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AHRC research featured on BBC's 'Digging for Britain'

Date: 11/03/2016

A research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) took centre stage this week when it was featured on the popular BBC Four TV programme, ‘Digging for Britain’.

The first episode ‘Digging for Britain’ (now in its fourth series) opened with an exclusive look at an AHRC-funded research project undertaken by Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading. The three year project has been using archaeology to transform our knowledge of the people who both worshipped at Stonehenge and who worked on its construction.

Dr. Jim Leary and Prof. Alice Roberts

A puzzling discovery

The project has been focusing on a geographical area situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury. Named the Vale of Pewsey, until now it has been a barely explored archaeological region, but one that is of huge international importance.

The Digging for Britain programme focused on two major discoveries from the project’s 2015 field work. Firstly it looked at the exciting discovery of a new building inside the henge at Marden. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden' is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain's most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.

The newly discovered remains of the building contained an unusual hearth which puzzlingly contained no ash, but instead an assortment of scorched rocks. It became evident that the rocks were being heated outside on a fire then brought inside the building and laid on the hearth. This led Dr Leary and his team to a hypothesis that building was being used in a ritual where people sat round the hot stones and poured water over them to create steam – in essence an ancient sauna or sweat lodge.

Beaker People

The programme then turned its attention to another site, Wilsford, just three miles from Stonehenge. Here, the rare and significant discovery of the ritual burial site of a teenage boy brought a real emotional connection between the archaeologists of today and the people of Stonehenge. The skeletal remains, which were estimated to be from between 2,400 and 1,800 BC were buried with fragments and pottery and an amber necklace in keeping with the burials of the ‘Beaker People’ the subject of an earlier AHRC research project.

‘Digging for Britain’ airs on Thursday nights at 8pm on BBC Four. This week’s episode is available on iPlayer until 08 April 2016.

To find out more about Jim Leary’s research, please visit the University of Reading website.

All featured images are stills from ‘Digging for Britain’, courtesy of the BBC

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