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My passion for A History Of Ancient Britain

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Neil Oliver Neil Oliver | 09:50 UK time, Wednesday, 9 February 2011

My original interest in history - and then archaeology - started with childhood curiosity about my own family.

I felt a need to know where we had come from. Why did we live where we did? Who were my grandparents and great-grandparents, and why did they have the lives they did?

From that grew a need to reach further and further back, to understand who first lived in Scotland, and where they had come from before they arrived here.

Neil Oliver looking at footprints in the mud in Newport

When Cameron Balbirnie - the series producer on A History Of Ancient Britain - came to me and asked whether I would be interested in presenting a big, all-encompassing series examining the pre-history of these islands, I jumped at the chance.

The opportunity to present a major series on a subject I'm passionate about was a dream come true for me, and I think the fact that I had a background in archaeology meant I was a good fit for the project.

I dived in headfirst, getting involved early on in discussions with the production team that helped to shape the series.

Back in my student days it was the Mesolithic period that attracted me most strongly. Its special power lay, I think, in my basic desire to dig back into time as far as possible.

And that brought me, in the end, to the Scottish Mesolithic, the earliest known human habitation of my own country - between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago.

At this time people hunted red deer, harvested and processed hazelnuts. They also fished.

Mesolithic people, although still nomadic, lived quite local lives, being born, living, and dying perhaps in the same general location.

Having said that, I'd have to admit that during the making of A History Of Ancient Britain I was lured into even deeper time.

Neil Oliver looking at a skull

In England and Wales there have been tantalising finds of human occupation reaching even further back.

I was therefore blown away by the sight of the so-called Red Lady of Paviland.

This was in fact the bones of a young mammoth hunter who lived and died in what is now South Wales, before the onset of the last Ice Age. His remains are more than 33,000 years old.

Also profoundly moving was the sliver of horse bone found in a cave near Sheffield that had been the canvas for an artist around 13,000 years ago.

That piece of rib bone - sometimes known as the Creswell Crags horse engraving or the Robin Hood cave horse engraving - has on it an etching of a galloping horse.

It is, by any standards, a work of genius. It is composed of just a few confident lines and yet the end result is an image of a living breathing animal.

To come so close to the way some individual, man or woman, was thinking all those millennia ago, while the Ice Age waxed and waned, was very moving for me.

Neil Oliver is the presenter of A History Of Ancient Britain.

A History Of Ancient Britain is on BBC Two and BBC HD at 9pm on Wednesday, 9 February.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Find out about ancient sites you can visit around the UK and find activities relating to ancient Britain on the BBC Hands On History website.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What a huge disappointment this was. I was looking forward to the series and raced home this evening to be sure of catching it all. And what did we see? Neil Oliver. Pacing the beach; striding through corridors; walking the streets; up and down footpaths. Close-ups of his face talking to us while obscuring what we came to see; close-ups of his face studying ancient artifacts of which we were allowed only a few seconds' glimpse. You lost me after 15 tedious minutes.

  • Comment number 2.

    What a brilliant programme!! Very moving, stunning scenery and Neil - you're a star!! Can't wait for the rest of the series! Nothing wrong with close ups of Neil's face...

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought tonights programme was fantastic. It was the best overview of currant archaeological theories I have seen in a long time and I must have seen pretty much everything going for the last 20yrs. Mr Oliver's obvious enthusiasm and knowledge is very watchable. I am really looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 4.

    RE: The 6000 year old footprints in the mud flats in Gwent. I can't believe how wrong "Archaeologist" Neil Oliver got it. He said that the raised impressions were caused by imprints filling with sediment. RUBBISH! The raised impressions were caused by the foot compressing the mud and compacting it, making it denser than the surrounding mud. The less dense surrounds are then washed away by water erosion leaving the raised "impression".

  • Comment number 5.

    I could not disagree more! I have a degree in History and currently work with dis engaged pupils and intend to use this programme as a stimulus and tool to start projects and believe that pupils will find a connection that will encourage debate. The programme had prime examples of primary and secondary sources and Neil Oliver has the passion and enthusiasm that we need to remove pre conceived barriers that pupils have, that 'history is not for me'. On a personal level we as a family of several generations felt the programme had something for everyone and Oliver never in our humble opinion seems jaded or less than excited and informative. A truly enjoyable programme, well done to all involved.

  • Comment number 6.

    Why did Neil repeatedly refer to Great Britain as "Britain"? They're not the same thing. Does the BBC think our little minds aren't up to dealing with the complexity of our own history? Let Channel 5 do the history lite, I want something a bit more robust, Beeb.

  • Comment number 7.

    An entertaining program: but where was Happisburgh? A little light on facts and heavy on BBC spin for my liking. A million years is ambitious by anyone's standards? I thought the lovely John Lord stole the show! :)

  • Comment number 8.

    After watching last night's episode I am amazed that such a programm could be presented as fact when most of archaeology is based on the idea that uniformitarianism is true. The dating of rocks, fossils, "footprints" "ice-ages" etc used in the programme are at best a guess.

