I have to admit, archaeology has never been a subject which particularly interests me.

But talking to Julian Richards, the man behind the newly formed Wessex Academy for Field Archaeology (WAFA), I’m starting to feel his excitement.

We’re in the academy’s classroom at Ash Farm in Stourpaine, which is situated opposite historic Hod Hill, an Iron Age site featuring a Roman fort.

Those who sign up for courses at WAFA are tasked with digging in the area to find out more about its background, before learning how to wash, catalogue and analyse their finds.

“Each little bit that people are doing, each little dig, goes towards creating this bigger picture,” explained Julian.

“So at the end of it we should understand how people have lived on and used this landscape over the last 10,000 years. The evidence is all around you that people have been here and done things.”

Finding actual evidence which could be thousands of years old must create a certain thrill for those new to archaeology, but it’s still something of a passion even for Julian, who has been involved in archaeology for the last 40 years.

A former presenter of BBC’s Meet the Ancestors and Blood of the Vikings, he currently works as a freelance archaeologist, while also overseeing the courses at WAFA.

The idea, for archaeological director Julian, was simple.

“We try to engage people in as many ways as possible in archaeology,” he explains.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in archaeology, but these days it’s not that easy for people to get that involved.

“A lot of people think archaeology is about digging holes, but it’s not, there’s a lot more to it than that. I wanted to find somewhere where people could come and learn about all the different sorts of archaeology.”

Julian is passionate about sharing his love of archaeology, and has already undertaken a project called What’s Under Your School, taking archaeology out to some 40 schools throughout Dorset and Wiltshire.

It’s hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm, especially looking around the room at the “action” pictures on the walls and the piles of “finds” waiting to be washed, which really bring the past to life.

The setting up of the project, which has only been possible thanks to the owners of Ash Farm, was funded by Alistair Somerville Ford, the founder of the Institute of Commercial Management in Ringwood, who has a passion for history and education and also funded the What’s Under Your School scheme.

Since its launch, four courses have taken place at WAFA which is housed in a converted barn named after Time Team archaeologist and Julian’s close friend Mick Aston, who died last year and who shared Julian’s passion for engaging people in archaeology.

“We are still testing the water,” explains Julian.

“We’ve run courses all about different aspects of how to study a landscape, looking at the environment, maps, geophysical surveys, earth work surveys.

“They’re designed so that people can come if they haven’t got any experience. We are also studying the landscape at Ash Farm.

“All the work that people do here when they’re studying is going towards that other understanding of the landscape.

“It means if people have never dug before they can come for a day, they can come for a five-day course, learning about how to record things, and recognise finds. We can tailor what we offer to what people want to learn.”

Specialist teachers are brought in to teach students how to analyse their finds and use the information they’ve dug up, with the emphasis on a relaxed, friendly classroom environment.

“It’s an opportunity to get really hands-on, really engaged,” smiles Julian.

“If people are interested in the past, often they’re just presented with information.

“But this is about being part of an investigation, developing that understanding of where the evidence comes from and how you use it.”