Following our recent excavation at Calderstones Park in partnership with the Reader Organisation, the Museum of Liverpool archaeology team have been working with volunteers on the post excavation analysis of the finds.
Archaeologists find old rubbish on excavations, things people have used and then thrown away or lost. This material helps provide us with the evidence to interpret the lives of our ancestors.
“It is from the discards of former civilizations that archaeologists have reconstructed most of what we know about the past” (Rathje and Murphy 2001).
Most excavations would look for evidence of the distant past, but the excavations at Calderstones Park during 2015 revealed no significant archaeological features. Whilst being disappointing in terms of learning more about the landscape of the prehistoric period, when the Calderstones themselves were in active use as part of a burial chamber, the excavations have revealed much about our very recent past.
It is rare for British archaeologists to examine modern material in detail, however a lot of work has been carried out in the United States. One such project excavated through modern landfill sites to assess the nature of the ‘rubbish’ people are throwing away today and to advise on new recycling policies. The project leader noted that
"no society on earth has ever discarded such rich refuse, much of it packaging which identified the contents it once held by date, brand, type, cost, quantity, ingredients, nutrient content, and more"(William Rathje 1996).
As a result the examination of such modern materials can provide us with a much more detailed picture and provide a social history aspect to an archaeological project.
The presence of coins within a site can be one of the most useful elements in helping to date both the archaeological features and the other finds .
Whilst modern coins have the date they were minted stamped onto the coin itself this was not always the case in the past. The type, style, metal and decoration changed frequently, largely depending on the reigning King/Queen, Emperor etc. The portrait is often a telling factor, being changed throughout a longer reign to reflect the physical changes of the person represented as they age. The image on the reverse of coins also change regularly, helping with dating them or identifying the person who minted them, such as a Roman emperor whose name may not be clear.
The oldest coin recovered at Calderstones was a ‘One Penny’ coin, dated 1899. It is from the reign of Queen Victoria and carries the ‘Victoria Old Head issue’, which was used between 1885 and 1901 and is recorded in the Spink coin catalogue as being "generally extremely rare for all denominations"(Skingley 2009, 457 - no 3961). The coin survives in poor condition.
A 1968 10p coin was found. This was of the larger type first introduced in 1968, three years before the introduction of decimal coinage in 1971 (Skingley 2009, 493). It was produced to replace the old Florin, a two shilling coin, although the old coin continued to be used alongside the new 10p coin until 1993. Following the introduction of the smaller version of the 10p coin in September 1992 the larger coin was also demonetised in 1993.
Further dating evidence can be gleaned from the coins by examining the images shown on the two faces. The coin uses the second form of the Queen Elizabeth II portrait, which was first changed in 1968 with the introduction of the new decimal coinage. The reverse image remained constant from 1968 until 2008.
Three 2p coins were found, dating from between 1971 and 1987. The 2p coin was one of three new coins introduced into general circulation on 15 February 1971 when the United Kingdom adopted the new decimal currency system. To avoid confusion between the old and new coinage all three coins had the words 'NEW PENCE' incorporated into the reverse design, which is present on two of our coins, dated 1971 and 1976. This was replaced with the ‘TWO PENCE’ in 1982.
A selection of finds will go on display in the Museum of Liverpool's History Detectives gallery in autumn.
Rathje, W and Murphy, C. 2001. Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage. The University of Arizona Press.
Rathje, W.L. 1996. 'The Archaeology of us' in Ciegelski, C. (ed) 1996. Encyclopaedia Britannica's Yearbook of Science and the Future - 1997. Encyclopaedia Britannica. New York. pp 158-177.
Skingley, P. 2009. Coins of England and the United Kingdom. Spink. London.