    The unreliability of carbon 14 testing should be a great concern to honest archaeologists, and should not be presented as fact, I found out recently that a petrified miner's hat and wooden fence posts were unearthed from an abandoned 19th century gold hunter's town in Australia's outback. Results from radiocarbon dating said that they were 6000 years old!!!!!!!!!.

    As for the theory of iceages, have the so called experts ever considered that much of the geology of the earth's surface could have been changed during a global flood and the hydraulic forces that would have been present. So called glacial valleys which were portayed as taking thousands of years to form could have been formed in a very short time by the vast movement of water under flood conditions Maybe the bible had it right after all. I would recommend a book called the "Genisis Flood" co-authored by Henry M Morris and John C Whitcomb for an in depth consideration of this subject.

  • Comment number 9.

    I enjoyed the first episode - if you want something meatier I suggest buy a book! One thing I would dearly like to know - where is the meltwater channel shown in the episode? The implication was that it was close to Lake of Menteith, but I don't know where it might be in that area?

  • Comment number 10.

    Did anyone catch the name of the old guy who was teaching the old skills on the island

  • Comment number 11.

    I watched last nights programme and thoroughly enjoyed it although I feel I must correct the mighty BBC. Creswell, as in Creswell Craggs, is spelled with one "s" not two, as was written at the bottom of the screen and Creswell is in the county of Derbyshire not as was implied Yorkshire. It was stated that Creswell was near to Sheffield. Close I grant you but there are other well known towns or cities closer that could have been referred to. As a Creswellian born and bred things like this mean a lot. It's not very often our ex-mining village gets a mention on the T.V and you would think the beeb would at least get the spelling correct. xx

  • Comment number 12.

    What a shame the first comment is so negative! This is a fantastic programme, a story told by a man who obviously passionately loves his subject. I felt that I was right there with Mr Oliver, like he was talking to me! I have always loved learning about the past of my own country & I don't really think it could be done better than this. What do some people expect, a personal tour? Well done Neil, I can't wait to see the rest!

  • Comment number 13.

    I loved this, Neil Oliver's enthusiasm kept me enthralled right to the end, despite getting home from work late and being completely exhausted. The information was fascinating and very useful for filling in the gaps that I, like most people, had in my knowledge from picking up bits here and there. Thank you Neil and thank you Beeb for a wonderful programme which was lucid, informative, intelligent and covered the subject so thoroughly. I can't wait for the rest.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks for another great programme Neil, I really enjoyed this. Neil Oliver and Michael Wood are my favourite historians - both seem to have a great passion and enthusiasm for their subject and this comes across in their presenting styles. If history teachers in schools were more like them I'm sure many more people would study history! I learnt a lot from the first episode and will definitely be watching again. Ignore the negative comments, I looked on Twitter last night and the majority were very positive. Quite a few people asked if Neil has a Twitter account!

  • Comment number 15.

    What a fantastic opening episode! Neil Oliver is the perfect presenter for the programme, his genuine enthusiasm shines through. Those footprints on the beach in last nights episode gave me goosebumps, just to think so long ago somebody stood on that very spot. The 13,000 year old horse engraving on the bone fragment was beautiful, it's hard to comprehend that length of time. I look forward to the next episode very much, and well done to Neil for that abseil, my knees went weak watching him so goodness knows how his felt!

  • Comment number 16.

    Hello mrsfletch #11 - thank you for your comment and your correction. We've fixed the spelling of Creswell Crags above - despite our best efforts to keep the TV blog accurate, I'm afraid this one slipped through.
    We appreciate you spotting it and putting us straight!
    Cheers
    Fiona

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm on the side of those who found the programme absorbing. While already aware of much of the content, it was excellent to have it presented so well. For me the images "from space" of the movement of the British Isles over time brought that part of the prehistory of our islands alive in a new way - before this it had been only words on a page of my archaeology books. I hope we may see more of such inspirational work in the rest of the series alongside the pictures of the objects. I live near Cresswell Crags and, even in the brief visit, learned a lot of new stuff about where it fits in to the story.

  • Comment number 18.

    Enjoyed immensely but left me with some questions I think you could have answered in the programme.
    1) The Red Lady: can you not have said how you know this was not a Neanderthal, you explained the carbon dating brilliantly.
    2) An estimate of the last Neanderthal's would have been nice.

    3) Is it ot possible just to give a little reference point to what was happening elsewhere on the planet, purely to frame our timeline.

    Luckily I watched on iPlayer so I could keep re-winding for dates mentioned that you did not caption, you captioned many but not enough. The captions you did do were great because someone kept the leash on the CGI caption people who tend to go over the top and distract from the main content in other programmes.

    Incvase you think otherwise from my comments, I loved it ;-)

  • Comment number 19.

    Also, what will be the twitter # tag for this series?

  • Comment number 20.

    OK Daveshaw, I think lots of people know that "Britain" strictly speaking refers to the Roman "Britannia" which was England & Wales. "Great Britain" is the name of the largest island of the British Isles which of course also includes Scotland...but do you really have to be so pedantic? This in no way spoiled the enjoyment of the programme & I certainly didn't think it made the content lightweight.

