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First up in our new series on modern archaeologists is Julian Richards, probably best known amongst the general public for his ‘Meet the Ancestors’ TV series which, in his own words: “despite there being some great stories out there, is long gone“. So over to Julian, with our thanks for his responses.
Julian Richards, born Nottingham where after a disastrous school career I was introduced to archaeology in the late 60′s. Degree at Reading University then straight into field archaeology first with Berkshire Unit and later with Wessex Archaeology. Directed the Stonehenge Environs Project 1980-90 and became an unwilling project manager before leaving Wessex to co-found AC archaeology. Three years here involved in all aspects of commercial archaeology before leaving to work as a fieldworker on EH’s Monuments Protection Programme (MPP – 1994-1997). Then devised BBC’s ‘Meet the Ancestors’ series and ended up presenting it. This led to 7 years of work in broadcasting on TV and radio (1998 – 2004). Since then have been writing, occasionally broadcasting and becoming more involved in conservation and in museum and heritage education projects, particularly involving schools. Currently doing more broadcasting and will shortly be working on a major community archaeology project in the Stonehenge area. Still full of energy and ideas.
The 10 Questions:
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
My interest in archaeology was sparked by the first dig I went on – 3 months of urban excavation in winter was a baptism of fire but I immediately loved the sense of discovery and the realisation that the objects that you found could tell stories.
How did you get started?
This first dig which I ended up on by accident as I was hoping for a temporary job at the local museum. They hadn’t got any work and sent me along to the dig – and that was it.
Who has most influenced your career?
Richard Bradley who, at Reading, gently steered me away from medieval archaeology and into the wonderful world of prehistory.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
I suppose I should say the Stonehenge Environs project, which was wonderful but I wouldn’t do it in the same way today. So really I think it is the BBC series Meet the Ancestors as it gave me the opportunity to talk about archaeology to such a wide audience and also to get over the idea that the real story only emerges after the dig is over.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
Stonehenge of course – and do you have to ask why?
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
Having to watch a wonderfully preserved Iron Age/Romano-British settlement in the Cotswolds – this was earthworks not just cropmarks – disappear into a gravel pit with a far from adequate record. It should have been preserved.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I would find a way to stop the continued ploughing of Scheduled Ancient Monuments. It was dreadful to see the constant destructive erosion of sites while I was working on the MPP and know that nothing was going to change. And it’s no use saying we need more experiments or spending more energy talking about it (as we have been for over 30 years). Ploughing wrecks sites. We need action.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
I would ask why school pupils in this country are taught nothing about their pre-Roman heritage and then probably have a rant about the worrying consequences of watering down the current planning guidelines.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I would either be working at Sotheby’s in their ceramics department and making regular appearances on the Antiques roadshow or, more likely, working as a primary school teacher.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
Not very good at relaxing but the nearest I come to it is at a historic motor racing event on a sunny day with the sound of old cars on a track, a Spitfire overhead and a bag of chips in my hand. Bliss.
Thanks once again to Julian for being such a sport!