Films! Documentaries! TV shows! Whether it’s a trashy fantasy-drama, a seriously in-depth piece of factual programming, or a bit of family fun, we all love to watch a bit of archaeology on the telly.
Given that we won’t be able to run any public archaeology events, and that loads of us are cooped up inside for the next few months, we’re planning to announce our own exciting new line-up of interactive archaeology that you can enjoy at home.
From kids’ activities, to Virtual Site Tours and fun group projects, we’ll be making sure that everyone who wants it is well-supplied with archaeology… and that you can use your home-time to learn, to laugh and to help us continue making great archaeological discoveries.
Because even if we can’t go digging right now, there’s LOADS of wonderful stuff we can do together online. If you want to be involved, make sure you sign up to our email list.
While we prepare our first round of Virtual Archaeology, we’ve pulled together a list of our favourite archaeology-themed programmes that are currently available to watch online. They’ll be guaranteed to keep you educated (and entertained) for a little while. Enjoy!
Taking top place on our list is Time Team – the show that needs no introduction. If you’re reading this list, you’ve probably already seen every episode, but that’s the great thing about this show – you can watch it again, and again, again. We know we will be! Available on: All 4
Nostalgia For The Light
Archaeology meets astronomy in Chile’s Atacama Desert. This beautiful, moving, haunting and multi-award winning documentary follows the trajectories of two very different groups of people; while scientists look for stars in the skies above, families search for traces of their loved ones on the desert floor. Available on: YouTube movies
The Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Master story-teller Werner Herzog has an incredible knack for capturing the inner worlds of passionate people, and the subjects they love. In this film, originally released in spectacular 3D, he turns his attention to 20,000 year-old cave paintings, the people who made them, and the archaeologists who study them. The result is a magical, emotional and completely surprising journey into the depths of human history. Come for the archaeology, stay for the albino crocodiles. C’est incroyable! Available on: Google it…
The Monk, The Midden & The Missing Monastery
An ‘elegy to the seductive pleasures of archaeological fieldwork’, this film puts you right inside the trenches with the DigVentures team, and shows archaeology as it *really* is: the funny bits, the stressy bits, the magical discoveries and even the mundane moments. It’s our very own first feature-length film – and it’s highly entertaining, even if we do say so ourselves. Available on: DigVentures
Imagine the main cast of Time Team reunited on a small island in the North Sea for one weekend. Now imagine each of them giving a talk on their favourite archaeological discoveries, and sharing their best memories of working together. That’s exactly what happened at DigNation Festival in 2018. All the talks were recorded live, and are being released every Sunday on YouTube. Available on: DigVentures
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?
Featuring eminent archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, this is one of the original panel shows from the early days of TV, in which three experts try to identify mystery objects from the British Museum. It’s a classic, and provides plenty of inspiration for playing your own version of the game at home! Available on: BBC iPlayer
Lost Cities with Albert Lin
Once you get past the overly-dramatic production, this series is actually both nerdy, and watchable – it applies 3D scanning to some extraordinary ancient sites, and produces some pretty attention-grabbing discoveries. In short, if you like your archaeology mixed with hi-tech visuals and action-packed adventure, then this is the show for you. Available on: Amazon Prime
Digging Up Britain’s Past
It’s not Time Team, but it’s the closest thing going at the moment. The show’s presenters visit ongoing archaeological digs, and discuss their discoveries with experts. Plus, our digs feature in Series 1 and Series 2! When you figure out which are ‘our’ episodes, let us know… Available on: My 5
Archaeology: A Secret History
Ok, so this wasn’t the most expansive programme, and the presenter has been likened to Robert Webb’s evil twin, but we do like the idea behind the series: to discuss the origins and evolution of archaeology as a discipline in the West, and how the rulers of different eras have used it to control history. Worth a watch. Available on: Google it…
Britain at Low Tide
