Time Team on Sunday

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle on of the loc­a­tions in the Big Royal Dig. Photo by this­Ro­bot.

It’s as if they’ve listened to Alan’s com­ments and decided to prove him right. The Sunday pro­gramme was worse than the Saturday pro­gramme, partly because of the split between the sites.

Buckingham Palace

They’ve con­firmed that they’ve found the canal. Additionally parch­marks on the lawn show where they think the steps lead­ing to the canal were. There were two seg­ments that per­suaded me that a good pro­gramme on the his­tory of Buckingham Palace could be made. One was the phrase “polit­ical gardener” that they dropped in when dis­cuss­ing the sit­ing of the palace. They were inter­est­ing on how the Duke of Buckingham used pre-existing land­scape fea­tures to emphas­ise his own prestige and how he manip­u­lated the garden to amp­lify this.

The other good bit was the brief trip into the wine cel­lars of the Palace. Archaeology isn’t just about dig­ging things up, and they scratched the sur­face of what some exam­in­a­tion of the lower levels of the palace could tell you about its his­tory. Sadly I still don’t see how either fits into the prob­lem they’re research­ing, but then I can’t work out what the prob­lem they want to solve at Buckingham Palace is. It seems to simply “Wahey! We’re at the palace let’s see what we can dig up!” — which isn’t at all like Time Team usu­ally is.

This was par­ticuarly brought home when they recon­struc­ted what Buckingham House would have looked like. The recon­struc­tion was good, but based on maps and his­tor­ical records. I couldn’t see why any excav­a­tion was necessary.

Windsor Castle

The digs at Windsor Castle are quite a con­trast to the Buckingham Palace digs, but not without prob­lems. In the Upper Ward they’ve found the Round Table, the best bit being a bit of floor tile in situ. Floor tile can be dat­able by its pat­tern­ing, so it’s feas­ible that by the final show they’ll be con­clus­ively be able to say where the Round Table is — if not what it was used for. Though I’ll be hon­est I’m not sure why any­one would want to tile the floor of an arena. There are lim­it­a­tions on where they can go with this due to the pro­tec­ted nature of the site.

In the Lower Ward things are just as inter­est­ing, but prob­ably a lot less tele­visual. They haven’t found the Great Hall. They seem to have dug to the right level, but it’s not there. That’s inter­est­ing because it does mean that the under­stand­ing of the lay­out of the Castle in Henry II or III’s time is wrong. They’re look­ing else­where and the inform­a­tion they get could mean that the under­stand­ing of how the castle developed is greatly changed. In light of this the care­ful plan­ning makes slightly more sense in that it appears to have been done to settle whether or not the Great Hall was where is was expec­ted to be. Fascinating stuff, but it’s hard to show no major finds on TV and get excited about them. Nevertheless this might have been the most excit­ing find on last night.

Holyrood House

The seg­ment was the last of the three to get a lot of air time, and a lot of that was a brief his­tory of Mary Queen of Scots. This site is where Alan is right in say­ing the pace is too quick. There’s a lot of inter­est­ing strati­graphy at Holyrood House with lay­ers from dif­fer­ent times obscur­ing each other in pos­sibly unex­pec­ted ways. Stratigraphy is one of these con­cepts which sounds simple, new stuff over­lays old stuff, but when newer drains are cut through older depos­its it starts get­ting dif­fi­cult to keep a grip on it. Sadly there’s simply not the time given to the excav­a­tion that it deserves.

It gets more bizarre with the new trench they’re open­ing to find Mary’s ten­nis court — hence the long his­tory sec­tion. This is a sched­uled monu­ment, they’re not open­ing trenches on a whim so they’ve got a good reason to dig there. Maybe the maps are ambi­gious or con­tra­dict­ory there, but if they gave a reason I missed it. It seems they’re simply keen to see where she played tennis.

- — -

Overall I don’t think the three sites are work­ing well together. I can see why they have three sites — they have to have a pro­gramme by the dead­line and hav­ing three excav­a­tions max­im­ises the chances of hav­ing some­thing to talk about and three-site pro­grammes have worked in the past. The spe­cial they did at York look­ing at a Roman, Viking and Post-med site, was excel­lent. I think the dif­fer­ence is that in that case the finds from each site also fed into an over­arch­ing nar­rat­ive. This isn’t hap­pen­ing this year. If the word Royal isn’t over­whelm­ingly excit­ing, there’s no com­mon thread. At each site they have to explain the his­tory and the loc­a­tion. Three medi­eval sites would have been inter­est­ing, or multi-period digs on one site, but three sites from three peri­ods is too diffuse.

There are two good pro­grammes they could have made on the archae­ology of the sites. Hopefully when it con­cludes tonight they’ll prove me wrong and they’ll have some­thing archae­olo­gic­ally inter­est­ing from Buckingham Palace.


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.

4 Responses

  1. ajcann says:

    I *almost* enjoyed the Monday night sum­mary pro­gram (still too frag­men­ted). In short, I could have done without the rest of the weekend’s cov­er­age and just settled for one well pro­duced pro­gram which had a begin­ning, a middle and an end. No post-modernist archae­ology for me!

  2. Kate says:

    I have it all on tape to watch later, as I was too busy to watch TV at the week­end. I am, how­ever, much more inter­ested in the Roman sites that the Time Team look at,

  3. peacay says:

    I can’t believe this series has been run­ning for 10 years and has only just made it downun­der. We are see­ing 2 year old pro­grams. Just wonderful.