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MYTH OR REALITY? : DIGS OF WAR: SERIES CULLS TROY’S PAST

Public television viewers have grown accustomed to programs that are out of the ordinary, but even they may be unprepared for a new six-hour miniseries that amounts to an extended archeological “dig.” It’s called “In Search of the Trojan War.”

“It’s really a historical detective story,” said the writer and on-air host for the series, Michael Wood. “We’ve set out to discover if the tale of Troy as told by the poet Homer 3,000 years ago rests on myth or reality.”

Produced by the British Broadcasting Corp. and acquired by KCET in Los Angeles for presentation to public-television stations in this country, the series is to be broadcast in six one-hour installments, starting tonight (8-9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15, 9-10 p.m. Channel 24).

“Troy has been part of so many people’s mythology from childhood that the search for the truth should be of intrinsic interest,” Wood said here during a promotional visit from London, anticipating a question about the willingness of TV audiences to watch an in-depth series steeped in archeology. “Look at the success of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ ” he said, referring to the Steven Spielberg film. “Indiana Jones was an archeologist!

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“From the outset, I believed the search would be fascinating, but I really didn’t believe the Trojan War had taken place,” continued Wood, a British historian-turned-TV reporter, noting his own early interest in the Homeric legend.

“But as a journalist, I was forced to ask all the right questions, compare my sources and come up with some answers. And contrary to my expectations, I came to the conclusion that Troy was real and the war really took place--even if it was far back as the Bronze Age.”

The first episode in the series retraces the steps of a 19th-Century archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, in his search for Troy near the Turkish Dardanelles.

Subsequent episodes find Wood exploring the oral tradition of storytelling (how the story of Troy may have been transmitted from the Bronze Age in Greece to the time of Homer 500 years later), Gaelic poetry, international diplomacy and other archeological, historical and literary topics--all in an effort to uncover the truth about Troy.

Wood pointed out that the TV series was shot over three years, 1982-85, on locations in Berlin and Ireland as well as in Greece and Turkey: “The search for Troy was our focus, but along the way we turned up a lot of things, including some things that (Greek and Turkish) officials might have preferred we not turn up.” He said such possibilities provide reason enough to try to “dig up the truth” about the past.

“Archeology is romantic because it attempts to recover a past that is dead and gone,” said the enthusiastic Wood. “But it can also be subversive.”

Noting that an actual Trojan War may have represented “the first real conflict between East and West,” Wood said the current Greek government grew “touchy” and Turkish military police seemed “anxious” as the televised search for Troy ensued, probably because “each country has its own national viewpoint, its own national myth.”

“A lot of history has been perverted over the years--or even rewritten, depending on what’s going on in the life of a country,” Wood said. He cited the Soviet Union for “rewriting” history and the U.S. for “revising” it to suit superpower policy.

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“Through archeology, we dig through to our actual historical roots, to the truth--and hopefully, this will help us to better understand humankind today,” Wood said.


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