  • Comment number 21.

    this program had much promise but too much Neil Oliver spoilt it, so much looking over his shoulder to get his best angle put me right off , let us have the history which the beeb is so good at and less of Mr Oliver please

  • Comment number 22.

    So much Neil Oliver and so little else.... his commentary was interesting and informative but did he need to be in shot for 90% of the programme? Not enough of the remains and artefacts to make me watch episode 2.

  • Comment number 23.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode in this series & was completely won over by the passion & enthusiasm of Neil Oliver for the subject.
    Cant wait for episode 2.

    Philayres the guy was called John Lord

  • Comment number 24.

    Miss Matty, you illustrate why it would be nice if the Beeb took a bit more care over historical (and current) nonenclature. "Britannia" predates the Roman period of our history and referred to the whole of the British Isles. I.e. not only Scotland but also Ireland was included - but the BBC have decided arbitrarily to exclude this rather large island for no particular reason I can see. If you take a look at map of ancient British tribes on the BBC's British Prehistory page Ireland has disappeared completely - even to the point where the Brigantes are described in purely English terms, despite having lived both sides of the Irish sea.

    England and Wales are much later entities the Romans would not have been familiar with, much less have grouped into one province.

    So, it's not a matter of pedantry, it's a matter of accuracy, which I would have thought might be of relevance to a quality history broadcast.

  • Comment number 25.

    ...started to think I was watching a spoof from the pen of Chris Morris... one whispered sentence every twenty spins of the camera shot round the presenter, meaningful windswept looks out over the sea, fully expected him to pull out a teapot and cosy made from deer antlers and coo lovingly at it... spent the programme playing hunt the fact whilst shouting "keep the ******* camera still", "tell me something!" and "no someone else please tell me something"
    4mins of radio programme padded out with self indulgent camera shots of scenery, total guff...

  • Comment number 26.

    I really enjoyed the first episode and Neil Oliver and his team must be congratulated for presenting their programme as if they were talking to us as an audience without resorting to busy camera trickery which is so nauseating these days and although I was braced for it, it was a refreshing relief not to have CGI presentations of the past as imagined today. I look forward to the next episode .....

  • Comment number 27.

    I saw the title of the program and waited in anticipation to be entertained, enriched and educated. I waited and waited and waited, while a voice droned on. I tried to remember what was said and for some visual affirmation of what was said, but all I saw was a the camera in the face of a person. Very disappointing. It could have been so awesome if it was about "A history of ancient Britain".

  • Comment number 28.

    Latest episode continues to develop this brilliant series. The Celtic fields in Co Mayo was fascinating. Neil's enthusiasm sets the series alight.

  • Comment number 29.

    Great tour of the past which you brought to life in a new way, the clash between cultures and the shift from the wild.
    Please dig deeper here not just in the archaeology but the minds of the past and present.
    Looking forward to next week cheers Paul

  • Comment number 30.

    Just watched the second episode on iPlayer, which I enjoyed as much as the first. Truly fascinating series brought to life by Neil's erudition and enthusiasm for his subject.

  • Comment number 31.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/16/cheddar-cave-skull-cups

    Reading the article above made me wonder about last nights show where Neil Oliver visited that tomb where skeletons were sorted - maybe they weren't thinking about their ancestors but were thinking of a new way to serve food and looking for an approperiate size bowl...
    Then again I probably got my timeline wrong....numbers are a bit an issue.

    I really enjoyed the programm, it's interesting and at least presented by someone who's clearly engaged and interested in the subject. Example digging up the turf and hitting that stone wall.

    For me being a foreigner it sometimes goes a bit too fast though - I missed the mentioning of HOW the farmers came to the lands and taking over from the hunters. I could easily imagine the changes it made but where they came from and how they managed to take over, somehow slipped from my attention....

  • Comment number 32.

    This is a subject I'm interested in so I keep tuning in but I find it unwatchable. It is a colossal ego trip with Oliver nearly always in shot and often in the way of interesting things. Putting it on after Attenborough's Madagascar underlines the crassness of Oliver as a presenter by comparison.

  • Comment number 33.

    Great program. Just watched episode2 and thoroughly enjoyed it but I feel a few references to the neolithic that still exists today ,be it the San people of the Kalahari or the tribes of Borneo and Papua New Guinea would give the novice historian viewer a more contextual insight into the day to day lives of our own ancestors.

  • Comment number 34.

    I was amazed that the editor's sound track was not edited off before transmission. Was that just down to incompetence? It was VERY distracting to be told -- at very frequent intervals through the programme -- that Neil was now walking along a clifftop, or that a train was now going along a railway line, or that Neil was now climbing up the side of a burial mound. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to see were fairly capable of working all that out for ourselves. More editorial care in future please, BBC!

  • Comment number 35.

    This is a wonderful series, but I was puzzled by Neil Oliver's use of the Carnac monoliths (megaliths? mehirs?) to represent a sort of warring frontier zone between mesolithic and neolithic societies. Did I misunderstand? Does this reflect accepted archeological thinking? Reminds me a little of a John Ford western where settled farming folk do battle with plains indians!
    Firstly Carnac must have been created over many thousands of years and its cultural "meaning" would have developed and changed over that period. Secondly it seems most unlikely that a hunter/gatherer society would have had either the time or the inclination to stake this kind of territorial claim.

