Digging for Britain: Leicester Archaeology projects to feature on BBC

Credit: Historic England

Projects led by Leicester archaeologists are to be showcased on the new series of BBC TWO’s primetime TV series Digging for Britain in the New Year.

Three University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) projects from across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to feature on the latest series, presented by Professor Alice Roberts.

The major discovery of a one-of-a-kind Roman mosaic on Rutland farmland will be the focus of the first episode to be broadcast on Tuesday 4 January at 8.00pm on BBC TWO and iPlayer following the Leicester team and undergraduate Archaeology students as they painstakingly uncover part of the story of Greek hero Achilles.

The 11m by 7m mosaic is the centrepiece of a newly discovered Roman villa complex comprising a range of buildings including a domestic focus, aisled barns, circular structures and what is thought to have been a bath house. The mosaic is unique in the UK, and one of only a handful from across Europe, to show Achilles’ battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War.

Credit: BBC/Rare TV

Host, Professor Alice Roberts, said: “What I love about Digging for Britain is that, when we set out to film the series, we have no idea what discoveries might come to light.

“This year, the revelations have been nothing short of spectacular – including the astonishing Rutland Roman mosaic. Each find brings us closer to understanding the lives of people who once lived in Britain.

“Archaeology brings you into intimate contact with the physical reality of the past.”

The story of another Roman discovery, an elaborately-decorated bronze key handle excavated by ULAS experts at a site off Great Central Street in Leicester, will also feature in episode four of the series.

The handle portrays a ‘Barbarian’ grappling with a lion, together with four naked youths cowering in terror. It is among the first evidence from Roman Britain of executing captives by ‘throwing them to the lions’.

The key handle will feature in a programme later in episode four of the series based around Midlands discoveries that will also include recent excavations at Castle Hill Country Park, on the edge of Leicester.  This project investigated remains of a manor linked with the medieval Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller.

While the Hospitallers are familiar by name, their sites are largely unexcavated in the UK – making this a rare opportunity to explore this type of monument.

The project, involving volunteers from the local community and nearly 70 students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History as part of their fieldwork module, concentrated on the Manor House site and its outer enclosure, and uncovered evidence of a large timber-framed hall with leaded windows and a tiled roof as well as many artefacts from the 13th and 14th Centuries.

John Thomas is Deputy Director of ULAS and also managed the Rutland dig. He said: “ULAS is one of only a handful of UK archaeological units that operate in a University environment, and the variety of expertise that offers gives us many opportunities for collaborative working.

“We’re really pleased to have worked with the School of Archaeology and Ancient History to provide vital student training on such wonderful archaeological sites. To have three of our projects making a significant contribution to Digging for Britain is fantastic for everyone – hopefully the stories that are told about them will inspire future generations of archaeologists who will doubtless make exciting discoveries of their own.”

University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) is an award-winning commercial archaeological unit that undertakes contracts across the UK.

The team features experts from a number of different archaeological fields, and works closely with academic staff from the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Leicester Archaeology students have the opportunity to gain valuable practical and professional experience with ULAS specialists during their studies.