Christopher Hart

Beneath the Surface

The Dig


Viking 233pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

John Preston’s great idea has been to tell the story of one of the most dramatic discoveries in British archaeology – that of the Sutton Hoo burial ship and associated treasures in Suffolk, on the eve of the Second World War – and yet tell it as a quiet, contained and dryly funny chamber piece, with a small cast of eccentric and appealing characters. There’s Edith Pretty, the landowner of the site, whose desperate visits to a medium in London to contact her dead husband neatly echo the whole business of archaeology, as well perhaps as the belief systems of the pagan-Christian Angles buried beneath the sandy Suffolk soil. There’s Peggy Piggott – in reality she was John Preston’s aunt – whose marriage, and growing realisation of its barrenness, is beautifully drawn. And there’s the chief digger himself, Basil Brown, who rarely changes his clothes and smells like a silage heap on fire, or something like it.

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