  • Comment number 36.

    I don't know a great deal about pre-history but found the programme about the Neolithic very interesting. One thing that surprised me was the idea that farming was brought in by individuals with an apparently fully formed new culture. Neil Oliver said that the natives must have been 'surprised' to see the new way of life, and that the standing stones at Carnac were the defiant expression of the new people towards the old hunter/gatherer ways. Surely these changes would have taken place over many hundreds of years, as the result of the spread of new ideas through trade, migration etc rather than the result of the sudden arrival of 'farmers'?
    I would be very interested to know what other people think about this.

  • Comment number 37.

    Having missed part of the 2nd programme (late shift), I have just rewatched the first programme and viewed yesterday's on I-Player, with my beginners introduction to Archaeology in front of me. I got so much more from the content, and feel I know much more than before. By its nature TV is a visual medium, so the director/producer have used those irritating shots to make it so (and thankfully NOT CGI animation), so I can put up with them, and enjoy Neil's enthusiasm, and the depth of knowledge he displays. Looking forwar to next week.

  • Comment number 38.

    Very much covered the same ground as channel 4's Britain BC presented by Francis Pryor. which I throughly enjoyed, and the accompanying book. As a little boy my introduction to history was the Roman history of Britain presented as if it saved Britain from savagery and backwardness. The same is implied by the current Channel 4 series Rome Wasn't Made in a Day. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    My 13 year old daughter is currently being taught that there was a large scale Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain in the wake of the Romans leaving resulting in migrations west of the indigenous people. So I don't think the teaching of history as improved greatly.

    I like the presentation of the series too.

  • Comment number 39.

    With respect to the conversion to farmers, we have to get away from the idea that farming was brought in from the outside through a wave of immigration. The first step to farming is hunting itself when hunting involves changing the environment to make it more attractive to the wildlife, e.g. making a clearing near water by felling trees. Thereby the hunters worked more efficiently because their modus operandi was to get the animals to come to them rather than having to track them down.

  • Comment number 40.

    Interesting second show, but why oh why did you have to clamber up the bank at Coldrum? The site is in a fragile state and you're really not setting a good example. It would be nice if we could leave *something* for our future generations to marvel at, other than tv images!

  • Comment number 41.

    Neil seems to have been dressed more for the purposes of continuity than keeping out the Irish weather! Well done for sticking it out :)

  • Comment number 42.

    I was struck by the influence of the incoming farmers to GB and the profound changes that resulted from a conversion from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalism but what wasn't clear was where these farmers came from. Was this a case of incoming migrants? In that case, where from? or was this a case of an influence from another society? In that case, which society?

  • Comment number 43.

    Excellent, throught-provoking series. I don't know if the following is controversial or just obvious. It seems to me that the onset of farming probably turned us into a species that, almost uniquely in the animal kingdom, may kill its own kind. As the human population was tiny in the hunter-gatherer period, conflict over food resources would be unlikely - if one group of hunter-gatherers encountered another, I think the contact would have been friendly and maybe mutually beneficial. But once you fence in animals and plant crops you consider them to be your property. As animals sometimes die and crops fail, there would be evolutionary pressure for those humans to survive who were prepared to kill or coerce others who had these food resources into relinquishing them. i.e. our intelligence has had the unfortunate effect of producing a ruthless streak which allows us to justify killing or exploiting others.

  • Comment number 44.

    Like many others, I tuned in to watch Neil Oliver as he had proven himself to be an enthusiastic and learned archaeologist as well as a good presenter. Now,his reputation, to my mind, could be at risk if he continues to present theory as fact in reference to neolithic culture and the Wiltshire pre-historic monuments - in particular, the West Kennet Long barrow and Avebury and the surrounding area.
    If ,as he suggests, no one really knows exactly the origin and date of construction of these sites, why does he insist of telling us that it was hunter-gatherers marking the land? This is as wild a supposition as any other and should have been posited as such. As a presenter it is his responsibility to "present" ideas so the viewer may extrapolate further through individual thought and research. His explanation of the Ice Age fell short of examining what would have been a cataclysmic deluge as it melted. He also failed to mention that although Wiltshire would not have been submerged in the mile high ice floes, there is every chance that it would have been frozen all the same, perhaps preserving already existing monuments.
    it is arrogant and crass to assume that just because we find neolithic debris at these sites that we can sufficiently date the construction. With evidence of human activity in the land going back tens of thousands of years, why assume that any important activity must have only occurred after the latest ice age? I now think he is missing vital links and possible theories. Possibly, he is at the mercy of the programme producers but even so, he should spend more time researching and spending valuable time in solitude at the sites rather than skipping through millennia with a crew in a helicopter. The glory shots are getting a little stale as there is scant in depth reasoned thought to counter balance them.

  • Comment number 45.

    So much archaeological theory seems to use religion in order to fill historical gaps in our understanding.
    Tonight's episode regarding the green stone axe's for example, followed a similar well worn path.

