Meet the Ancestors

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Meet the Ancestors
BBC Ancestors Book Cover.jpg
BBC Book Cover
Genre Documentary
Presented by Julian Richards
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Ian Potts
Running time 30 minutes
Distributor BBC Worldwide
Original airing 8 January, 1998
Related shows Blood of the Vikings

Meet the Ancestors aka Ancestors was a BBC Television documentary series that documented the archaeological excavation and scientific reconstruction of human remains. The series was introduced by archaeologist Julian Richards and often included facial reconstructions by Caroline Wilkinson.

Companion book[edit]


  • The series was renamed Ancestors for its seventh season.


Series one (1998)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
1 "The Wolf Den" Yorkshire Dales 8 January 1998 (1998-01-08)
Richards investigates the discovery of a subterranean chamber discovered by two pot-holing divers, Andrew Goddard and Phil Murphy, in the Yorkshire Dales which contains human remains from the Bronze Age and visits a cave in which a prehistoric footprint has been unearthed.
2 "The Lady of the Sands" Donegal 15 January 1998 (1998-01-15)
Richards investigates a bulldozer-operator's discovery of bodies cremated almost 2,000 years ago on a beach near Donegal, providing an insight into the lives and deaths of Ireland's first Christians.
3 "Friends, Romans or Countrymen?" Bristol 22 January 1998 (1998-01-22)
Richards joins a team excavating a large sarcophagus from a Bristol burial site discovered by a bulldozer-operator which could shed light on the Roman lifestyle.
4 "The Rose Garden Mystery" Malmesbury Abbey 29 January 1998 (1998-01-29)
Richards investigates the remains of a body dating from Saxon times, discovered in the grounds of Malmesbury Abbey, which could be the final resting place of King Athelstan.
5 "Bones in the Barnyard" Somerset 5 February 1998 (1998-02-05)
Richards investigates remains of two crouched bodies discovered in a remote Somerset village that DNA experts link with the Iron Age.
6 "At the Sign of the Eagle" Winchester 29 January 1998 (1998-01-29)
Richards investigates the priceless contents of a fourth-century lead sarcophagus found in a Roman cemetery in Winchester, which gives unexpected clues to the pagan beliefs of its wealthy occupant.

Series two (1999)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
7 "Warrior" Suffolk 7 January 1999 (1999-01-07)
Richards investigates an Anglo-Saxon grave on a U.S. Air Force base in Suffolk, where the remains of a warrior in full battle regalia have been discovered alongside the bodies of his horse and a number of children apparently bearing weapons.
8 "The Tomb That Time Forgot" Orkney 28 January 1999 (1999-01-28)
Richards joins a team of police officers and archaeologists to investigate the secrets of the past in a Stone Age burial chamber containing the remains of four people recently discovered in an Orkney barley field.
9 "Living with the Ancestors" Winterbourne Gunner, Salisbury 4 February 1999 (1999-02-04)
Richards and the team visit a couple's home built over a fifth-century graveyard in Winterbourne Gunner, near Salisbury. Under the garage they are surprised to discover a male skeleton which may be that of an Ancient Briton.
10 "The Black Hand" Chester 11 February 1999 (1999-02-11)
Richards investigates the discovery of a human jawbone in a Chester field, which led to the unearthing of a 12th-century chapel and the remains of medieval landowners. As archaeologists piece together the clues to present a Hampshire teacher with an image of his ancestors.
11 "Hunter of the Plain" Salisbury
Richards investigates a rare Bronze Age grave on the Army's vast training ground on Salisbury Plain dating from the time of nearby Stonehenge to recreate a prehistoric bow and arrow to find out just how skilled and deadly this hunter might have been.
12 "A Family Plot"
Richards helps an archaeological team remove three burials locked within a 19th-century vault, as an old cemetery is cleared for redevelopment near to the ruins of Coventry's blitzed cathedral. The discoveries help piece together the history of a family who lived more than 150 years ago and reflect the changing fortunes of the city.

