Alice Roberts brings her Digging into Britain's Past show to Cambridge Corn Exchange

PUBLISHED: 13:00 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:11 24 September 2019

Alice Roberts brings her Digging into Britains Past show to Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: supplied by JSM Live

Alice Roberts brings her Digging into Britains Past show to Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: supplied by JSM Live

Supplied by JSM Live

Anthropologist, author and broadcaster Alice Roberts has been delving into Britain's past, and making archaeology programmes, for nearly 20 years.

TV presenter Alice Roberts at a science event. Picture: Danny LooTV presenter Alice Roberts at a science event. Picture: Danny Loo

Alice joined Time Team as a bone expert before going on to present anthropology and archaeology stories on BBC Two's immensely popular Coast series and co-presenting The Celts in 2015.

In an exclusive tour, Alice will share insights, anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories from her personal journey to explore Britain's past, with footage from her programmes and excerpts from her books at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Wednesday, September 25.

The show will finish with a Q&A with the audience, but we caught up with the Britain's Most Historic Towns presenter for a quick chat.

What sparked your initial interest in science? How did you become an anthropologist?

I loved science from an early age. I was always asking questions about the world around me, and I was particularly fascinated in biology.

I remember having my first microscope and how wonderful it was to see all that new detail in natural structures - from a bee's wing to tiny creatures in pond water.

I also enjoyed finding small pieces of pottery when I dug the vegetable patch in the garden - my first experience of hands-on archaeology! That joy of finding things out has stayed with me.

I've also always been fascinated by the structure of the human body - and by evolution as well.

I read books by Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould voraciously as a teenager, as well as watching David Attenborough of course - his series Life on Earth had a huge impact on me.

I originally studied medicine at university, and then worked as a junior doctor - but it was a six-month job at Bristol University, where I taught anatomy to medical students, which rekindled my love of anatomy.

I stayed on as a lecturer and embarked on a PhD - looking at disease in ancient bones, and comparing human and chimpanzee skeletons.

For a few years, I thought I'd eventually go back to surgery, but academia had snared me - in a good way.

Now, I balance being a professor at the University of Birmingham with writing books and making television programmes.

I feel very lucky: I really enjoy the variety of work that I do.

How did you get involved in TV?

I started doing reports on human bones excavated on the Channel 4 series, Time Team - and in 2001, they invited me along to an actual dig. It was an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Breamore, Hampshire.

I had a brief speaking part, and got asked back to appear as a bone expert in later series.

And then one thing led to another. In 2005 I joined the original presenting team of Coast, followed by various other programmes.

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In 2009, I presented my first solo landmark series on BBC2 - a global epic looking at ancient human colonisation of the globe, called The Incredible Human Journey.

Since then, I've enjoyed presenting a great range of programmes, ranging across topics including medicine, anatomy, archaeology and history.

As a successful academic, author and broadcaster, is there anything career-wise you would still like to achieve?

I achieved one of my ambitions last year - presenting the Christmas Lectures, and that was definitely a career high!

Another was interviewing David Attenborough at the Science Museum a few years ago.

He is such a hero of mine and it was humbling to be able to spend an evening in conversation with someone who has been such a pioneer of natural history television - right from its earliest inception.

Right now, there are a few series ideas I'm working on, but I'd really love to do a series on the Bronze Age - it's such an exciting period of prehistory.

I'm also involved with an exciting research project looking at ancient genomes and what that can tell us about the deep history of Britain.

But perhaps more than anything, I'd like to continue sharing the wonder of human biology and archaeology, making those new discoveries accessible
to a wide audience - and also encouraging other academics to do the same with their knowledge and research.

What can people expect from the tour? And why did you want to go on the road?

I'm embarking on an eighth series of Digging for Britain, my archaeology series on BBC4, and the second series of Britain's Historic Towns went out on Channel 4 this year, too.

It seemed like a good time to go back and look at the sites I've worked on over the years.

History is such a huge subject, but archaeology allows us to get up close and personal with the past - with our heritage.

So I'll be looking back to my first Time Team dig back in 2001, when we were excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery with a lot of buckets buried in the dead, all the way through to the latest from Digging for Britain, including that amazing chariot burial.

There will also be clips from my Channel 4 series, Britain's Most Historic Towns, and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, and time for Q&A with the audience, and I'll be book-signing after each show.

I love making television and writing books - but that can feel a bit one-way.

I really enjoy getting out and doing live shows, and having conversations with people.

An Evening with Alice Roberts: Digging into Britain's Past is coming to Cambridge Corn Exchange on Wednesday, September 25. Tickets cost from £18 to £25.50. Visit www.cambridgelive.org.uk for tickets.

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