    What we don't know, or didn't see, was whether a similar quality of toolmaking stone was available lower down in the hills.
    (I suspect not. Hence the trouble they went to in order to secure the best materials available, and charged for accordingly.)
    To me, using the supernatural to explain the behaviour of people with the same level of intelligence as ourselves (their only drawback being the advances in our scientific understanding), does them a serious disservice.

    Neolithic entrepreneurs may have been as common then, as they are now.



  • Comment number 46.

    So why no mention of Lewis and the numerous sites at Callanais?

  • Comment number 47.

    I really enjoyed the photographic bringing together of the Neolithic sites across Orkney, Cumbria and Ireland and the chance to see inside some of the monuments at mid-winter but was amazed that there was no mention of the current theory that Irish/Welsh glaciers brought the blue stones from the Preselli mountains to the 'Stonehenge' area during the Ice Age - see Oxford Journal of Archaeology and the book 'The Blue Stone Enigma.' I'd like to hear from Neil Oliver why he chose to ignore such compelling arguements.

  • Comment number 48.

    Tonight's programme reminded me that there are many ancient standing stones in Brittany and passage tombs (though not massive). How, if at all, are they related to those in the British Isles and where do they come in the chronology?

  • Comment number 49.

    Impressive programmes, but don't be misled: Neil Oliver drops down from the neolithic axe factory above Langdale in the Lake District suggesting that below it is Sunkenkirk stone circle - when it's miles away near Black Combe. I hope keen circle visitors aren't setting off to Langdale to search for it in the present weather conditions!

  • Comment number 50.

    I watched the neil oliver show twice tonight, and wondered how a subject that has very little proof of what stoneage monuments could of been used for, was portrayed as having some use ,for example burial chambers or astrally aligned centres of belief.
    Lewis spence who wrote the book the mysteries of britain, claims that barrows are initiation chambers for kings, and are not burial sites explicitly.however the entrances all face the east, only god himself really knows what there use was.
    The book also says that the spirals, carved into the rocks represent the path to enlightenment, and has very little to do with time.
    I also wonder why you didn't mention calanais pronounced callanish on the isle of Lewis, ive been trying to get my head around that one for donkeys years, dated 1800 bc give or take a few millions, it consists of a central monolith surrounded by 13 Lewisian gneiss stones, four avenues lead away, with a single row of stones to the east south and west and a double row just slightly east of north. inside the circle are the remains of a neolithic round cairn, and when looking south along the line of the stone avenue gives the point at which midsummer full moon sets behind Clisham. the mind boggles!
    A local belief of the gaelic speaking community was that when the sun rose on midsummer morn the shining one walked along the stone avenue, his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call. the mind boggles even more!

  • Comment number 51.

    I may be wrong but I thought the early eastern Mediterrnean civilisations were 6000 - 4000 BC. Was there no contact with Northern Europe?

  • Comment number 52.

    Why was no reference made to the idea that circular womb-like spaces that are dark and penetrated by the sun down a passage way and tall phallic stones may have been to do with reproduction and sexuality?
    I agree there is always a tendency to link everything to religion too easily. I like Neil Oliver's appearance and how he speaks so I don't mind a few shots of him although I agree this can be overdone. In the program about churches the other day the presenter was shown far too much and we only got brief glimpses of the marvelous art works etc., shown too quickly to take them in. T.V. people are so afraid we will be bored. In general I love this ancient Britain program.

  • Comment number 53.

    I really enjoyed the program last night but I would counter the argument that the stone monuments are purely religious. There were almost certainly religious ceremonies carried out at these locations but I would conclude that their purpose was primarily military not religious. This would be a better explanation for the massive investment of time and labour involved in erecting these huge structures rather than merely religion.

    From “Brogar” in the Orkney Isles (meaning Local Fort in Welsh), to Stonehenge and Newgrange in Ireland their positions all dominate the landscape and would have provided shelter for the farmers from any raiding parties. Theses positions were also an ideal position to locate the army required to defend the cultivated land now being farmed so extensively.

    The sighting positions described at Brogar would allow the main fort to keep vigil over the smaller forts and there is even a moat around Brogar to fortify it further. The large standing stones would provide ideal anchor points to secure large vertical wooden stakes, to produce an early Mott and Bailey style castle.

    New grange has tunnels where the light would not blind those on the inside of the tunnels but those who entered would see nothing until it was too late. The construction of Newgrange would suggest to me that there would have been a wooden fort above what has been rebuilt with access from below.

    I have not been to Stonehenge myself but the large ditch described in an earlier episode would also point to another defensive structure. Does anybody know if there are smaller stone circles visible through the spaces in the Sarcen stones?
    Could Stonehenge have been the base of a high wooden fort raised far above the land to survey all around?

  • Comment number 54.