The Pauper of Spitalfield: Special (1999)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
Special "The Pauper of Spitalfield" Spitalfields, London 18 September 1999 (1999-09-18)
Julian Richards presents a look at the excavation of Spitalfields in London, the site of a huge medieval monastery that cared for the sick and poor.

Series three (2000)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
13 "Princess of the City" Spitalfields, London 13 January 2000 (2000-01-13)
Richards investigates the significance of the archaeological dig at Spitalfields where experts have uncovered an elaborate Roman sarcophagus with a decorated lead coffin inside, and remnants of clothing and objects never before found in Britain.
14 "The French Connection" Guernsey 20 January 2000 (2000-01-20)
Richards investigates the lives of three men whose remains were found on an island just off the coast of Guernsey to find out how they ended up in such a desolate place, and whether they could have been monks.
15 "The Domesday Fire" Cambridgeshire 27 January 2000 (2000-01-27)
Richards examines the remains of a medieval execution victim discovered in one of 600 graves surrounding a ruined Saxon church in Cambridgeshire.
16 "The Chosen One" Bourton-on-the-Water 3 February 2000 (2000-02-03)
Richards investigates the seemingly bound body of an Iron Age teenage girl found in a rubbish heap in the Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water to reconstruct her life more than 2,500 years ago.
17 "A Roman Plot" Bath 10 February 2000 (2000-02-10)
Richards explores the stories behind two Roman burial sites excavated in the centre of Bath. He attempts to discover why the deceased were laid to rest contrary to normal Roman custom with one actually placed in a lead coffin and he retraces events from the time when Christianity was gradually taking root in Britain to the final days of Roman rule.
18 "The Lost Souls" Wing, Buckinghamshire
Richards recruits local schoolchildren to investigate a mysterious burial ground found among the foundations of the Victorian village school in Buckinghamshire. The project provides a revealing insight into the history of the area and the people who lived there a thousand years ago.

Canterbury special (2000)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
Special "Skeleton in the Crypt: The Pilgrim Trade" Canterbury 7 October 2000 (2000-10-07)
Professor John R. Butler investigates the mysterious disappearance of the remains of murdered Archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas Becket, killed by Henry II's soldiers in 1170. How much truth is there in the popular belief that he was cremated and his ashes scattered during the Reformation? Plus, an examination of the town of Canterbury itself as a place of pilgrimage and tourism.

Series four (2001)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
19 "The Killing Field" Gloucestershire 9 January 2001 (2001-01-09)
Richards investigates a field where a mass of ancient bones was unearthed in 1968. The team slowly piece together evidence of a battle that took place more than 3,000 years ago, and build up a surprising picture.
20 "The Bishop's Men" Hereford Cathedral 16 January 2001 (2001-01-16)
Richards investigates a medieval burial site unearthed beneath the walls of Hereford Cathedral that revealed six skeletons clutching chalices and patens, suggesting they were priests and pieces together a picture of their lifestyles, which included pilgrimages, drinking and womanising.
21 "Winds of Change" Bamburgh Dunes, Northumberland 23 January 2001 (2001-01-23)
Richards investigates six Anglo-Saxon graves in the sand dunes near Bamburgh Castle, which could provide an insight into the life of King Oswald of Bernicia. Initially discovered when a storm exposed some remains in 1817, it is only recently that archaeologists have found the complete burial ground.
22 "The Architect, the Clerk and the Money" St Paul's Cathedral 30 January 2001 (2001-01-30)
Richards explores the life of Lawrence Spencer, clerk of works to Christopher Wren during the construction of St Paul's Cathedral. His devotion to the task earned him the right to be buried under the south transept of what is arguably the country's finest neoclassical building.
23 "The Ultimate Sacrifice" Dorset 6 February 2001 (2001-02-06)
Richards contemplates the gruesome fate of a Neolithic woman and three children whose remains were discovered in a Stone Age temple. Bones and teeth reveal a dark tale of these prehistoric wanderers, who may have made the ultimate sacrifice 5,000 years ago.
24 "Treasures of the Dark Age" Peterborough 6 February 2001 (2001-02-06)
Richards investigates a burial ground in Peterborough unearthing artefacts from first and second-generation Anglians who settled in Britain, including bronze brooches, silver rings, amber beads and strange ivory objects.

