"Big Dig" Sparks Controversy

Guardian Unlimited: Channel Four's plans for a "Big Dig," where non-professionals around England were encouraged to try archaeology for themselves, has sent British experts into fits of apoplexy. England's Channel 4 Television hoped to interest its viewers in archaeology by supporting a "Big Dig" where non-professionals would be encouraged to dig up their cultural heritage. This plan raised concerns by British archaeologists that precious sites would be ravished by pillaging hoards without a clue. Now the experts have been mollified by a revised plan to limit digs to registered participants at a limited number of monitored sites. The sites will have test pits 60 cm deep. If anything of interest is found, the site can be enlarged.

Not all experts are against the Big Dig. "We have to fire people's enthusiasm; that's the surest way of safeguarding historical sites for the future," say David Miles of British Heritage. "If people get interested, then they start to care - and those people really look after our ancient sites and report any damage. I started off in this profession as a schoolboy, digging a hole in my back garden and finding a clay pipe and a bit of willow-pattern plate. That's what The Big Dig is all about: it's not a full-scale excavation of an archaeological site, it's a simulation of a dig that will get people to think like archaeologists. I hope a few people get the bug; they're the future for our profession."

The Big Dig starts on 22 June.