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.

- — -

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.

Time Team on Sunday

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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.

Time Team on Saturday

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Holyrood House
Holyrood House one of the sites in the Big Royal Dig. Photo by Ozzzie.

Don’t know if I’ll write a proper entry on this so here are my notes. There are bits I missed or mis­un­der­stood, par­tic­u­larly on the Buckingham Palace dig, so it’s not going to be a 100% accur­ate account of the programme.

19:25

Stock foot­age of Royal pomp to remind us what roy­alty is. Doesn’t she ever get tired of hear­ing that tune?

19:30

Fortunately the pro­gramme resur­faces from what could have been wear­ingly hagi­o­graphic. They’re explain­ing how George IV decided he needed a fan­cier house, hence Buckingham Palace. George’s lack fo restraint appar­ently exten­ded to thou­sands of mis­tresses, alogn with his open fin­ances and massive ego. Buckingham Palace is part of a rivalry with Napoleon. He wanted to sur­pass Napoleon’s imper­ial palaces by import­ing French fur­niture en masse. “George IV was the most the­at­rical mon­arch.” The bill came to 3/4 mil­lion pounds. The mod­ern equi­val­ent is £1.7 billion.

19:40

They start Picking apart the phases of Buckingham Palace. Surprisingly little known before Goring House. Geophysics, usu­ally a magic wand for the pro­gramme fails. They go into more detail into the build­ing of Buckingham House to explain more about what they might find. Brief his­tory of Buckingham House. It owned by the Duke of Buckingham, a man who after mak­ing “a brisk attempt on the King’s Daughter” was banned from palace and pos­ted to Tangiers. Married ille­git­im­ate daugh­ter of the last Stuart King.

19:45

They’ve not found the canal, but they reckon they have found the course of the River Tyburn by cor­ing. The reason they don’t think it’s a canal is that the sed­i­ments are coarse grains. Canals it seems carry fine grains because their flow is more gen­teel. They decide to open a trench so they bring in the dig­ger. They’re run­ning the dig­ger along boards across the lawn!

Digger at Buckingham Palace

19:50

They’ve found a brick. It must be some­thing about the name Phil. The trench does not look fun. The base is all clayey and stodgy. Five seconds later… I win the slow on the uptake award for the day. What else would you line a canal with? The bricks are also part of the lin­ing. The canal is orna­mental, a garden fea­ture. From this we know the upper-classes used to like nice gar­dens. The canal may have oblit­er­ated the earlier remains on site.
Continue read­ing

Time Team’s Big Royal Dig

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[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.