Time Team Conclusion

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Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, one of the sites in the Big Royal Dig. Photo by sml!

The final pro­gramme was fairly typ­ical of the whole week­end. The only site that was presen­ted as hav­ing moved on a lot was Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace

If the earlier days at the palace has been like the final day then I’d have been won over. There was at last an obvi­ous plan of action where the archae­ology was mean­ing­ful. Using Ground-Penetrating Radar they were able to loc­ate the pos­i­tion of Arlington House and Goring House, two pre­vi­ous build­ings on site. Of more interest to me was what they found in the garden. The strata revealed agri­cul­tural use. For some­where that’s in the centre of mod­ern London that’s inter­est­ing. You can ask how did open fields sur­vive to the sev­en­teenth cen­tury or flip the ques­tion round and ask what pro­cesses led urban London to migrate into this area? Either way you have an inter­est­ing prob­lem. They con­cluded the shape of the palace gar­dens was defined in pat by the medi­eval field sys­tems that it came to be built upon.

Windsor Castle

The excav­a­tion at the Round Table was slow. They have dated the build­ing to the four­teenth cen­tury, so it’s the right period. They also decided that the build­ing was an arena for reen­act­ment which was par­tially covered. I didn’t catch how their archae­olo­gical finds led to that con­clu­sion. Having found the site the pace has under­stand­ably slowed.

In the Lower Ward the Great Hall was in the second loc­a­tion they looked at, close to the cur­tain wall. The wall of the Great Hall was robbed out where they dug, but a look fur­ther along revealed it was still stand­ing to quite a height. The his­tor­ian got in a nice dig that “History res­cues Archaeology” in iden­tifing the wall. In a per­fect world you’d expect the two to inform each other.

Holyrood House

I com­pletely lost the point of this sec­tion. They didn’t find Queen Mary’s ten­nis court though I still didn’t under­stand why they’d want to. They did find tene­ments. This could have been inter­est­ing if they’d spent more time look­ing into it. The palace site became occu­pied by squat­ters who used it as a royal sanc­tu­ary to escape the law. This phase could be fas­cin­at­ing, how did the decline occur. How were the people evicted, when did the Royal Family reclaim the site and why? What we got was a quick com­ment that they’d found Victorian rubbish.

There were also missed oppor­tun­it­ies else­where. There was the bath house, which wasn’t a bath house. The build­ing was laser-scanned but I don’t know exactly what prob­lem they were hop­ing to solve with it. There was James IV’s lost tower which they found. That allowed them to check some plans of the lost palace, but the implic­a­tions of that were lost as they sped elsewhere.

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Overall I think the three days weren’t a tele­visual suc­cess, though I sus­pect they were archae­olo­gic­ally suc­cess­ful. The usual three-day dig is frantic, but with the edit­ing and nar­ra­tion done later there’s a chance to build a mean­ing­ful nar­rat­ive so that with hind­sight finds can be placed in their wider con­text. In this series of digs I never really under­stood what the con­text was, bey­ond “These sites are all Royal!” In the case of medi­eval Windsor and Holyrood that’s a really tenu­ous link. There could have been much more of interest in explor­ing the dif­fer­ences between the sites.

On the plus side there are grounds for optim­ism. This is pre­sum­ably being filmed dur­ing the 2007 series sched­ule. The chem­istry between the presenters is still there and when they iden­ti­fied a prob­lem they weren’t bad at tack­ling it. The pro­gramme has sur­vived the loss of one or two mem­bers of the team, and the fash­ion among some TV sta­tions to take some­thing that works and ‘update’ it. While these pro­grammes were miss­able I reckon if they get their hands on a good Roman site in the new series, it’ll remain excel­lent TV.

You can read more about the Big Royal Dig at Channel 4.