Digging For Britain is on BBC Two tonight at 8pm.
The North of England is so rich in archaeological finds that Alice Roberts is travelling back there once again to reveal more of its fascinating history. Where better to start this journey than at that most spectacular of Roman monuments – Hadrian’s Wall.
There are only 15 words in classical literature concerning Hadrian’s wall: “Hadrian was the first to build a wall to separate the Romans from the Barbarians” – everything else we know has come from archaeological discovery, which is why Alice is on site to witness a new dig at the famous Birdoswald Fort, once home to around 800 Roman infantrymen. She joins a team from Newcastle University as they uncover a completely new building, alluded to in the 1930s but never fully excavated until now. What they find still has the power to inspire shock and awe.
Next we travel further North to learn more about the so-called Barbarians that the Romans were so worried about. The dig is on the shores of the Moray Firth, where archaeologists are uncovering a fort which once belonged to the legendary tribe known as the Picts. A wealth of new evidence suggests that far from being barbaric savages, they were a sophisticated people who were perhaps far more educated than anyone has given them credit for.
Alice also visits the town of Rochdale in Lancashire, just 10 miles outside of Manchester where a huge community dig is altering our understanding of the Industrial Revolution. Alice meets local families who are digging beneath the spectacular Gothic Town Hall to uncover the remains of terraces and tenement blocks that housed the working men and women of Rochdale, shedding new light on the way the industrial revolution changed our towns and cities.
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In Northern Ireland, another community dig highlights a particularly dark period of recent history, the Irish Potato Famine of the late 19th Century. For the first time in Northern Ireland, a team is excavating one of the island of Ireland’s many Famine Roads. These were roads built by the starving population. Often going nowhere, they were part of a misguided attempt by the British government to boost Irish infrastructure and support the hungry by forcing them to build roads in exchange for money to buy food. Historian Onyeka Nubia travels to London to search for evidence that might explain the British government’s reasoning for what turned out to be a futile relief effort.
Back in Scotland, a new tramline being built from Edinburgh to Leith gives archaeologists the opportunity to study and preserve hundreds of skeletons unearthed at a graveyard dating back to 1300. This dig throws new light on the residents of Leith as they lived through 500 years of Scotland’s history. In the Digging for Britain Tent, archaeologist John Lawson brings in one skeleton with a unique set of injuries, and an incredible facial reconstruction brings her vividly to life.
Finally, a once in a lifetime find under a golf course sets archaeological pulses racing as a Bronze Age wooden Coffin is remarkably preserved in the waterlogged soil, 3,000 years after it was buried.