    What a fantastic episode last night was (stone circles). Neil Oliver is the perfect host for this type of program. I was glued to the screen from start to finish and felt inspired and humbled by the end. It had a "Coast" feel to it, with all the landscape shots and camera work, which isn't a bad thing as I love that series too.
    So what if there wasn't enough "relics" and close-ups...it was more about the history and the story behind the circles rather than "objects".
    To all those who are complaining about certain "inaccuracies" and not enough shots of artifacts...well thats your opinion and you are entitled to it. There's plenty of specialised books in the library to satisfy your advanced knowledge....but for folks like me who are novices with History and archeology...this was pure veiwing pleasure that inspired to find out more! I didnt see the first 2 episodes, is there a way I can catch up??

  • Comment number 55.

    @ Matthew
    Try this link to the previous two episodes on iPlayer. Scroll down a bit and under the photo of Neil you'll see "also available" and episode 1 and 2. I checked and they do still play.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xchyf

  • Comment number 56.

    @ foxystoat.

    Thanks for the link!....appreciate your help...(o:

  • Comment number 57.

    You're welcome Matthew.

  • Comment number 58.

    I love the History of Ancient Britain. There have been a lot of programs about digging up the past, but i have seen some things I have never seen before. Neil Oliver is always great to listen too - I know how he feels when he walks or touches things from so long ago, I get that same feeling. The Irish Barrow that is not open to the public was a true glimpse into the past and made you feel a real connection. More programs like these and the Michael Woods programs BBC please.

  • Comment number 59.

    Could the priestly class that moved between the neolithic monuments have been the Phoenicians? Standing stones and passage tombs are found in the Middle East and it is known that these seafarers travelled vast distances.

  • Comment number 60.

    Thanks eskdaleman for clearing that one up. I was sure the axe factory was up by Pavey Ark and Stickle Tarn from the views shown on the series. I had no idea where Sunkenkirk Stone Circle was - but subsequently found it on the map. Agree it is hardly in the valley below! I guess we'll allow a bit of poetic licence though given the overall quality and interest of the programme.

  • Comment number 61.

    I found the first episode to be amazing. I love history, passively. That is to say that I am mad about it, but am too busy to take my interests to another level.
    And so, a show like this, about MY country is greatly welcome.
    Second episode didn't hit the spot. Perhaps I was just not in the right frame of mind?
    Third episode was brilliant!
    I have just read Bernard Cornwells Stonehenge. So in my minds eye I can see the toil. Your show, and that book have inspired my to make the long journey to see it on the 21st of June.

  • Comment number 62.

    I read above some very negative comments pertaining to this show. Such as "theories and speculations".
    Might I point out that whilst this is a history program it is not an educational program. For some it will wet the appetite to look deeper. For most they will enjoy a show with slightly better ideas than they previously had.
    For instance, Neil never told of the jointed lintels at Stonehenge. He never told how the stones may have been brought by boat. He skirted the information. Which is most often than not all the average viewer wants.

    Some of you moaning cronies, I get the feeling you just have nothing better to do than whinge!

  • Comment number 63.

    I have been enjoying this series and Neil Oliver is a great presenter. First time in ages to see some decent history programmes on TV. None of this pausing in the programme and then re-iterating the last 10 minutes because there has been an advert break. It was not too light and but could have been a touch deeper at times. I wonder if this explored deeper in the book of the series (?) that is likely to follow.

    Besides Callanish, no mention made of the Thornborough henges in Yorkshire?

  • Comment number 64.

    This is a beautiful programme, which I was delighted to stumble upon: I hope you win awards for it. I studied history and I used to make TV and this is a real delight to watch. Well done BBC!

  • Comment number 65.

    I do agree that Neil Oliver the person is a bit too visible. But then that has become the norm for star TV presenters even as good as he, and so much the worse. It just gets in the way. Sometimes the presenter (David Attenborough inevitably comes to mind) is the hero, and that's fine. But otherwise, what's wrong with voiceover as the norm, plus visual appearances by the presenter to introduce and guide the programme, participate in dialogue and establish location and context? Ah well, that's celebrity.

    I've just watched Episode 3 on iPlayer, having seen the first two live, and it has prompted me to install iPlayer Download Manager (a very slow process, I have to say, and still in process while I write and preview this contribution). I've visited the featured Orkney sites several times, and it was great to see them given the attention they deserve. But, while I realise that editing to length is vital, and that the programme was dedicated to the Neolithic, it was a pity that no passing reference could be made to the extraordinary Norse graffiti at Maes Howe.

    It was also a pity that no room could be found for Avebury.

    My wife and I know the Lake District well, but we couldn't work out the location of the axe factory. We decided it must be near Sty Head. From the comments of experts above, however, clearly not. Perhaps the BBC could identify it for us, unless it's being concealed for security reasons.

    In academic debate propositions and refutations are the norm. Some of the more erudite comments above reflect this, even if there are also a few which belong in Pedants' Corner. Clearly programmes of this kind don't have room for such debate or such detail, and must take a point of view. But would it not be wise to distinguish openly between theory and certainty, even at the expense of drama?

  • Comment number 66.

    I was surprised that no mention was made of Skara Brae, which was inhabited around 2500 BC, with an estimated 600 years of continuous habitation. This would be a 1000 years earlier that the date given for the beginning of villages in 1500 BC

  • Comment number 67.

    The content of the program is interesting but too many closeups of Neil, the camera is constantly moving and blurring images. We wanted to see the artifacts for more than 2 seconds.

