Profile: Dr Francis Pryor - a man of many talents

Dr Francis Pryor talks to the PT's John Baker. Photo: Paul Franks
Dr Francis Pryor talks to the PT's John Baker. Photo: Paul Franks
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Thirty years after uncovering Peterborough Bronze Agen site at Flag Fen, Dr Francis Pryor reveals his early attempts at becoming a novelist to John Baker:

Archaeologist, TV personality, farmer, author and blogger - Dr Francis Pryor’s talents are numerous.

Dr Francis Pryor at Flag Fen in Peterborough. Photo: Paul Franks

Dr Francis Pryor at Flag Fen in Peterborough. Photo: Paul Franks

But it might come as a surprise to some that the almost venerable figure, best known for uncovering Flag Fen and appearing on Time Team, is still extending his repertoire to now include writing novels.

Alan Cadbury is the name of the hero in his newest venture, a 21st century Fenland detective who solves bizarre mysteries from the world of archaeology who even has his own Twitter address (@alancadbury)

Francis recalls puzzles of the macabre and sinister which he himself and his colleagues have faced in the previous decades, from ancient Jonathan Creek-esque riddles to modern-day fraudsters.

He shies away from revealing more on the latter, saying: “There have been occasions of shenanigans occurring behind the scenes - we had an extremely fishy Time Team once.

“In Peterborough Museum there is the earliest homicide in the country. A man of about 35, a woman, and two children.

“They died in a hole and scientists found an arrow of Neolithic shape between his eighth and ninth rib.

“What were his wife and children doing there? What was going on?

“Another horrific discovery was a pregnant woman from Anglo-Saxon times, who had been buried - I hope not alive - underneath a hurdle of branches, pressed down into the floor. The law of the time and the way she had been buried, suggests that she had been raped. It was a quite chilling discovery.”

‘The Lifers’ Club’ will only reach fruition if he gains enough financial support through Unbound, a website where authors pitch ideas and hope interested parties will help with funding. Francis’ idea currently stands at 55 per cent complete, and needs another 257 supporters.

Anyone who wants to see what Cadbury - ‘an obsessive who won’t let problems lie, even when he’s slumped drunk in a lonely bedsit’ - makes of an honour killing from eight years ago can support the project at

Francis admits that despite his prolific writing from his farm in Sutton St James he is several months behind with his other book, which he hopes will emulate the success of works including Britain AD and BC, and The Making of the British Landscape.

He said of his work, to be published by Penguin next year: “It’s a plea to let ordinary people have a say in how they run their lives.

“For 6,000 years the British ran affairs without a central government. We built Stonehenge, probably the most famous building on the planet, and set up road networks and villages. By and large we were peaceful.

“We have a local government structure and we have to work with that; but when you think of councillors you think of people with a vested interest, and we want more people who are doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

“The party political system is based on London, but localism is not party political and we need to be more diverse.”

Francis’ other writing passion is blogging, which he regards as ‘less self-indulgent’ than keeping a diary.

Thousands from across the world follow him there nd on Twitter and try to tap into his vast experience and knowledge spanning from seats at Cambridge University and The Royal Ontario Museum.

Francis spoke to the Peterborough Telegraph 30 years after formal excavations began at Flag Fen, which was first discovered as a site of importance in 1982.

The story of how Francis discovered the site, walking home from a heavy session at a local pub, has achieved a magical property almost as special as the 3,000 year old site itself.

The Bronze age settlement is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of its type in Europe, but it is believed that perhaps as little as five per cent of the site has been uncovered.

Last summer wannabe archaeologists had the chance to push the percentage slightly higher by participating in the Flag Fen Lives project - the world’s first crowd-funded and sourced excavation.

Excited helpers flew in from across the globe to get their hands dirty through the project, created by DigVentures and held in conjunction with Vivacity and the British Museum. The findings are still being investigated and Francis said: “So far there is nothing that overturns the general conclusions from before.

“The people behind it were independent of me and that’s important because there’s a real danger that if you become a grand old man who has worked for a lot of years it becomes gospel and can’t be touched.

“But it’s essential that the new generation should come along and assess. Cambridge University has shown that some of my old ideas need revising. That’s probably why I’ll never be an academic - I don’t mind being proved wrong.

“We still have school parties here and it is worth visiting because it creates a feeling of humility. We have a long tradition of welcoming people here and I hope that continues. It’s essential that we have an excavation because it is drying out and won’t be here more than half a century.

“That needs to be of the right quality and if so number will pick up, because when we were digging in the late 80s an early 90s we were welcoming over 25,000 people a year. I don’t know what the figures are now but I would be surprised if it’s half that.”


Read the full story of how Flag Fen was discovered - in Francis’ own words.

Related links:

Francis Pryor ‏on Twitter @PryorFrancis, and his blog Francis Pryor – In the Long Run

Time Team - Channel 4