Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath was a rather disappointing two part series about new work on the site around Stonehenge. The basic premise was that Stonehenge shouldn't be considered in isolation, instead it's important to understand the whole area around it. So a team of archaeologists from Austria have done a site wide survey of 10km2 using non-invasive modern techniques - geophys and the like. The programmes were heavy on shots of archaeologists driving tractors with scientific equipment attached, and computer reconstructions of possible buildings, and very light on explaining where their theories came from. For instance they confidently told us about the sequence of the various things that had been detected, but never mentioned how they were dating them - something inherent in the data? style of building corresponds to an era? pulled a number out of thin air? They were also pretty good at taking speculation and presenting it as close to factual. Like the confident pronouncement that the site in general was sacred because there's a weird chemical reaction between something in the river and flint that means flint from the river goes bright pink after it dries. But a) we don't know if that weirdness happened then (or maybe we do, but they just didn't explain it well enough) and b) it's a possibility, but really we still have no idea why the site became sacred.
Overall, not terribly impressed.
We also finished off another of the World War I series which was aired earlier this year - Britain's Great War. This series focused on what happened in Britain during the war - so while there were some segments about the actual fighting in France and elsewhere, these were mostly to provide context and very focussed on what happened to British people and British families as a result. Some of the ground covered was stuff I already knew of, but there was a lot of stuff that was new to me. This included things like the development of plastic surgery due to the high number of casualties with mutilated faces. Another example from the last episode was the rise in seances after the war.
As well as reporting the historical facts, Paxman's main point was to show that modern Britain was born during the First World War - that the upheaval and changes to society that were driven by the war underpin our current society. Some of this is good - more equality for women for instance, because they'd had to work during the war and more of them were independent after the war. The lives of the poor were also improved - for some it was because if they'd survived war then they'd had four years of real meals so returned more fit and capable than they'd been before. For some it was because the government started to intervene to prevent rapacious rent increases. Some things were less good - much more government intervention and interest in people's lives, like who they slept with or whether they went out drinking (and if so, when & how much). This had been seen as necessary to avoid lost work hours during the war due to diseases or hangovers.
A good series although frequently rather grim viewing, and a good counterpoint to the other WWI series we recorded at the same time (The First World War, the second section in this post).
Other TV watched this week:
Episode 2 of Treasures Decoded - Channel 4 series looking at puzzles and potential solutions around some well known archaeological sites or artifacts.
Episode 2 of Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls - Lucy Worsley talking about late 17th Century British women.
Episode 3 of Wild China - series about Chinese wildlife & people.