BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Go to the Listen Again page
Unearthing four new mysteries.
Tuesdays 20 December 2005 to 17 January 2006 11.00-11.30am 

In the first of a new series of Unearthing Mysteries Aubrey Manning travels to Northern France where he goes deep underground beneath the battlefields of World War I to uncover the legacy of an underground war fought over 90 years ago.

In the second programme of the series, Aubrey goes in search of the ancient Roman port of Muziris on the Malabar coast in Kerala, India.

The third programme sees Aubrey visiting the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project to discover why a society of 1500 people collapsed 200 years ago.

In the final programme Aubrey travels to Central Mexico to look at what is claimed to be 40,000 year old fossilised human footprints. These could suggest the first Americans arrived earlier than previously thought.

The Goodman Subway, one of the underground tunnels

Programme 1

Aubrey meets members of the Durand group, a team of volunteer archaeologists, munitions experts, historians and both retired and serving soldiers.

They're investigating a vast network of hundreds of miles of tunnels which criss-cross beneath France and Belgium.  These tunnels were dug by skilled miners and used to support the fighting overhead in the trenches.

Linking to deep below the battlefields, tunnels were vital for communication, joining army headquarters, relief supply depots, huge water reservoirs, chapels and hospitals.

The tunnels were also crucial for laying mines and explosives.

Specially-trained listeners could recognise the sound of enemy digging, mine-laying and even pick out the sounds of slugs.  Their skills saved the lives of hundreds of men.

Join Aubrey Manning as he walks along the often cramped and claustrophobic tunnels to uncover the staggering story of World War I’s underground war.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1
Chinese fishing nets on the Periyar River, Kerala, India
Chinese fishing nets on the Periyar river, Kerala, India

Programme 2

The Romans were great travellers and are well-known for having established their culture across much of Europe, the Mediterranean and Northern Africa. 

There were places further afield that were important to them too, and although they were not able to annexe them as part of the Roman Empire, they were certainly regular visitors. 

One such place is the topic of this week's Unearthing Mysteries.  Aubrey Manning goes in search of the ancient Roman port of Muziris on the Malabar Coast in Kerala, India. 

The Romans, by the 1st Century AD, were well-established sailors and knew how to take advantage of the monsoon winds to take them across the Arabian Sea to the Indian Coast. 

Along this Eastern coast they were able to trade with the Indians, and then, once the monsoon winds had changed direction, sailed back to the Red Sea, crossed Egypt and took their goods back to the heart of the Empire. 

Muziris was known to be located on the Periyar River which today runs to the sea through the environs of Cochin.  

It has been difficult to locate the precise location of the port in the area because it is a delta region, and the river has changed its course many times,  

Historically it was thought to be at present day Kodungallur.  Recently though, archaeologists have found evidence that a little town nearby, called Pattanam, could be a more likely prospect.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2
Derek Alexander of the National Trust for Scotland and Steve Boyle of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments show Aubrey Manning (right) the remains of a Shieling site on the slopes of Ben Lawers.
Derek Alexander and Steve Boyle with Aubrey Manning (right)

Programme 3

The flanks of Ben Lawers on the northern side of Loch Tay in the Central Scottish Highlands form a desolate landscape. But 200 years ago a population of nearly 1500 was scratching out a living from the thin, cold, wet soil.

The mystery is why their society collapsed and indeed how it established in the first place. For the past four years, a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists has been excavating, surveying and analysing to try and find some answers. They call it the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project.

Aubrey Manning begins his visit high on the slopes of the mountain, where several low mounds in the rough heather mark the sites of so-called shielings, simple huts that were used when cattle were led up to their summer pastures.

There is new evidence for far earlier habitation there, perhaps 7000 years ago, when Mesolithic hunters followed reindeer across the mountain passes not long after the last ice age.

In the more fertile soil near the loch there are widespread signs of habitation. Known as the infield, this was where hundreds of smallholders held their tenancies from the local Laird, the Earl of Breadalbane.

As well as the remains of their crofts and field systems, researchers have been able to trace their activities by studying the soil and detailed records of pollen preserved within it.

By the 1790s, the population had swollen to the point where the infield was not sufficient and tenants were moved out further up the slope. These 'outfield' sites had been ploughed occasionally before but the soil was poor.

Tenants had to add animal manure and lime to make it workable and there are accounts of great hardship as poor and sometimes elderly people were moved there as their only option for making a living. By 1850, many farms were deserted and today, sheep and tourists outnumber the few inhabitants.

Down by Loch Tay, there is evidence of much more ancient occupation in the form of crannogs. These are the remains of what were once great wooden round-houses built out into the loch on stilts.

There are 18 in Loch Tay, some dating back to the Bronze Age 2500 years ago, others occupied as recently as the 17th century. One was reconstructed 10 years ago as the central attraction for the Scottish Crannog Centre.

Nick Dixon, who runs the centre, found many large trunks of oak submerged in the shallow water of the loch. Carbon dating and partial excavation revealed them to be the remains of a Neolithic forest that must have existed when the water level in the loch was perhaps five metres lower than it is today.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 3
Silvia Gonzalez and Aubrey Manning examine possible tracks of the first Americans

Programme 4

The Americas represented a New World not only to Christopher Columbus but also to his Stone Age predecessors, the first humans to colonise the continent.

Until a few years ago, the story seemed clear: native Americans are descended from people who crossed from Siberia at the end of the last ice age, when melting ice opened a route 11 or 12,000 years ago.

But there is an increasing body of evidence to show that there were people there before that time, reaching South America 12,500 years ago and possibly much earlier.

Now, there is a sensational claim from Mexico where Silvia Gonzalez from Liverpool John Moores University and colleagues have found what they claim are human footprints 40,000 years old!

This is controversial research in a highly competitive field and already critics from the United States are saying that the volcanic rocks in which the prints lie are 1.3 million years old, meaning that the traces could not possibly be from human feet.

Aubrey Manning travels to the site amid the volcanoes of central Mexico to see the evidence for himself and hear the claims and counterclaims of rival research teams. He finds a mystery that is not going to be easily explained away.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 4
Listen Live
Audio Help
Leading Edge
Science, Nature & Environment Programmes
Current Programmes
Archived Programmes

News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

Back to top

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy