After 23 years, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has reached the milestone of recording 1.5 million objects. To celebrate this immense achievement, this blog post will highlight some finds of note that have been recorded from Merseyside. As Merseyside is a relatively built-up area, it does not have the wealth of finds that neighboring counties have, such as Cheshire. Nevertheless, many interesting finds have been reported from Merseyside. These finds were recorded not only by Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), but volunteers, interns and students, without whom the PAS would not be the success it is today. Similarly, enormous gratitude is extended to the finders who offer their finds for recording, which by doing so, are adding immensely valuable information to the archaeological record of England and Wales.
Prehistory covers the periods prior to the Iron Age. To date only 37 prehistoric objects have been reported from Merseyside which include a mix of lithic implements and metallic objects, notably palstaves and casting waste.
A regionally significant find is the Neolithic polished axehead from the Wirral dating to c.3500-2100 BC (LVPL-882DAE). The axehead is made of porcellanite which is a rare stone that likely originates from a Neolithic quarry at the foot of Tievebulliagh Mountain in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. This presents interesting insight into Neolithic trade routes and patterns. A hoard of similar axes, known as the Malone Hoard, are on display in the Ulster Museum, Belfast. The Wirral axehead is in the Museum of Liverpool’s collection and is also on display.
An interesting Bronze Age object is a palstave from Sefton, dating to the middle Bronze Age c.1500-1300 BC (LVPL-CD9D36). Palstaves are one of the more common Bronze Age objects reported to the PAS but the irregular form of the Sefton example is particularly interesting. The uneven septum suggests it may have been a ‘practice’ piece and was cast by an inexperienced individual still learning the techniques. However, it could simply be a miscast piece.
There are very few objects dated to the Iron Age that have been reported, with only five identified to date. These objects are two beads and one finger-ring which are only tentatively dated to the Iron Age, as well two coins.
One of the beads is this blue glass example from St. Helens, dating to c. 300 BC – AD 700 (LVPL-9494B3). The bead has been identified as a Guido Group 6 IVb and is comparable to an example found at Wilderspool, Warrington (Guido 1978, 155ff). Glass beads found outside of an archaeological context are difficult to securely date and examples such as this one, are often given broader date ranges to include the Early Medieval period.
The second bead is a copper alloy example from Knowsley, dating to c. 800 BC – AD 100 (LVPL-C006C5). The dating of this bead is also problematic with no direct parallels. The form of its shape is similar to bone and shale examples, which in combination with the patina and casting suggest it has an Iron Age date.
There is a greater number of Roman finds from Merseyside in comparison to the previously discussed periods. As with other local areas, such as Cheshire, the most commonly recorded single objects are coins, followed by brooches. The highest concentration of Roman finds from Merseyside comes from the Wirral, no doubt attesting to its near proximity to Chester and Wales.
From Sefton is an example of a Wirral brooch dating to c.AD 100-200 (LVPL-BFF3DB). Wirral brooches are thought to derive from the trumpet brooch and are characterised by the rows of enamelled cells on the bow. They are named as such because the first known example of this type was found from the Wirral. Although other examples have been discovered in other northern areas of England and the Midlands, it has become increasingly apparent that the Wirral is where the main, if not only, production site was based for these brooches (Philpott 1999: 275).
The second find of note is the mostly complete vessel from the Wirral dating to c.AD 43-410 (LVPL-3A24F6). This vessel was found during a beach comb on one of the Wirral beaches. Vessels are uncommon additions to the PAS database and are rarely found in such a complete condition. The finder of the vessel kindly donated it to the Museum of Liverpool.
Early Medieval finds from Merseyside are especially rare, with only six objects reported to the PAS to date. These include two spindle whorls, one strap end, one stirrup mount, one pin and one coin.
The first find of note is the disc headed pin from Sefton dating to c.AD 750-850 (LVPL-A6C291). This is one of three examples of disc headed pins from the North West of England and is the only example with a ring and dot motif and the shaft still surviving.
A second interesting find is the incomplete strap end from Sefton dating to c.AD 800-900 (LVPL-1E4442). The strap end is a Williams Class A of an uncertain type. Strap ends are the third most recorded type of Early Medieval object on the PAS database across England and Wales and is the second most common in the North West of England with 50 recorded to date.
The Medieval period sees an increase in the number of finds and coins are now the most commonly recorded single find, followed by spindle whorls and dress accessories. As seen with previous periods, finds from Merseyside remain low, especially in comparison to other local areas such as Cheshire. This is largely due to the nature of the Merseyside landscape, which is now heavily built on.
A thoroughly significant find from St. Helens is presented through a gold half-noble of Henry IV (r. AD 1399-1413) dated to AD 1412-1413 (LVPL-004154). This is an extremely rare find and to date is the only gold half-noble of Henry IV recorded on the PAS database and there are over 77,000 medieval coins on the database. This coin is of particular interest because it has no annulet next to the trefoil on the side of the ship which suggests it to be a variant type. Rare coin finds such as this one, can have the potential to present a new die type that was previously unknown, allowing us to gain a bigger corpus of the different die varieties.
The second find of note is a lead ampulla from the Wirral dating to c.AD 1350-1550 (LVPL-076916). The ampulla has scallop-shaped body and bears a crowned ‘W’ which is tentatively associated with the cult of Our Lady of Walsingham. Ampullae were pilgrim’s souvenirs that contained holy water and are thought to have been worn around an individual’s neck (Spencer 1990). Out of the 148 Medieval finds reported from Merseyside, four of these are ampullae.
As with the Medieval period, coins are the most common single finds during the Post Medieval period. This is followed by dress accessories, such as buckles and buttons, and then lead shot.
A find especially significant to the archaeology of Merseyside is a ceramic tyg (vessel) from Rainford, St. Helens dated to c.AD 1600-1700 (LVPL-5D58CD). The tyg was discovered in someone’s back garden and brought to the Museum of Liverpool for more information. This sparked the founding of a new project, Rainford’s Roots, a community excavation to explore the Post Medieval pottery and clay pipe manufacturing industries in the area. The tyg was donated to the Museum of Liverpool and is part of the museum’s collection on Rainford.
The final object of note is a mount from Sefton dating to c.AD 1600-1900 (LVPL-DFBC26). The mount depicts an eagle and child, with the child swaddled in the basket below, and the remains of the eagle above, now only represented by its claws. The mount is thought to represent part of the ‘eagle and child’ badge used by the Stanley family, Earls of Derby, who held land in the area. This makes this object particularly interesting as it has a direct link to local history. The mount was kindly donated to Chethams Library, Manchester.
This blog post has highlighted some of the interesting objects from the Merseyside area to celebrate reaching 1.5 million finds recorded on the PAS database. Similar blog posts have been published for finds from Cheshire, see: https://finds.org.uk/counties/cheshire/blog/, but there’s plenty more on the database so why not have a look yourself and see what’s been discovered in your local area. Who knows what the next 1.5 million finds will bring us from Merseyside.
Guido, M. (1978), The Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman Periods in Britain and Ireland, London: Thames and Hudson.
Philpott, R. (1999) ‘A Romano-British Brooch Type from North-Western and Northern England’. Britannia, 30, 274-286.
Spencer, B. (1990), Salisbury Museum Medieval Catalogue: Part 2, Pilgrim souvenirs and secular badges, Salisbury: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.