12 of Britain’s best archaeology sites, events and family activity days

Vindolanda, Northumberland

As the north-west frontier of the Roman empire, Northumberland is scattered with Roman sites, including numerous forts that housed the soldiers who guarded these unruly borderlands. Many are still being excavated, including Vindolanda and Magna forts just south of Hadrian’s Wall. The first modern excavation kicked off at Magna last spring, and the dig season at both runs from April to September – visitors can watch the archaeologists at work Monday to Friday (they take volunteers too, although 2024 is fully booked). One of Vindolanda’s most important treasures is the Vindolanda writing tablets (thin hand-written wooden notes of life there 2,000 years ago), which will be on display as part of the new Legion: Life in the Roman Army exhibition at the British Museum in London (until 23 June).
£12.50 adult, £6 child,

DIG: An Archaeological Adventure, York

The Kids Dig York event. Photograph: DIG

Eboracum to the Romans, Eoforwic to the Anglo-Saxons and Jorvik to the Vikings … York has two millennia of history buried beneath its streets. Curious young archaeologists can unearth it for themselves at DIG, which has four excavation pits – Roman, Viking, medieval and Victorian – each based on real digs around the city. Armed with trowels, kids can scrape back the (synthetic) soil to reveal replica finds such as Latin inscriptions or shards of pottery. It’s put together by York Archaeology, which also runs the nearby Jorvik Viking Centre, and this Easter the educational charity is running hands-on Kids Dig York sessions for accompanied eight- to 12-year-olds at its excavations at Willow House (25 March-6 April, £65 for one adult and one child).
£9 adult, £8.25 child,

Sutton Hoo, Suffolk

A viewing tower at Sutton Hoo. Photograph: Geography Photos/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The discovery of the Anglo-Saxon royal burial site at Sutton Hoo – which has been described as England’s answer to the Valley of the Kings – in 1939 was one of the greatest archaeological finds in British history. It was given the Hollywood treatment in the 2021 film The Dig, with Ralph Fiennes playing the amateur archaeologist Basil Brown, who unearthed the treasures of a king laid to rest in his ship beneath a series of muddy mounds in the Suffolk countryside. Most of those 1,400-year-old riches are now housed at the British Museum, but at Sutton Hoo visitors can walk around the burial mounds, see replicas of the intricately carved helmet and jewelled clasps, and learn more about Anglo-Saxon life with costume-making workshops and Gruesome Graves tours. You can also stay overnight in one of the apartments at Tranmer House, former home of Edith Pretty, played by Carey Mulligan in the film.
£15 adult, £7.50 child,

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire

Butser Ancient Farm, an experimental research site in the South Downs. Photograph: Rachel Bingham

Experimental archaeology takes digging up the past one step further: learning about how people did things by trying to replicate the today. Butser Ancient Farm, in the fold of the South Downs, started in 1972 as an experimental research site exploring prehistoric and Roman agriculture and building techniques. Today there are recreated homes to explore, spanning 10,000 years of history, all based on real archaeological discoveries nearby: a Saxon hall inspired by one found at Church Down Chalton; an earth-walled bronze age roundhouse based on remains uncovered at Dunch Hill in Wiltshire. There are also heritage crops and rare-breed sheep as well as bronze casting workshops, Saxon cookery classes and the sold-out Beltain Celtic Fire festival.
Open to the public weekends and school holidays, £12.30 adult, £8.30 child,

The Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire

The Crannog Centre sits on Loch Tay. Photograph: Scottish Crannog Centre

About 2,500 years ago, stilted wooden roundhouses called crannogs rose from lochs across Scotland, the water preserving their remains to this day. The Scottish Crannog Centre on the banks of Loch Tay offers an immersive look at this ancient way of life. The crannog at the original location on the southern shore was sadly destroyed by fire in 2021, but this April the centre opens a new Iron Age village at nearby Dalerb, with houses faithfully woven from hazel branches or constructed with dry stone walls. Work will begin this year on three crannogs that will eventually rise from the water. The open-air museum will also offer pottery making, yarn spinning and fire-starting demos while its collection includes artefacts discovered here, including a wooden dish that contained residue of 2,500-year-old butter.
Reopening April, £15 adults, £10 children,

Archaeology Field School at Strata Florida, Ceredigion

The Archaeology Field School at Strata Florida in Ceredigion gives hands-on training in skills such as trowelling and geophysical surveying. Photograph: Cadw Photographic Library

