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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.