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28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 07 January 2014

Tom Holland and a cast of leading historians, together with listeners, discuss the latest historical research from across the UK including, this week, the religion of the Picts.

Tom is joined by Professor Martin Carver from the University of York and Dr Gareth Williams from the British Museum in a programme that shines a light on the people of the Dark Ages and also tackles an increasingly thorny issue about how to handle rare artefacts and documents.

Dr Fiona Watson is joined by Dr Alex Woolf from the University of St Andrews on a journey to a Pictish monastery in the remote coastal village of Portmahomack, north of Inverness. It's a site which, thanks largely to the work on Martin Carver, tells us a lot about the reach of Christianity and how the east coast of Britain lost its economic and political advantage after the fall of Rome. Oddly, it was Portmahomack's links to the west through the Great Glen which helped its monastery become established during this period.

And at the British Library, the gloves are off as Helen Castor responds to listener's concerns about the way in which she handled rare documents in her recent TV series for BBC 4.

Contact the programme: making.history@bbc.co.uk

Produced by Nick Patrick
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

  • Programme Guests

    Tom Holland is joined by the archaeologist Professor Martin Carver from the University of York and Dr Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage at the British Museum.
  • Portmahomack - monastery of the Picts

    For the last 20 years, Martin Carver has been working on a remote site north east of Inverness. The dig was on an iron-age site in the small, coastal village of Portmahomack. Its revealed a Pictish monastery which, from the end of the 6th century through to the end of the 8th was a wealthy Christian community with links through the Great Glen to the trade links of the Irish Sea.


    Dr Fiona Watson met up with Dr Alex Woolf from the University of St Andrews to find out more about the significance of the site.

  • More Information

    Tarbat Discovery Centre


    There is a review of Professor Martin Carver’s recent book “Portmahomack: monastery of the Picts” and other works on so-called insular monasteries in Antiquity

  • The Vikings are coming…

    Martin Carver’s excavation shows evidence of a raid around the year 800 which dramatically affected the Portmahomack site. The raid was most likely by the Vikings and the settlement went from being a religious site to a trading post. 


    Viking culture is to be celebrated by a new exhibition at the British Museum which opens in March. At the same time, the Sutton Hoo display will be updated to show its links throughout Europe and the rest of Britain.

  • More Information

  • Handling historic documents

    Some listeners to Making History were concerned to see Helen Castor, in her recent series for BBC 4, handling the fifteenth century Paston Letters with her bare hands in the British Library. “Shouldn’t she have been wearing gloves”, they ask? According to Sarah Hamlyn Lead Preventive Conservator at the British Library, the answer is “no”. Its produced a video to explain more. 


    Making History is produced by Nick Patrick and is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4. Contact the programme by email making.history@bbc.co.uk, or write to:

    Making History, 

    PO Box 3096, 

    Brighton. BN1 1PL



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    Making History

    Making History explores ordinary people's links with the past. The programme is presented by Helen…

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