Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Television: Battlefield U.K. Volume 57 Number 4, July/August 2004
by Jennifer Pinkowski

Neil Oliver and Tony Pollard on location (Mark Read) [LARGER IMAGE]

Two Men in a Trench has returned for a second season of six hour-long episodes of digging and dress-up on British battlefields, many of which have never been previously studied by archaeologists (airing on PBS; check local listings for times). Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver, their small team of funky young excavators, a cadre of middle-aged metal detectorists, and various specialists visit Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce routed Edward II in 1314, the locations of English Civil War actions, and World War II installations, among others. At each site they give some history and outline their agenda, dig in with gusto, don period garb, fire guns if they can, and, at the end, review their finds with Andy Robertshaw of the National Army Museum.

Pollard is the real dirt-and-trowel type, while Oliver is more inclined to research and interviews. This complementary approach works well, and Oliver is particularly good at narrating the motives and movements of the armies, which are often reflected in the excavation finds.

Not every dig is thrilling, but most yield artifacts and sometimes upend conventional wisdom. Through experimental archaeology the duo find that musket balls do not distort when they hit human targets--long held to be the case. More contentious (and amusing) is the result of their carbon dating of the only artifacts from the Battle of Bannockburn. These peat-preserved stakes were supposedly sharpened by Scottish soldiers for deadly pits into which English horses would fall; Two Men's carbon dating indicates they're actually 8,000 years old. The curator of the museum where the stakes are displayed is livid to have their authenticity imperiled and refuses to believe the evidence.

Two Men is a no-frills production--the graphics are cartoonish but effective, the use of video lends a fuzzy quality and flatters no one's teeth, and the soundtrack varies between Adult-Video Funk, Elevator Jazz, and Buddy-Movie Rock. Somehow, that's all endearing: Enthusiasm and solid archaeology keep this show afloat.

Jennifer Pinkowski is assistant editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of multimedia reviews.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America