Introducing the world’s first English-language archaeology TV shows

Posted on 27 October 2017

Sara Perry researches the link between archaeology and the origins of TV programming

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A York lecturer has published a paper on the birth of archaeological TV programmes.

Dr Sara Perry, from the Department of Archaeology, has carried out research on the first-ever English-language archaeology TV shows, aired in 1937. Published in the Journal of Public Archaeology, this research explores the intimate link between the birth of archaeologically themed television programmes and the origins of television itself, and comes more than seven years after Sara discovered the records hidden deep inside the BBC’s archives.

The article examines two of the first such shows, likely the earliest in the English-speaking world for which records survive. While noting the role of Mortimer Wheeler in their development, several key women who produced and starred in the programmes (Margot Eates, Ione Gedye, and Delia Parker), are also highlighted. These women also held critical posts in the establishment of professional archaeological practice in Britain, based at London's Institute of Archaeology (IoA).

The BBC TV broadcasts were specifically deployed to showcase the sites and methods of the burgeoning discipline of archaeology. More importantly, however, they were subtle players in the building of intellectual and institutional capital for both the IoA and the BBC. Augmented by other graphic media produced by the IoA itself, the earliest televised archaeology shows generated income, exposure, capacity, and clout for these two very different but pioneering organizations.

As such productions were broadcast live, no film records survive. The research was based on paper records, such as correspondences between Mortimer Wheeler and a young David Attenborough, as well as records of anticipated camera angles and film sequences for some of the shows.

Dr Perry says: "There is so much fascinating insight here into the early days of both archaeology and TV, including the fact that they each arguably depend on one another to varying degrees to emerge and establish themselves as (public) services."

Read the full article in the Journal of Public Archaeology at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14655187.2017.1283932

Sara has blogged about the research at https://saraperry.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/introducing-the-worlds-first-english-language-archaeology-tv-shows/

Visit Sara's website at https://saraperry.wordpress.com