Time Team’s Big Royal Dig

[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Time Team at the Palace
Tony and Phil visit the Queen to get per­mis­sion to dig up her lawn.

I like Time Team even though it’s fash­ion­able to scoff at it. For any­one who hasn’t seen it, it’s an archae­ology doc­u­ment­ary series. Rather than talk about what has been found though, it fol­lows the pro­cess of an archae­olo­gical dig over three days. Its not a view of a typ­ical dig, there are masses of equip­ment that simply aren’t avail­able to the aver­age excav­a­tion teams and it only lasts three days, but it’s a very good attempt at show­ing the archae­olo­gical pro­cess. In recent years the idea has been taken fur­ther with ‘live’ digs. These are digs usu­ally over the August bank hol­i­day where instead of the one-hour sum­mary you get daily shows on the finds.

This year they’re hit­ting three sites similtan­eously: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse as part of their Big Royal Dig. That’s a lot of medi­eval and post-medieval archae­ology for one week­end — but they did have a Big Roman Dig a couple of years back, so I can see the attrac­tion of the palaces. My ini­tial reac­tion was that this was a mis­take. The three sites are dif­fer­ent. Buckingham Palace is quite mod­ern, while Windsor Castle was a Norman found­a­tion. Holyroodhouse, belongs to another royal tra­di­tion and the three sites have ten­ded to have dif­fer­ent func­tions. Beyond the fact they’re asso­ci­ated with mod­ern roy­alty is there enough to sens­ibly draw them together? Having seen the first pro­gramme last night I think there might be, and it’s the mod­ern con­nec­tion that makes the pro­gramme inter­est­ing. It’s the dif­fer­ence that could high­light what the British per­ceive as regal and how that has changed over time. If I can get over my own repub­lic­an­ism* then it could be an inter­est­ing weekend.

Improvements in com­mu­nic­a­tions for this dig over pre­vi­ous years are plen­ti­ful. As before Channel 4 has a web­site, but this year there’s a lot more to it. There are also blogs being updated through­out the day and live live cov­er­age on More4. If you can’t get More4 then you’re miss­ing the oppor­tun­ity of watch­ing someone scrape a trowel over the same block of bricks for ten minutes. Or the archae­olo­gist who patiently cleans a trench by pulling back the loose soil and softly swears under his breath as the cam­era fol­lows him along — stand­ing in front of him.

If you can register and get the link to work you can also watch the show over the net via a sim­ul­cast. It’s on at 19:25 to 21:25 today, 20:00 to 21:00 tomor­row and 21:00 to 22:00 on Monday — all times BST.

*To say you’re a repub­lican in the UK car­ries a dif­fer­ent mean­ing to the USA. A British repub­lican thinks it’s a bad idea for someone to become Head of State simply because their father was.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

6 Responses

  1. Karen says:

    I have to admit I have some­what of a little geeky crush on Tony Robinson. A couple of months ago, History Television (Canada) showed his “Worst Jobs in History” series and a spe­cial he did on the Da Vinci Code (I am sooooo sick of this but that’s another story alto­gether…). I love the way he explains things in plain lan­guage and in a no-nonsense way, mak­ing the inform­a­tion he’s try­ing to pass on access­ible to everyone.

    I had read about Time Team on one of the BBC sites (I think?) a while ago and can’t wait for it to beshown on Canadian tele­vi­sion. I would love to see how his­toric digs dif­fer from the pre­his­toric ones I’ve worked on here in Canada.

    A friend of mine had worked on an archae­olo­gical dig just out­side of Rome one sum­mer and we were talk­ing about the dif­fer­ences in clas­sical vs. pre­his­toric archae­ology. On her dig, they used shovels, dug trenches and often tossed items into a dis­card pile (pot­tery, etc.). On pre­his­toric, at least in my lim­ited exper­i­ence, everything is kept includ­ing the tini­est piece of flaked stone. Degitage and even refuse in his­toric sites can tell you so much. Anyways, once more, I’ve digressed…hopefully we’ll be have the priv­ilege (*sigh*) of see­ing Mr. Robinson here on tele­vi­sion once again very soon.

    I agree with your defin­i­tion of Republican — just because you’re born into roy­alty doesn’t mean you’re the best choice to rule. History has proven that time and again.

    As for the idea of a “live dig” — I have mixed feel­ings. The gen­eral pub­lic, in my exper­i­ence, doesn’t want to see the minute by minute details. Trowel scrape after trowel scrape without hav­ing a “major find” would cause people to tune out. They want the high­lights, the juicy details and that one amaz­ing find that will change his­tory as we know it. Archaeology is about patience. On my field school, while we had a few minor finds and plenty of cast off flakes (lots of stone tool prep had been done by dif­fer­ent groups on the same site over hun­dreds of years) we went 6 weeks without a “major find”. The few hikers who passed by our site (we were in a national park) high in the moun­tains stayed to hear what we were doing but quickly became bored and moved on. They would stop on their way back and asked if we found any­thing “cool”.

  2. Ioannis says:

    One of the things that I miss from England is “Time Team”. Especially the epis­odes where they made use of their refine archae­olo­gical tech­niques (like the one in the photo): http://​pho​tos1​.blog​ger​.com/​b​l​o​g​g​e​r​/​6​8​4​2​/​1​6​9​9​/​1​6​0​0​/​t​t​1​0​.​0​.​jpg

  3. Alun says:

    Unfortunately I can’t see the photo. My imagination’s run­ning wild.

  4. Ioannis says:

    Sorry about that…
    Well, it’s only a bull­dozer! *S*

  5. Rabhairt says:


  6. Sara McGee says:

    Did not like the floozies want old format.