Search for Lost Treasures; Mike Chapple Meets the Man Determined to Find Hidden Artefacts in Our Own Back Yards

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Chapple

THE flamboyant Mark Olly looks like a hybrid of vampire hunter Van Helsing and a character from a Michael Moorcock-inspired Gothic fantasy.

He is in fact not from a mythical land of sword and sorcery but Warrington, a Time Lord of archaeology bringing accessibility on the subject to our own back yard.

All will be revealed in Lost Treasures the new TV series to be broadcast on Granada from a week tomorrow.

Olly, who trained in field archaeology at Liverpool University, drops in on ordinary people to discover that we literally live on top of ancient artefacts. He also demonstrates how anyone can solve some of the most puzzling mysteries in history by applying basic detective skills and common sense.

'Archaeology is not just about archaeology it's about story telling,' says the 42-year-old, who will appear in a Witchfinder General hat, cape, sword and staff for his TV sojourn around the hidden historical hot spots of the Liverpool Daily Post hinterland.

' There are boxes and boxes of stuff in museums which many people will use as the basis for study work but I prefer to go out and do things like personally knock on people's doors and survey fields to find out things from scratch.'

Just how he does this is illustrated in the six-episode series when he visits among other places Chester, Halton, Daresbury, Winwick, Knutsford and Tatton. "I turn up on people's doorsteps and they say things like 'you don't want to talk to me but Doris next door - you want to see what she's got in her back garden',' explains Mark.

This is exactly what happens in Chester, for instance, when Olly avoids the obvious of looking around the Roman amphitheatre or the walls.

Instead, he's more interested in investigating the tombstones at a certain Mr Humphreys' place when, over the garden wall, pops the head of a neighbour who wonders if Mark would like to see what she's got in her garden shed.

'You have to remember that 90% of British history is literally in British hands,' he emphasises.

Elsewhere in the city, he sheds new light on the identity of smashed skulls from the Battle of Chester between the Welsh Britons and the Northumbrians in 613 AD.

At Winwick, he focuses on a Stone Age circle, a 3,500-year-old cemetery and two separate little-known battles from the Saxon and Civil war periods.

In old Halton, Olly picks through the modern-day industrial heartland of Widnes to find clues to some of the missing Danelaw forts of King Alfred. Through the use of computer-generated imagery, he is able to illustrate how Halton was strategically important through the ages and also pinpoint the site of a Roman fort that has been lost for over 1800 years.

While exploring Daresbury, the birthplace of Lewis Carroll, he avoids the trusted paths of Wonderland mythos to discover the inspiration for some for of the lesser-known characters of Alice's adventures including the Griffin. There's also an enigmatic Celtic Green Man discovered hiding away in the village church. …