This hands-on training teaches a host of archaeological skills, from trowelling and geophysical surveying to finds processing, and aims to be the most inclusive course in the UK, welcoming people with differing physical and mental health needs. The one- to four-week sessions, as well as one-day Digger Days, take place in the ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, which – archaeologists are discovering – was a centre for Welsh culture and the resting place for several medieval Welsh princes. Students camp out beneath the Cambrian mountains at nearby Pantyfedwen Hall, and this summer will be helping out on a brand-new trench, where the remains of the Cistercian infirmary and a mill are thought to be located.
17 June–15 July, £650 for one-week residential or £495 non-residential (bursaries available),

Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

The Ness of Brodgar site was discovered in 2003. Photograph: DJeye/Alamy

Off the north coast of Scotland, the Orkney Islands are a treasure trove of ancient structures, from the incredibly preserved village of Skara Brae, built about 3180BC, to the tomb of Maeshowe ceremonial stone circles to the big Neolithic complex of Ness of Brodgar. This is the last summer of excavations there, and visitors can join daily weekday tours between 26 June and 16 August (11am, 1pm and 3pm) – with open days on 14 July and 4 August. At the end of this year’s dig, the trenches will be filled in and the thin strip of land between two lochs returned to green field. Dig It Scotland lists other archaeological digs across the country that volunteers can sign up for.
26 June–16 August, free

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Archaeological experience days, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest hides a wealth of secrets: Saxon battles and Viking meeting places, medieval royal hunting grounds and Roman villas. Mercian Archaeological Services aims to record it all through its community Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project, which in the past has excavated at the village of Edwinstowe (where, according to legend, the outlaw married Maid Marian). It also offers introduction to archaeology days at its King John’s Palace excavations at the heart of the ancient woodland, as well as more in-depth training to drill down on core site skills alongside professional archaeologists.
15-25 April, £75 per person,

Foreshore archaeology guided walks, London

Mudlarkers at low tide on the foreshore of the River Thames in London. Photograph: Jani-Markus Hasa/Alamy

Twice a day at low tide, the River Thames turns into the country’s longest archaeological site, and over the years mudlarkers have pulled everything from bronze age skulls to Tudor shoes from the foreshore. You can go DIY mudlarking, but it requires a permit from the Port of London authority (requests for new ones are now paused, such is the popularity) and all finds of interest should be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It’s much easier to join one of the Thames Discovery Programme’s archaeologist-guided foreshore walks along sections of the river.
The next walks take place on 25 February and 10 and 30 March, £20 adults, £10 concessions,

A frosty dawn at Navan Fort. Photograph: Hill Photographic/Alamy

This gentle hill outside Armagh City was the earliest capital of Ulster, the site of Emain Macha (Navan Fort), believed to have brought Saint Patrick to the area. Archaeologists last year found evidence the site could have been in use as early as the fourth century BC, but in Irish mythology it was the seat of the demigod Cú Chulainn and the Red Branch Knights. At the Navan Centre wannabe Celtic warriors can dress up and try their hand at spear throwing and sword wielding while hearing stories of ancient kings and queens who lived here. Look out too for special events marking Celtic solstice festivals Imbolc and Lughnasadh.
£11 adults, £7.50 child,

DigVentures, various locations

DigVentures launched its first crowdfunded and crowdsourced archaeological excavation at bronze age Flag Fen near Peterborough in 2012, a solution to cuts in academic funding and to make the work more accessible to the public. Since then, it has connected keen diggers with community-backed archaeology projects all over the country. Currently featuring on its website are a lost medieval village at Sudeley Castle and early Roman history to unearth at Elmswell farm in East Yorkshire. They also run DigCamps (for six- to 12-year-olds) and DigClub (12-16), searching for clues from the past at the likes of Earth Trust in Oxfordshire or Lindisfarne in Northumberland.
Various dates, one adult and one child for DigCamp from £75,

Festival of Archaeology, nationwide

The Council for British Archaeology’s annual celebration is a bounty of in-person and online events aimed at everyone from serious historians to budding young diggers. This year’s edition kicks off at the Scottish Crannog Centre in Perthshire exploring the iron age, and closes two weeks later at Elizabethan Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. In between, there will be behind-the-scenes tours, finds handling, sandpit excavations for kids and experiential demos of ancient life at sites around the country, as well as online talks and an #AskAnArchaeologist Day hosted on X (formerly Twitter).
13-28 July, many events free,


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