Time Team’s been around since 1994, which means the next series will probably involve them digging up paisley shirts, bum bags and oversized glasses left at sites they first visited in the 1990s. But what have we learned from this venerable telly institution over the years?
1. Visually, archaeology is rubbish, which paradoxically means that archaeologists are sent into paroxysms of excitement by things which modern, high-definition TV cameras can’t actually pick up. Mud that’s a very, very slightly different shade to the mud next to it? Whoops of joy. A hole which, by the very absence of anything in it, proves that there used to be something in it? Sou’westers thrown in the air and trowels smacked together like gladiatorial combat for moles.
The actual *presence* of an object visible to the human eye is enough to reduce grown men and women to quivering medieval ecstasy. If it’s made of metal, climax is guaranteed. Notwithstanding that it’s unrecognisable, broken, and covered in half of Shropshire.
2. Three days is not long enough to do anything properly, yet they’ve stubbornly kept the format going for 20 series.
This is amply demonstrated by the Time Team Specials, or Big Digs, in which nine months or longer are set aside for an archeological survey to a soundtrack of exactly the same time-related groans and worries.
3. Tony Robinson, despite briefly resembling- in earlier series- the bassist in Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (like I can talk, as anyone who knew me at university will confirm), is gradually evolving into a gnome.
Which is odd, as he’s the only person on the show who never burrows underground.
4. Who likes short shorts? Field archaeologists like short shorts! Some are young and limber and this is not an issue. But (with apologies for ageism and, uh, lookism) some of them are not:
Worse still, the same guy, Phil Harding, has the most disgusting fingernails on TV. I guess it might be a professional plus, crusty talons for picking through sticky substances and exploring dank orifices (you’re all picking up on my subtle analogy, right?), but his long, horny nails make me turn away from the TV retching whenever they appear, scraping at a 12th-century tile or de-gunging an amphora.
5. Despite all the above, apparently Time Team has led to more research papers being written over its run than every archaeology degree in the country. There’s definitely proof of this somewhere, but as I’m not an academic researcher myself I can’t find the original report. You’ll have to trust me on this one.
Not everyone likes the format, but it explores sites that otherwise would be left ignored. And the increase in interest in archaeology as a result – I’m the perfect example – has to be a massive blessing for an increasingly important discipline.