Series five (2002)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
25 "Chariot Queen" Wetwang, East Riding of Yorkshire 19 February 2002 (2002-02-19)
Richards investigates the discovery of a grave containing the body of tallest Iron Age woman ever found in Britain and a dismantled chariot, a find which caused great excitement and speculation among archaeologists. Initial theories suggested the woman must have been a Celtic princess, but the realisation that the carriage was intended for battle led experts to conclude they must be the remains of a warrior queen similar to the celebrated Boudicca.
26 "Malaria and the Fall of Rome" Lugano, Italy
Richards and the team visit an archaeological site where the bodies of 47 babies and children were recently excavated. The discovery that the youngsters died from malaria has given rise to the theory that the fall of one of history's greatest empires was in part due to an epidemic : so when a fleet of Roman cargo ships are discovered deliberately sunk in mysterious circumstances at a site in Sardinia, the experts arrive hoping to find conclusive evidence.
27 "The Forgotten Battlefield" Ypres, Flanders
Richards pieces together the story of life on the World War I front line as amateur archaeologists unearth a complex system of trenches, an exceptional array of military hardware and an astonishing collection of personal artefacts either forgotten or discarded at the end of the conflict.
28 "The Lost Palace of Hampton Court" Hampton Court Palace
Richards joins a team as they start to dig within the walls of Hampton Court Palace for evidence to support the assistant curator's theory that the original palace built by Cardinal Wolsey, largely obliterated by Henry VIII, may have Italian Renaissance roots, thus making it one of the most significant buildings in English architectural history.
29 "Slave Island" Manhattan, New York
Richards investigates how the 1991 discovery of a forgotten burial ground in Manhattan shed new light on the history of slavery in America. Archaeological evidence has exploded the myth that New York had always been a 'free' state, revealing the crucial role played by African-Americans in the city's development and prosperity.
30 "Celtic Causeway" Lincolnshire 27 March 2002 (2002-03-27)
Richards looks at how the discovery of the remains of an ancient trackway in the fenlands of Lincolnshire has thrown new light on the rituals of the Iron Age. Made of wooden posts some five metres long, the track ran over marshy ground to the open water and was no ordinary thoroughfare. This was a place were the Celts went to worship their deities.

New Year special (2003)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
Special "Our Top Ten Treasures" British Museum Patricia Wheatley 1 January 2003 (2003-01-01)
Adam Hart-Davies profiles the 10 most important treasures ever unearthed in Britain as voted by a panel of experts from the British Museum.

