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carol@mirror.co.uk: Virtual history; TIME TO GET DIGGING AND UNCOVER THE PAST.

Byline: SHEILA PROPHET

GET ready for Britain's biggest-ever mass archaeological excavation, which takes place this weekend, live on Channel 4.

The Big Dig will be conducted by Tony Robinson and his Time Team and, as you can see at the show's site, www.channel4. co.uk/history/microsites/B/bigdig/, enthusiasts around the UK will be joining in by digging up square metre test pits.

If you want to join them, check out Phil Harding's hints and an illustrated guide to what you might find - from ancient coins to human bones, which have a site of their own at www.eskeletons.org/viewer/human Select.html

If that sounds too strenuous, sit back and enjoy other people's hard work - www.archaeology.co.uk, the website of Current Archaeology magazine, is a fascinating place to explore the past, with huge databases of organisations involved in archaeology and digs.

If you can't visit the places in person, the ancient sites directory at www.henge. org.uk provides the next best thing, in the shape of 360-degree views of long barrows and stone circles. The Prehistorama at www.stonepages.com is even more comprehensive with 26 panoramas. This fantastic site also has a guide to an amazing 529 stone circles, standing stones, barrows, cairns and hillforts across Europe.

If you have a thing for cave paintings, don't miss a virtual visit to the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc, at www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/ chauvet/en/ to read about the cave's 30,000-year-old wall paintings and see them for yourself.

Appropriately enough, many of our top archaeological sites now have their own websites.

For starters, check out the Sutton Hoo Society at www.suttonhoo.org; www.hengeworld .co.uk an informative site all about Stonehenge and Avebury; the weirdly name Yorkshire village of Wetwang, with its seven bronze chariot burials, at www.wetwang.org.uk, and two fine sites about Hadrian's Wall - Wallnet at http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/wallnet/wall/index.htm and http://segedunum.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk which also includes a forum where you are encouraged to chat about all things Roman.

Fans of the Romans will also love www. romanbritain.org.uk, put together by author Guy de la Bedoyere. Or try www.romanbaths .co.uk for a virtual spa tour.

Still can't tell the Mesolithic era from the Medieval? Travel back over 500,000 years with the "ages of treasure" timeline at the BBC's www.bbc.co.uk/history/archaeology, where you can find out how archaeology has developed and discover which artefacts were voted top treasures at the British Museum.

You can see those items for yourself, including the Hoxne Treasure, the Lewis Chessmen, the Rillaton Gold Cup and the Sutton Hoo Burial Chamber at www.the britishmuseum.ac.uk

For other exhibits, search www.24hour museum.org.uk using the word archaeology and you will find 762 institutions to visit. There are also 56 upcoming events, some of which could prove popular during the school holidays, including an exhibition of Dino Birds, Feathered Fossils From China - which is opening today at the National Museum Of Scotland in Edinburgh. Find out more at www.nms.ac. uk/dinobirds/index.html

These events also include a host of special happenings for National Archaeology Days 2003, which take place on July 19-20 and aim to get families invloved. English Heritage is staging several events, including a funny faces trail at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk on July 20 and guided tours of the Groundwell Ridge excavation near Swindon. Its largest event is at the Centre For Archaeology in Portsmouth. Find out more at www.english-heritage.org.uk National Archaeology Days is organised by the Council For British Archaeology, along with the Young Archaeologists' Club, and you can find a full list of events at www.britarch.ac.uk. They include invitations to carve a Saxon curse at Bedford Museum, join a Napoleonic boot camp at Berry Head National Park at Brixham and see a gladatorial display at Chedworth Roman Villa in Glos.

Young archaeologists will also enjoy the magazine at www. britarch.ac.uk/yac/ which includes an interview with Time Team's Mick Aston, who reveals that their most embarrassing moment was when they all sat in a huge trench in London and couldn't think of anything to say. There's also a report on mysterious burial sites in Staines and some jokes. Why are archaeologists always upset? Because their careers are in ruins, of course!

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TREASURE: Mick, Phil and Tony from Time Team; BIG PROJECT: Visit the Time Team site
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 27, 2003
Words:762
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