  • Comment number 68.

    Fantastic series, loved every minute of it! Neil Oliver is great at sparking your interest without going into too much detail, making you want to find out more. Great to see some of the ancient technologies being explored, and some great sites visited too - I have now added Carnac to my list of places to visit! Only disappointment was the lack of Iron Age - series 2 maybe? Great work BBC - will there be a book to follow?!

  • Comment number 69.

    I have just watched Neil Oliver's Age of Bronze, after watching David Attenborough. What a contrast, David's quiet understated approach, articulate, informative, unabrasive, in total contrast to Neil Oliver's look at Me, inarticulate, unfounded, awkwardly over emphasized delivery, apart from the continual strutting and carefully positioned hand or body part to conceal the very thing we want to see.
    He has a lot to learn, ie, to stand back, eschew the I and the me, let the viewer see the object, use less packing and repetition, get the facts straight, remember that his audience may be over fifteen, and to try and keep off cliffs and mountain tops. He just might fall.

  • Comment number 70.

    Brilliant series. Myself and my amateur colleagues from Megalithic Portal society have created a visit log of all the sites visited in the four programmes. These link to descriptions, images and maps of all the main locations featured on our huge web resource.
    View the visit log here.

    Andy B, Founder
    The Megalithic Portal
    http://www.megalithic.co.uk

  • Comment number 71.

    Really enjoyed the down to earth passion Neil always has for his subject from Edge Hill (battle fields) to Ancient Britian. There will always be variations on theories but the trend is at least moving away from the older image of 'hairy guys' dragging rocks, to ancient people we can relate to. I found time team too excitable but Neil or 'that bit of rough' as my wife calls him has the skill to bring the past back to life.The missing part is how megaliths were built using axes, this part is often avoided but if you would like to know the 'trick' of how 100 ton stones were moved to build dolmans with an axe and how to layout Stonehenge matching the original on a cloudy day please contact, it's far easier than often imagined but highly skilled, I've build quite a few. Next series 'The Dark ages' ??

  • Comment number 72.

    A inspiring final episode. For me the style of Neil's presenting is perfect. He makes me feel like he's speaking to me, not to the back of the room, lecture style. I particularly like the way that Neil's personal interest comes through, as you saw in the part where the sword was cast and when he got close up to the Dover boat. You just can't write that passion into a script, it has to come from a true interest. Those little unscripted moments made the series shine and I do hope there's another one in the making.

  • Comment number 73.

    I loved the whole series, and am now even more interested in learning more about these sites for myself! So, job well done! Sparking public interest is the point right? As an early historian myself, I know that there are very few things that are known as fact, and that debate surrounds every aspect of what we 'know' about the period. However, that debate is for the specialists and not for the general public, as that might put them off and that's the last thing you want to do! For all those people complaining: if you think you'd do better, then do your own show! Otherwise stop picking this one apart.
    Anyway, thanks for such a fascinating look at early pre-history. And although I am sure that the 3rd episode - on cosmology - was a lot of conjecture, I felt that Neil really connected with and contextualised the sites he visited in a very interesting and inspiring way. I enjoyed that one best :-)

  • Comment number 74.

    my favourite doc for a while! thanks for making it!

  • Comment number 75.

    Thank you very much for an interesting series. I live in an area of South Wales where ancient sites abound and I've always felt an interest and sense of connection with the past, but now I find myself looking more critically at the sites and their relationship to the surrounding landscape.

  • Comment number 76.

    Can't wait for the next series. But...

    Why no explanation of where the beaker people came from, and indeed of the whole geography of the ages covered in the series and where the British Isles fitted in with the trade? Who actually discovered copper and tin, and how and why?

    More specifically: Neolithic and Bronze Age villages. Oliver seemed to be suggesting that villages and neighbours, with the intention of permanence. were first found with the round houses on Dartmoor. But, if so, what on earth would he call the Skara Brae site but a village with neighbours and an apparent intention of permanence. It may have been constructed one and a half millennia earlier, but it lasted for around six centuries, and families and friends could scarcely have lived closer together.

    Please see my entry above (65), and also Gen24 (66) who seems to have picked up a beginning of villages in between. 3,100, 2,100 or 1,500 BC?

    I'm confused.

  • Comment number 77.

    Having now seen the whole of the first series, I just wanted to add a thank you for a series which has been very informative, and has raised my understanding as an amateur interested in the archaeology of our country. Neil has taken us to so many sites, and shown us objects, of most of which I was aware, but which I did not expect to be able to see. I live near the Peak District, which has its own wealth of sites, and while he may not have visited them, Neil has given me so much more insight into the history of my area. I am looking forward to revisiting these sites over this summer to enjoy them all the more. I will be impatient for the second half of the story next year, which Neil so tantalisingly trailed!

  • Comment number 78.

    Thank you, I loved this series! History is my passion in an amateur way, and I really felt like we were being taken on an inspiring tour through wonderful landscapes and eras. I have watched many history programmes covering all ages and I found this to be the most compelling by far, helped no end by Mr Oliver's obvious passion and enthusiasm, and his personal and informal style. I am very excited to hear there will be a second series. Well done BBC, and well done Mr Oliver!

