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Great British Dig book

New book digs deeper into the history beneath our feet

Published on: 24 February 2022

A Newcastle University academic is bringing history and archaeology closer to home than ever before with a new book to accompany a primetime TV series.

As seen on Channel 4, The Great British Dig brings families and residents together with a team of professional archaeologists and volunteers to excavate back gardens and explore the fascinating objects that lie beneath them and the history they reveal.

Dr Chloë Duckworth, one of the expert presenters, and lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University, has written the official tie-in book exploring the team’s techniques in more detail and offering new insights and explanations about the discoveries made.

Featuring colour photography and a foreword from fellow presenter Hugh Dennis, the book delves deeper into all the excavations the show featured over both series in locations around Britain, from a Roman fort, Norman Castle, Victorian prison, to a Tudor spymaster’s house and a secret Prehistoric village under a school playing field.

The book is packed with features, tip boxes and practical advice about digging in your own back garden, as well as information about researching your local area.

There are also visual guides to pottery, tools, coins and other common treasures that lie hidden below the surface, to help with identifying your own findings.

With fascinating explorations of sites from the show and advice on your own findings, The Great British Dig will help readers explore the history that can be found close to home.

“I’m always amazed at what you can find in such a small space,” said Dr Duckworth. “The sense of wonder these families had when they realised the layers of history under their own back gardens was incredible. I really hope this book inspires people to learn about the history all around them.”

Among the locations featured is a street in Benwell, Newcastle, which was the subject of the very first episode. During the programme, the team uncovered historical evidence from a range of time periods - from remnants of a World War Two air raid shelter to artefacts connected to a settlement that lay just outside the nearby Condercum Roman fort, which is thought to have been built in the second century AD. The fort itself was one of 13 along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

“For us as archaeologists it’s a unique opportunity to excavate in places we wouldn’t normally have the chance to,” Dr Duckworth adds. “In the case of the first episode, in Benwell, it gave us a vital glimpse of how people were living close to Hadrian’s Wall. The last time anyone was able to do that in this location was over 90 years ago, before these houses were built, so it has really helped to fill in some of the missing pieces of the jigsaw.”

Fellow broadcaster, and Professor of Public Engagement in Science, Alice Roberts said: “My first brush with the wonderful world of archaeology was as a child, discovering tiny pieces of pottery in my own back garden. With excavations in gardens all over the UK, this book reveals the astonishing breadth of British archaeology – in a brilliantly accessible way.”

In 2021 Dr Duckworth was shortlisted for the Outstanding Archaeological Achievement Award by the Council for British Archaeology for launching a high-profile media campaign to promote the positive benefits of archaeology. The Dig4Archaeology campaign highlights the contribution of almost £250 million that commercial archaeology makes to the UK’s economy, and the importance of heritage tourism - which supports 386,000 jobs across the UK. The campaign is supported by major industry stakeholders including University Archaeology UK, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and the Council for British Archaeology.

The Great British Dig is published by Bloomsbury Books on 3 March and available in hardback and e-book formats.

Press release adapted with thanks to Bloomsbury Books.

Dr Chloë Duckworth. Image: Mary Guillen

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