Series six (2003)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
31 "Napoleon's Lost Army" Vilnius, Lithuania 4 February 2003 (2003-02-04)
Richards investigates the remains of the soldiers of Napoleon's army, discovered in a mass grave near Vilnius provide a new perspective on the final days of the dictator's military forces as they attempted to conquer Russia in 1812. Modern technology reveals the varied nationalities of many of the fallen soldiers, while lavish reconstructions of the final battles illustrate one of the greatest disasters in military history.
32 "Britain's Oldest House"
Richards joins archaeologist Clive Waddington and his team as they unearth evidence of Stone Age communities dating back 10,000 years. Advanced dating techniques and analysis build up a picture of what life was like in 8600 BC, revealing that the people of the time were sophisticated settlers with a system of beliefs and the ability to exploit the landscape to suit their own needs.
33 "King of Stonehenge" Stonehenge 19 February 2003 (2003-02-19)
Richards investigates a grave found a few miles from Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, believed to be the richest Bronze Age burial ever found, owing to the quantity of riches with which the man was buried. The team attempt to find more clues to his identity, and with the haul including the earliest metal objects found in Britain, piece together clues about life for people so far back in time.
34 "The Lost City of Roman Britain" Calleva Atrebatum, Hampshire
Richards uncovers the mysteries of the recently-discovered missing city of Calleva Atrebatum in Hampshire. All that now remains of it is a wall enclosing 100 hectares of empty fields, but with advanced computer graphics to fill in the gaps, the programme rebuilds Calleva, asking why it was abandoned. Supported by current findings, it proves that in its time, Calleva was a city of significance and then goes in search of the reasons for its ultimate demise.
35 "Desert Rescue" Sahara
A British team travel deep into the inhospitable Sahara desert to find out what remains of a Hermes airliner forced to crash-land in May 1952, when it ran out of fuel 1,300 miles off course. Using official documents and testimony from the surviving crew and passengers, the final hours of the doomed plane are pieced together.
36 "The Mummies of Cladh Hallan" 18 March 2004 (2004-03-18)
One of the UK's foremost archaeologists reveals what he claims are the first British mummies ever discovered, dating back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. Overcoming conventional thinking will prove a major problem, but, if his evidence stands up to scientific scrutiny, the perspective on the ancient Britons will be changed for ever.

Series seven (2004)[edit]

# Episode Location Director Original airdate
37 "Nelson's Forgotten Heroes" Aboukir Bay, Egypt
Nick Slope's investigation into an archaeological dig on a tiny island which may have uncovered human remains connected to Horatio Nelson's 1798 victory against Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. Forensic evidence is combined with information from ships' logs and personal memoirs from the time in a bid to identify bodies and paint a picture of life in Nelson's fleet.
38 "Billy and the Fighter Boys"
Richards investigates the story of the fighter pilots of No 1 Squadron, who flew their Hurricanes against the Luftwaffe in the Battle of France during May 1940. Fighter ace Billy Drake was forced to bail out of his plane over eastern France, and, 63 years later, returns to the site where, with the help of a team of aviation archaeologists, he is reunited with its shattered remains.
39 "The Hunt for Darwin's Beagle" Essex 28 February 2004 (2004-02-28)
Richards follows marine archaeologist Robert Prescott and scientist Colin Pillinger in their bid to find the final resting place of HMS Beagle, the ship made famous by naturalist Charles Darwin's voyages of discovery. Old maps and previous digs provide clues to the vessel's final resting place, and a remote-sensing survey at a secret location in the Essex marshes reveals the remains of a 90ft hull.
40 "The Curse of Oxford Gaol" Oxford
Richards reports from a dig where human skeletons hundreds of years old were discovered by builders excavating the ground outside the prison. The remains of more than 30 people, including a hanged teenager, a child whose legs were bent double and a severed head, were found at the site, and some believe that these skeletons prove the existence of a legendary curse dating back to 1577.
41 "The Stonehenge Enigma" Stonehenge
Richards examines the detective work which has taken place over the past 300 years and gives enthusiasts a clearer understanding of Stonehenge. An expert on the enigmatic standing stones himself, Richards shares the latest evidence, including forensic tests on a skeleton found at the site. He then reveals how they were erected as revolutionary cultural changes were sweeping Europe, leaving behind a timeless monument to one of the major turning points in human history.
42 "Journey to Hell" France
Wilfred Owen's nephew travels to the site of the Heidenkopf in northern France, an abandoned German front-line trench which was relentlessly bombed during the war poet's two-day ordeal in January 1917. With the help of trench map expert Peter Chasseaud, historians Paul Reed, Andy Robertshaw and Nigel Jones, plus a team of archaeologists, the dig unearths the remains of three soldiers and the entrance to a dug-out.

External links[edit]