  • Comment number 79.

    I have watched every single episode of this series with awe and wonder I loved it and felt I learnt a lot, I cannot fault it apart from one small point. If only they had shown an image of what the people looked like at each period Neil talked about, it would have brought it even more alive for me. Much like they did in Meet the Ancestors years ago. Next time perhaps they would consider it.

  • Comment number 80.

    ive found neil olivers series highly engaging and easy to follow, one doesnt want to get too bogged down in detail and science of an evening after a hard days work! I particularly like the repetative reference to the chronology of the periods and analysis of artifacts (such as the reconstruction of a bronze sword..superb!) and of course the stunning photography and the guys sheer enthusiasm (very Attenboroughesque!)

  • Comment number 81.

    I enjoyed the series, but can we have a reply from Neil to the comments from Richard Turner and dcr11 about Carnac? Neil's dating of the Carnac Rows to around 4900 BC is much earlier than anything I have heard before. There is always so much uncertainty about dating such sites but in my view the Rows and Cromlechs of Carnac clearly fit in with the Stone Circle/farming culture era.

  • Comment number 82.

    Watched the last prog on i-player last night. I really enjoyed this series. In just 4 hours clearly many sites had to left out and theories summarised but for the general/interested viewer this was exceptional material presented with passion by Neil Oliver. Visited Newgrange and Ceide Fields last Easter and this brought it all back. Hoping to get to Carnac in the summer and must try for the Orkneys sometime. Thanks Neil.

  • Comment number 83.

    Hi,
    Thanks for all the comments on A History of Ancient Britain. I've been reading through them all and will make some notes so I can offer up some replies and answers to specific queries. So watch this space... there's quite a bit of reading to do.
    Cameron Balbirnie.

  • Comment number 84.

    I've read through all the comments and I'll try to address some of main, recurring points in future notes. For a big general overview, though:

    We are only half way through the story. A second series has been shot and will be appearing in the schedules later this year. We don't know exactly when at the moment, but this will pick up the story around 1000 BC at the height of the Bronze Age and see us through the Iron Age and the Romans... the end of pre-history.

    Neil is also busy writing the book of the series as we speak that will appear later this year and will contain much more detailed content than television ever could. And if you want to linger over the images or watch again in all its glory, then DVDs should also be in the shops.

    It's great to have so many people taking an interest in this series that I feel fills in a real gap in our History offerings. And it's good to read all the comments of all critical hues.

    Cameron Balbirnie
    Series Producer

  • Comment number 85.

    Most people seem to have enjoyed the big scenic approach we took to making the films; some didn't so much. For us it was important to feel the landscape of Britain... and in fact we went to some lengths to plan shoots in all seasons to see cold, wet, misty, hot Britain and try to get a sense of the "land that we call Britain" coming through... a sense that our hills, mountains, shorelines persist through history.

    Interesting also the "Britain", "Great Britain" discussion. This was quite a big one for us. How do we refer to the land before "Britain" existed? Is there a justification to go to Carnac in Brittany or Ireland? I felt we needed to, in order to explore where influences on Britain came from. Early in programmes we did try to acknowledge in the commentary "this place we call Britain" or similar constructions to signal that we're in an age before geo-political boundaries (certainly boundaries we recognise today in any case), but later in programmes for simplicity and brevity we did contract often to just "Britain" or "our land" or similar.

    Cameron Balbirnie
    Series Producer

  • Comment number 86.

    I'm delighted that John Lord, the flint knapper has been given some attention. He's a fantastic craftsman with sonderful knowledge and skills. People might also have noticed the bow maker in programme 2 was Will Lord, his son. They're both great and I'm in awe of what they can do. We'll see more experts in series 2 when we see more bronze casting and iron working... as well as some pretty mean sword skills. not forgetting the people who are creating some incredible food.

    Cameron Balbirnie
    Series Producer

  • Comment number 87.

    Cameron, thanks for the confirmation of the second series. You talked above about the big, scenic approach to the filming and I have to say it worked for me, the sense of the landscape and how events and people took a part in shaping it came across very well. I suppose it's all about finding a balance between the finer details and the bigger picture.

  • Comment number 88.

    Really, the pettiness of some of the negative comments are juvenile in the extreme. If you don't like a TV program, turn your set off and get a life. As for the creationism claptrap, it's best I don't comment. Oh! by the way... Great show!

  • Comment number 89.

    Fanatastic series, easy to follow, Neil Oliver shows his enthusiasm from start to end, which to me keeps the viewer engrossed.

  • Comment number 90.

    Just two weeks ago I posted that the second series would appear in the schedules later this year... well, that's just become "from 7th April" so please look out for it. We pick up around 1000 BC and continue our journey through the Roman period. And as you can imagine, our pre-history starts to get quick busy! The series goes out as "A History of Celtic Britain" just so no one thinks we're putting out repeats!
    Cameron Balbirnie.

  • Comment number 91.

    Great news Cameron, I'd prepared myself for a tidy wait as well! Looking forward to it and thanks for letting us know.

 

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