ARCHAEOLOGISTS have documented fresh evidence Celtic traders started international shipping from the Wirral town of Meols in Biblical times.
For decades, historians thought a Roman quay at Chester was proof of the region’s oldest port, dating back to around 50AD.
Now a team led by National Museums Liverpool has backed up previously unproven theories the nearby town of Meols was trading Welsh metal with north Africa at least as early as 210BC.
Researchers have catalogued more than 2,000 artefacts including belt buckles, leather boots, pottery pieces, pewter jewellery and coins.
Most of the finds date back to the 12th to 15th centuries, making the town more important than Canterbury or Nottingham as a centre for studying Britain’s medieval heritage, experts say.
But the most exciting hoard was three north African coins dating back to more than 200 years before the birth of Christ, said NML’s head archaeologist Rob Philpott.
“There is evidence of a settlement at Meols 500 or 600 years earlier than Chester started trading.
“These three coins date back to around 210BC or 220BC, and the markings show they are from north Africa, from Carthage.
“It means Meols was one of the earliest ports in the UK, and certainly the earliest in the North West.
“We know the kind of ships they would have used, wooden high-sided ocean-going vessels with a pointed prow.
“They were almost certainly trading minerals, probably lead and silver from the North Wales Flintshire coastline.
“We’re not sure what they would have used the coins for, as there was no currency.”
“It’s really exciting,” he added. ‘‘It shows what an outward-looking place the region has always been.”
The Romans are known to have taken over the port in 40-50AD, shortly after they invaded Britain, and the team have found evidence of settlement.
Mr Philpott said some objects had been in storage for several years, and this is the first time their full significance has been understood.
Most of the objects were preserved after a “catastrophic” sandblow covered them up between the 1770s and the late 1840s. They were recovered when the Liverpool Bay shoreline receded, but the rest is underneath Meols Promenade.
What has been uncovered is now mostly either on show or in storage at NML’s sites on Merseyside, or at the Grosvenor Museum, in Chester.
One of the most interesting finds is a medieval bladed Catherine Wheel, used as an instrument of torture, and perhaps brought back from a pilgrimage to a shrine of St Catherine as far away as Sinai.
The findings are to be published in Ancient Meols, written by Mr Philpott, David Griffiths, a lecturer at Oxford University, and Geoff Egan, of the Museum of London.
It will be published by Oxford University Press next year.