Several significant sites were identified on the northern outskirts of Lancaster during the construction of the Bay Gateway. The road, substantially funded by the Department for Transport, developed by Lancashire County Council, and built by Costain, links the port of Heysham and junction 34 of the M6. The complex history of one site, located on a gentle slope overlooking the confluence of the Howgill Brook and the River Lune, was unravelled through detailed analysis and radiocarbon dating.
The earliest remains, a row of small features, contained worked flint and burnt material that was radiocarbon dated to c 4500 BC. Subsequently, Mesolithic hunter gatherers moving up and down the valley visited the site on several occasions to prepare and repair tools. They left an occupation horizon within three distinct concentrations of flint-working debris and broken tools.
The focus of middle Neolithic (c 3400 cal BC) settlement activity was a simple sub-circular building, up to 6m across and supported by posts at the centre and south-east-facing entrance. It was associated with two external fire pits and, although it may have been a dwelling, there was little pottery or contemporary flintwork. Instead, several nearby pits were filled with burnt stones and charcoal, material that is analogous to the make-up of burnt mounds. Collectively, this might suggest that the building had a specific function, perhaps as a dry sauna. The remains represent an example of a structural form that remains nationally scarce and barely represented in the Neolithic of north-west England.
Following the abandonment of the structure, the site seems to have been occupied on at least two further occasions in the Neolithic, as well as in the Bronze Age. Clearly this small piece of Lancashire was an attractive spot for millennia.