thinking about archaeology

Wind up your radios!

Maiden Castle, Dorset

Now the new British Archaeology is out (featuring the usual archaeological stuff – collapse of the Roman empire, a major first world war communal grave excavation, human origins, Stonehedge [sic] and much else – as well as statements from the arts minister and her two shadows), I have a moment to write. I want to mention two radio programmes I’ve been making with Sian Price, and a third with Terry Lewis.

I’m excited about these. Beyond Time Team, archaeology does not get as much broadcast coverage as it could support (though look out for news of a new TV series later this year, to which I am a consultant). These three Radio 4 programmes do not just feature digs, artefacts, the voices of archaeologists and stories about the past, but also discussion of ideas about how we understand and create the past. In our own little way, I think we’re moving into new territory here. Though they are to be broadcast close together, Treasure and Voices are quite separate productions.

In Pursuit of Treasure (Sunday February 7)

Inspired by the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard to look into the world of metal detecting in modern Britain, I talked to Trevor Austin (National Council for Metal Detecting), Tim Sutherland, Pete Wilson (English Heritage), Helen Geake (Portable Antiquities Scheme), Suffolk farmer John Browning and county archaeologist Jude Plouviez, Tony Robinson and Kent chief inspector Mark Harrison, about the sometimes conflicting worlds of treasure hunters and archaeologists. It was good too to meet Terry Herbert, who found the Staffordshire hoard, and I went to see some of the gold at the British Museum with the head of the PAS, Roger Bland.

We had less time to do all this than we would’ve liked, as Radio 4 gave us a tight schedule so that the broadcast is rather oddly the day before the first Voices programme, commissioned much longer ago. But who’s complaining? It sounds great!

At the British Museum’s display of pieces from the Staffordshire hoard with Roger Bland (left) and producer Terry Lewis (right, with mikes). Photo Kate Edwards

In Pursuit of Treasure, Sunday 7 February, 1.30pm on BBC Radio 4

Produced by Terry Lewis for Tinderbox Productions

If you enjoy that broadcast (or are angry about it!), you might be intrested in this: registration is now open for the Portable Antiquities: Archaeology, Collecting, Metal Detecting conference on March 13–14 2010. This significant event is co-organised by the Council for British Archaeology and Newcastle University’s International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, and takes place at Newcastle University and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

The Voices Who Dug Up The Past (Mondays February 8 and 15)

This was something I’d wanted to do for some time: look at some iconic historic sites that have been repeatedly excavated with different results. Why do archaeologists disagree about the meaning of monuments? Does that tell us more about the past or about archaeologists? And along the way we get to hear from some eloquent excavators and visit some great excavations and locations: Maiden Castle, Dorset in episode 1, and Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, in episode 2.

The Voices Who Dug Up The Past, Episode 1: Monday 8 February, 11.00am on BBC Radio 4

The Voices Who Dug Up The Past, Episode 2: Monday 15 February, 11.00am on BBC Radio 4

Produced by Sian Price for Tinderbox Productions

All three will be available to listen to for a time after broadcast on BBC iPlayer.

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