Alice in Archaeologyland Alice Roberts, one of the most popular presenters of archaeology on TV, discusses the bare bones of her new series with CA Editor Lisa Westcott.
Dr Alice Roberts.
that have already turned up fascinating evidence. We’ve visited everything from university research digs to massive commercial archaeology sites, to unique finds made by the general public. The programmes focus on the very latest discoveries and conundrums, and we’re hearing about it from the archaeologists on site. It’s their lives, their work – we don’t do the digging – and that expertise and enthusiasm definitely comes across in the programmes.
How did you get involved in TV archaeology?
I started out in medicine and was a junior doctor in south Wales. But I wanted to indulge my interest in anatomy so I got a job as a demonstrator, teaching anatomy to medical students in Bristol. I enjoyed teaching but also got interested in research. Three people there particularly influenced me: I met Jonathan Musgrave,aforensic anthropologist (whowouldlatersupervise my PhD), and through him, I met Kate Robson-Brown, a palaeoanthropologist, and Juliet Rogers, a medically-trained paleopathologist, who inspired me to take up research – looking for disease in ancient human remains. The funny thing is, when I was 8 years old, my parents took me to the Bristol Museum to see amummybeingunwrappedand I remember thinking how fas¬cinating it was. Years later, I discovered that Juliet and Jonathan were two of the people who had done the unwrapping!
I started to write bone reports for archaeologists, doing post-excavation analysis of human bones from various digs; this work as a bone expert got me involved with Time Team, doing some of their bone reports. Then, in 2001, I went along on a shoot as an expert contributor and one thing just lead to another – Extreme Archaeology, Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, and now Digging for Britain.
Is Digging for Britain different to Time Team?
It’s an entirely new format, and very different to any archaeology that’s been on TV before. We set off along the length and breadth of Britain to see archaeology that is already happening. These aren’t sites selected for their potential, but sites
I also think Digging for Britain shows archaeology in its proper time frame. Discoveries can appear quite suddenly, but the painstaking work takes place over weeks, months – even years. And that work includes so much pre-planning and post-excavation analysis – as well as the actual excavation itself.
That’s a lot of ground to cover...
Well, we have four programmes covering four chunks of Britain’s history: Prehistory, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Tudor. I think the chronological approach makes a lot of sense and is really the only logical way to approach it. We’re not trying to tell a comprehensive history of Britain, but rather highlight how archaeological insights help us understand that history, and shake up accepted knowledge. It’s about the dynamics of the subject and how archaeological discoveries are made, rather than a history lesson. One of the main things we show is the interpretation that emerges during post-excavation work; and in this, the programme is again very different to Time Team because there is a lot of focus on post-excavation. Obviously Time Team produces post-excavation reports but it’s not usually part of their programmes, which focus on the 3-day digs. We were at largescale and long-term excavations when they were happening, as well as when results were coming from analysis. In fact, there was one site – the East Kent Access Road – where the analysis was happening alongside the dig. Two professional archaeological units – Oxford and Wessex – have joined forces to take on this challenge. It’s an absolutely massive dig, the biggest in Britain this year, and they’ve turned up archaeology from current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk 46
September 2010 |