Every day, on a sandy beach or a rocky foreshore, fascinating evidence of Britain’s history appears and disappears as the tide rolls in and rolls back out again. In this series, Dr Tori Herridge explores the archaeology of the island’s coastline, and the historical remains we see when the tide goes out. Just a bit of all-round niceness. Available on: All 4
Britain’s Ancient Trackways
Tony Robinson puts on his walking shoes, to explore the mysteries and legends of Britain’s ancient trackways, some of which have been travelled for over 5,000 years. Be warned: this one will make you want to leave the house. Available on: All 4
‘Lost’ Kingdoms of Africa
British art historian Dr Gus Casely-Hayford explores the history of some of Africa’s old kingdoms. From Bunyoro and Buganda, to Nubia and Asante, this is a whirlwind tour of a continent, and a compelling mix of archaeological exploration and reportage. Over the course of two series, Gus digs into histories some of which you’ll know, and others which you won’t – but really should. Available on: Google it…
‘Lost’ Cities of the Maya: Revealed
Another LIDAR-based series of discoveries are revealed in this documentary as archaeologists uncover whole swathes of previously unknown settlements. Together with archaeological work on the ground, it’s creating an impressive new map of one of the greatest ancient civilisations of the world. Everyone involved looks slightly overwhelmed by the thrill of it all – which is not surprising given that the research is helping to transform what we thought we knew about the Maya. Available on: All 4
Oh hello. It’s not often that you see archaeology trending on Netflix, but this slick new fantasy-drama looks set to change that with the story of a young artist who gets sucked into investigating a discovery made during a dig at Göbeklitepe – one of our all-time favourite archaeological sites. Plus, with some cracking one-liners like “the aim of ‘real’ archaeology is actually to understand the future. By uncovering the past, we can interpret the present” how could we resist? One to file under ‘guilty pleasures’. Available on: Netflix
Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook struck comedic gold with this much-adored series about two oddballs scouring the English countryside for treasure. It’s a funny, honest and painfully accurate exposition of metal detecting, and all those who pursue knowledge of the past in their spare time. We love it. Available on: BBC iPlayer
Poirot: Appointment with Death
Yep, we all know Agathe Christie married an archaeologist, but even better than that, she set one of our favourite episodes of Poirot on an archaeological site in Syria. Perfect for a lazy afternoon. Available on: ITV Hub
What do you MEAN you haven’t watched this yet? The whole show opens with the famous Viking raid on Lindisfarne in AD 793 – the exact site we’ve been investigating for the last 4 years. Don’t dismiss it just because it’s a drama – the character development is intense, and the plotlines are filled with Viking religion, village politics and interpersonal struggles. Available on: Google it
The Last Kingdom
Another binge-worthy historical drama with close ties to our flagship excavation at Lindisfarne. This time, we’re following Uhtred, son of Uhtred, born a Saxon Lord, but raised as a Dane. His domain is Bebbanberg, otherwise known as Bamburgh – a stone’s throw from our site. We need say no more. Available on: Netflix
The Pillars of the Earth
Eddie Redmayne, Donald Sutherland, Sarah Parish, Mathew McFadyen and an all-star ensemble cast try to build a medieval cathedral, against a backdrop of political strife and religious turmoil. Who knew architectural construction could be so dramatic? Available on: Google it
One of the main characters of this family sitcom is Robin, a dead Neandertal, and we love him. It’s a spin-off from the much-loved Horrible Histories series, and follows Robin and his companions (a suite of other historical ghosts) as they try to haunt a country house. Fun for all ages. Available on: BBC iPlayer
Imagine the Famous Five, but in Ancient Rome. Based on a series of children’s books, Roman Mysteries follows Flavia, Nubia, Jonathan and Lupus who live in Ostia and love solving mysteries. They gain a reputation for uncovering plots and putting a stop to villains’ plans. And apparently this was the most expensive BBC drama ever produced for children. Sounds fun! Available on: Amazon Prime
Peppa Pig goes to DigCamp?! This short, stop-motion animation is pretty adorable, and is perfect for any for any Trowel Tots you’re raising – we just hope we don’t make the same noises as Peppa’s family when we make discoveries. Now, has anyone got a number for Baby Shark? We’ve got a proposal… Available on: YouTube
What’s your favourite archaeology TV show? Whether it’s trashy fantasy-drama, a top-notch documentary, or a bit of family-fun, share your recommendations in the comments!
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