The official website of Julian Richards, archaeologist, broadcaster and writer
About Julian Richards

I was born in Nottingham in 1951 and 'educated' at the Nottingham Boys High School where I discovered and developed an aversion for both discipline and rugby. Having left school with rubbish A levels, no place at university and a vague idea that I wanted to study history of art, I fell into archaeology when looking for temporary work at Nottingham’s Castle Museum where I knew the Keeper of Art. My first experience of working on a dig, in the Lacemarket area of Nottingham (the Saxon town) made me realise that this was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, after two years digging on various sites in Nottingham, interspersed with spells at Player's pipe tobacco factory and a series of very odd jobs (including erecting fire escapes and spray painting road signs), I finally managed to get a place at Reading University. Here I discovered (courtesy of the excellent and inspiring Richard Bradley) that prehistory was more exciting than medieval archaeology, found the joys of solitary fieldwork, narrowly missed a first class degree and in 1975 embarked on a career as a professional archaeologist.

From 1975 to 1980 I worked for the Berkshire Archaeological Unit, helping to build the County Sites and Monuments Record, excavating and carrying out a survey of the Berkshire Downs. This was where I had my first encounter with human burials, something that sowed the seeds for my Ancestors TV series nearly 25 years later. It was also in Berkshire that egged on by my boss, Grenville Astill, I started giving talks and teaching evening classes, something that I have done ever since and will continue to do as long as I have the physical strength and my marbles are intact..

In 1980 I was moved to Salisbury to work for the newly created Wessex Archaeology, spending the next decade running the ‘Stonehenge Environs Project’, a detailed study of Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape. For a prehistorian this was a fantastic project. Winters were spent fieldwalking and over four summer excavation seasons we excavated flint and pottery scatters, a henge, two Cursus monuments, a long barrow, a round barrow and a series of linear ditches. This project (which I promptly published) taught me a huge amount, was enormous fun and provided my first brush with ‘the media’, contributing in a small way to several programmes about Stonehenge. While I was at Wessex Archaeology I continued to teach as much as I could, mainly for Bristol University Continuing Education which was at that time run by Mick Aston. This was great training in communication and for many years Mick and I ran summer schools for blind students, dealing with subjects as diverse as conflict and warfare, ceramics and the prehistory of Wessex. Mick has remained a close friend ever since.

In 1991, Wessex Archaeology having decided that we had to become 'project managers' rather than just archaeologists, I decided that I had had enough of working for a large organisation. So, with two colleagues from Wessex, Pete Cox and John Hawkes, I left to form AC archaeology, a small Wiltshire based independent organization that is still going strong now under Pete's sole direction. But after three years of this, despite AC archaeology flourishing, I decided that commercial archaeology was not for me and left to work for English Heritage on their Monuments Protection Programme (the MPP). This took me back to my solitary fieldwork roots, inspecting and preparing reports on the protection of important archaeological sites in Wiltshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

However, shortly after starting work on the MPP something happened that was to change my career direction in a massive way. I was asked to contribute to another TV programme, this one about how Stonehenge was built in a series splendidly entitled ‘Secrets of Lost Empires’. This programme was centred around an ambitious experiment involving a full scale concrete replica of the tallest of the Stonehenge trilithons. Engineer Mark Whitby was given the task of moving and erecting the stones (40 ton uprights and a 10 ton lintel) using only the technology available to the original prehistoric builders. I was the archaeologist who was supposed to keep Mark in check. It worked well as a programme (although I never did find out the size of the budget overspend) and led to BBC researcher Tania Linden and I developing a new idea for television that eventually became ‘Meet the Ancestors’.

The first series of MTA was commissioned in the autumn of 1996 and in the spring of 1997 I was given a year's leave from English Heritage to work on it. Starting as an expert contributor I almost immediately graduated to presenter so when a second series was commissioned (thank you Mark Thompson) I resigned my day job and from then until 2004 worked full time in broadcasting and writing. This involved seven series of ‘Meet the Ancestors’ (1998 - 2004), a five part series ‘Blood of the Vikings’ in 2000 and over 60 programmes in the series ‘Mapping the Town’ on Radio 4 (1999-2004). There have been books to accompany both Ancestors and Vikings, two BBC History Web site interactive games, ‘Hunt the Ancestor’ and ‘Viking Quest’; and lots more contributions to the web site and BBC History Magazine.

Since 2004 I have written four books on the subject of Stonehenge and contributed to 'Magic Stones', a book of Czech photographer Jan Pohribny's wonderful photographs of megalithic sites throughout Europe (see Books). I also carried out a study of Aggregates Levy funded outreach projects for English Heritage and, for English Heritage, prepared a conservation plan for Old Sarum Castle. On the broadcast front I have presented ‘Men of Stone’, a Radio 4 series about the Portland Stone industry and a BBC 2 'Timewatch' programme about Hadrians Wall. In 2008 I also presented a series for HTV about the construction of a range of West Country icons from the Fosse Way Roman road to Concorde. ‘Building Wonders’ was great fun, involving a small version of me interacting with a lot of very clever computer graphics. It has apparently just been shown in Australia! I have also made a non-broadcast film about the first Viking raid of 793AD for the Lindisfarne Trust and have extolled the delights of gravel (for a kids audience) in ‘Gravel is Great’ for the Cotswold Water Park.

Finally in 2011 came ‘Meet the Ancestors revisited’ which subsequently grew the prefis - ‘Stories from the Dark Earth’. I will keep you up to date with any future TV and radio programmes in the Broadcast section.

In 2008 I curated my first museum exhibition; 'Inspired by Stonehenge' (or all the strange things that people have produced in the name of Stonehenge) at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. The exhibition was also displayed at Chippenham, Swindon and the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Having subsequently given most of my Stonehenge collection to Salisbury Museum I may soon be curating it again as part of the new Stonehenge visitor centre exhibitions.

Although I have a degree from Reading, I never carried out any postgraduate work and am therefore not a Professor or even a Doctor. I am, however, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA) and a member of the Institute for Archaeologists (MIFA). I have two British Archaeological Awards on my office wall, one for the ‘Hunt the Ancestor’ game and the other for the MTA programme ‘Chariot Queen’. I also have my own Blue Peter badge!

This is a potted archaeological life story. I have enjoyed all of it, never regretted my choice of career all those years ago and continue to find the past, both near and distant, a fascinating place to explore.

What you have read so far may give the impression that my life consists entirely of archaeology. But this is not the case. Motor sport (historic naturally) figures very strongly amongst my other obsessions and will shortly have its own section.