In the second of my occasional series on the archaeology of Salford I review the archaeology of the first Salfordians, those who settled the landscape from the Neolithic onwards. This was the period in which farming was introduced to Britain sometime after 4000 BC. The domestication of animals and the cultivation of cereals led to the development of settled semi-agrarian communities and communal burials. Yet in Greater Manchester many earlier Mesolithic sites also saw Neolithic activity suggesting some overlap with the earlier traditions.
A concentration of lithic material, including an axe and 41 flints, was found at Great Woolden Hall on the western edge of Chat Moss. This came from field walking across a later ditched enclosure and from excavations undertaken in 1986-88. They included manufacturing waste and late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age tool forms such as scrapers and arrowheads. This material probably represents ephemeral activity, such as a small hunting camp. Flints of this period were also found at Barton in 2012.
The Bronze Age (c. 2500 – c. 700 BC) saw the introduction of metalwork into the British Isles. Societies became more stratified, with the emergence of social elites and individual burials.
Salford has three burial sites from the period, though no known settlements. A burial was found in 1787 at Clifton on the banks of the River Irwell. Long bones and part of a skull were found with a small ‘pygmy’ style pot of the period 2500 to 1500 BC. In 1873 a large food-vessel-type pot containing burnt bone was found. It dates from the period 1700 to 1200 BC and was discovered in the grounds of Broughton Old Hall. Its location in a ditch surrounding a small mound suggests that it was a later, or secondary, burial. The primary burial would have lain in the centre of the mound.
A third burial was excavated in 2013 near Barton Aerodrome, on a sandy promontory south of the airfield. Excavations on the edge of a promontory, which overlooked the old river bed of the Irwell, uncovered a rectangular pit. This contained a saddle quern, a stone mould for casting metal, and cremated bone. Where the community was in which this individual had lived is unclear, but it was probably close by.