's 'History Of England Part 1'.
   
Sauveterre Culture
 
In our area and those surrounding the Pennine foothills it has been established through archaeological endeavour that the Stone Age 'Sauveterre Culture' (which takes its name from the distinctive settlement site at Perigord in France) reached the Mersey Valley between 7600 and 6800 years ago (5700 - 4900 BC). These very early settlers hunted in local forests which were comprised mainly of Oak with Wych Elm, English Lime and Hazel and completely surrounded the Mersey valley at that time. Like their Hoxnian forefathers they preferred to settle in sandy places by water during the summer as they had no permanent 'houses' (unless a cave was available nearby for convenient use). The winding, sandy curves of the Mersey with its fertile flood plains and wooded hillsides would have provided a perfect settlement area for these first Stone Age immigrants from France.
 
French Connection
 
It is worth noting that throughout the Bronze Age and Celtic periods, little or no distinction was made between Britain and France and the English Channel was regarded more as a 'big river' than as the sea. Although 'Sauveterre Man' is only known by his flints (most noticeably found locally at Alderly Edge and Frodsham Hill) it is likely that he was the ancient ancestor of the original Mersey Valley inhabitants found here during the later Bronze Age. All the areas of Bronze Age settlement from 3000 BC onwards had previously been areas of 'Mesolithic' occupation which also serves to demonstrate the earliest evidence for a connection between cultures existing in Ireland, The Isle Of Man, Anglesey, The Wirral and the Mersey Valley, which are all surrounded by the Irish Sea, sea travel being the obvious connection.
 
 
Mesolithic finds at Tatton
 

 
Tatton Mere and the site of the Mesolithic flint works on the left
 
The discovery of the Mesolithic flint works on Tatton Park began when a young boy, Thomas Sprott of Knutsford, found a small scattering of three flints on the eastern shore of Tatton Mere in August 1962. The site was duly noted and explored again as part of a renewed archaeological interest in Tatton by Dr. David Coombs and a team of field walkers in 1979 and another 30 flints were recovered. The site was then excavated in October and November 1982 under the watchful eye of Nick Higham and a concentration of flints were found at a depth of about 2 ft 4 ins to 3 ft (70 cm to 90 cm) with other flints in upper layers which had been washed off farmers fields higher up the bank (from Medieval times onwards). The shore sands of the Mere were also successfully sieved for flints. More excavations in June and July 1983 increased the area dug and established that the flints occupied one concentrated site in grey sand over the underlying red sandstone although no hearth or timber structures were found. It was concluded that this was a tool making site for a settlement still yet remaining to be found.
   
Cheshire's Prehistoric Highway
 
A staggering 900 flints were recovered in all, about 600 from the dig site and 300 from the mere edge, and these included microliths, scrapers, obliquely blunted points, flint cores, awls, a possible sandstone rubber, an axe sharpener and a saw. All were identified as typical of the early Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age period, probably between 10000 BC and 8000 BC, and the flint used was of southern English origin which accords well with the recent Hoxnian finds at Millington, Knutsford and Tatton also common in southern England. Further finds of Mesolithic flint tools have been made at Mere and Tatton by myself and other archaeologists engaged in field walking and a picture of a prehistoric 'highway' is beginning to emerge along the north Cheshire ridge which runs east from Warrington to Tatton where it turns south through Knutsford.
   

 
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: CELTIC WARRINGTON & OTHER MYSTERIES -
VOLUME TWO: EAST TO SOUTH. MARK OLLY. CHURNET VALLEY BOOKS,
43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

 
 
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