MILLENNIA before Liverpool was given its name – never mind the charter that would allow it to grow into a great port or the Capital of Culture title that would secure its future – its people scratched markings on to boulders and shaped them into a great tomb.
Whole eras came and went, yet the Calderstones remained standing, one of the few consistencies between descriptions of the area from as early as the 16th century and today.
These days they are kept, for safety, in a glasshouse in Calderstones Park, not far from where their neolithic owners had first placed them.
After centuries of speculation, National Museums Liverpool (NML) and the Merseyside Archaeological Society have joined forces in a book about the stones’ origin.
Dave Roberts, 55, a member of the society, explains: “It is a reprint of one that NML’s curator of prehistoric archaeology, Ron Cowell, wrote in 1984. When the archaeological society got a grant for a project on Calderstones Park recently, we decided to bring the book up to date.”
The stones are all that remain of a 5,000-year-old Neolithic burial tomb that was destroyed in the 19th century.
“We had two archaeological professors, George Nash and Adam Stanford, who did a new survey of the Calderstones with digital cameras, and we used the photos in place of the book’s original line drawings,” says Dave.
The Calderstones: a Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool investigates how the stones came into existence using tombs from Ireland and Wales as evidence of their purpose. It also includes an analysis of the patterns and carvings engraved on them.
“The markings are based on spirals and circles and the place you’d normally find these are on burial chambers. These are mostly in Ireland and they show some kind of link between the Irish Sea and the Mersey,” explains Ron Cowell, 58.
“As for the markings themselves, everyone has an opinion. They are something to do with rituals, ceremonies and beliefs carried out around the ceremonial monument.”
Although the more common markings on the Calderstones are spirals, there is also evidence of footprints and single and multiple lines. Footprints have also been found on stones and tombs as far away as Scandinavia.
As far as the new survey was concerned, a lot of the information uncovered was common knowledge to the archaeological team.
The surviving stones were set into the ground in the Harthill greenhouses at Calderstones Park in 1964, where they are laid out in a circle, but Ron is quick to warn people that the way they currently stand is no reflection of their history.
“People think they actually make up a stone circle, but they don’t. These stones have different purposes, and a stone circle is a much different kind of monument,” he says.
The exact history, as much as knowledge and records will allow, gives an insight into why these stones are so important to the city.
“Only a few people were ever allowed in the tomb at one time,” Ron continues. “They mediated between the body and the crowd outside. It was so dark inside that they needed lamps and torches.”
This was something the archaeological society discovered when they undertook their new survey last year. The lack of natural light was of benefit to the team, however, as it made it easier to discover more patterns.
Ron says: “When the light falls on the stones in certain ways, you can see markings much clearer.
“Liverpool was one of the first communities we know of, big in terms of the number of people settling down. The difference in outlooks, beliefs and the way of life can be seen in Liverpool’s earliest monument.”
THE Calderstones – A Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool is priced £2.50 from Merseyside Archaeological Society, 3 Carlton Avenue, Mossley Hill, Liverpool L18 1EL