Prehistoric Preston, ice dams and a glacial lake

Posted on - 7th August, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
An ice age hunter-gatherer camp. Pic: Quora

For over 50,000 years, most of Britain was covered by a thick sheet of ice.

Only the south was free of this bleak polar desert. Notably, the English Channel did not exist due to lower sea levels.

Gradually, the ice retreated, and hunting parties headed north. The area around Preston emerged from this frigid wasteland between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago.

Hunter-gatherers were living near Preston 12,000 years ago, and an elk, dated to this period, was found near Poulton along with barbed bone weapons.

This indicates that the elk was the victim of a hunting expedition.

Read more: See more nostalgia stories and pictures about Preston

Ice age Preston

Ice age Lancashire. Pic: Sheffield University

For a time 12,000 -15,000 years ago, Preston was on the edge of a massive glacial lake.

The ice was beginning to melt, and ice dams caused huge lakes to form. The dark blue lines above are ice dams.

Eventually, the dams melted, and occasional outburst floods occurred, known as jökulhlaup’s. By 7000 years ago, temperatures were approaching current conditions and forests of Oak dominated the lowlands.

However, some lowland areas became boggy grasslands filled with game, attracting hunting parties. On the fells, south of Preston, large numbers of flint artefacts tell of hunter-gatherer parties, hunting deer and fishing in the Ribble.

The dock find log boat

A log-boat under construction. Pic: Brian MacDomhnaill

Notably, During the 1880’s Preston docks basin was being excavated. Consequently, many artefacts were recovered.

The main discovery was of a log boat that could be Iron Age in origin. They were used for fishing or transport and usually made out of huge hollowed-out tree trunks.

The Preston dock finds were not well recorded at the time, and this led to them being displayed piecemeal with no time context.

The peat deposits excavated at Penwortham provide an idea of the climatic conditions prevalent at different times. Under the peat was a gravel layer containing large oak and beech trees. The above peat layer contained many much smaller hazel trees.

Finally, lower down, red deer bones, as well as several human skulls, have been found. It should be noted that the river frequently changed course, and the finds may be out of context.

Iron age farming communities

A typical Iron Age village. Pic: National Showcaves Centre For Wales

Around 7000 years ago, the climate had improved enough to allow farming. Iron age peoples buried their dead in tombs known as long barrows. Locally one is known at Pikestones above Anglezarke.

Round houses were in use by small farming communities. Unfortunately, these leave little evidence in the ground, and any in Preston would be under current buildings.

However, most known iron age sites are related to burials, and several cremation urn sites have been found on the moors to the South of Preston.

Village life continued until the Romans arrived in Lancashire after 79AD.

The Romans arrive in Preston

The main Roman routes around Preston. Pic: Roman roads in Preston

After consolidating the south of Britain, the Romans began to move north in 78 AD. Most of the Roman roads around Preston date from this period.

Consequently, a military camp and industrial area were established at Walton le Dale. It was also at this point that the Ribble was crossed.

Roads also headed East to a fort at Kirkham. Strangely, very little evidence for the occupation of Preston itself in Roman times has been found.

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