This week: River finds

It seems less obvious today, as we hurtle about the country using modern road and rail networks, but river crossings were once dangerous places. In ancient times, rites in the form of prayers and sacrifices would be performed to appease the river gods and to improve the chances that goods…

This week: Fortresses and invasions

Those with even a cursory knowledge of ancient history will recall that Julius Caesar made his first expedition to Britain in 55 BC. Others may also be aware that the process of Rome's permanent conquest of Britannia did not begin until 43 AD, during the reign of Emperor Claudius.…

This week: Ancient technology

One of the exciting things about archaeology is that, just occasionally, something truly extraordinary comes along which radically changes the way we think about the past. One such moment came in 1900, when sponge divers working around the Greek island of Antikythera happened upon a shipwreck containing the single most…

This week: prisoners of war

Millions of us grew up on stories of bravery among prisoners of war in the Second World War. What is less well known is that brutal treatment of British POWs was a feature of the 1914-18 conflict too. In all, 171,720 Tommies and their officers were captured during the First…

This week: Nelson

Who is Britain's greatest military hero? In a poll of the general public, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, came in third place on 11%. In second, on 19%, was Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. But the clear leader – with 27% of the vote – was Horatio Nelson, the inspirational…

This week: experimental archaeology

The word 'experimental' can be confusing, or even alarming. It suggests an area of activity in which people are pushing at boundaries, or acting somehow without official approval. Attached to the word 'archaeology', however, it simply denotes a field of academic study that uses controlled experiments to provide a…

This week: Castles

The most expensive secular building of its day, Dover Castle was described by the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris as 'the key of England'. But though its imposing fortifications tower over the shortest sea crossing between Britain and the European mainland, it wasn't built in response to any threat of imminent…

This week: Feasts

Britain pulled out the red carpet last weekend, as world leaders arrived in Cornwall for this year's G7 summit. It wasn't the first time in history that power and pleasure have been so mixed, however. Indeed, last week's gathering would have seemed strangely familar to the 6,000 Englishmen and women…

This week: Nero

He was enthroned as Roman emperor at just 16. But history has not been kind to Nero's reputation. According to the surviving sources, he was a matricide and a multiple wife-murderer, and he also stands accused of various other horrific crimes and misdemeanours. So does Nero's name really deserve to…

This week: archaeology in peril

The news this week that the University of Sheffield is to press ahead with plans to close its school of archaeology has sent a shiver through the heritage world. It is a ‘devastating’ blow, said the Council of British Archaeology. Mary Beard, the eminent historian, called it ‘worrying in the…

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