After ten long years, the national treasure that is Time Team has once again graced our screens.
It was the show, much adored not only in Britain but across the world, that brought us 224 excavations spanning 20 years. An extraordinary set of Anglo-Saxon buckets, surprising saintly burials, and ‘Geofizz’ are just a handful of wonderful moments treasured by the faithful fans of Time Team.
So, when it was announced in 2013 that the series would have one final run, it truly felt as though it were the end of a television era.
Now, however, it has made a much-anticipated return through the medium of YouTube, and with thanks to its thousands of supporters on the online funding platform Patreon.
The first new season, helmed by original Time Team series producer Tim Taylor, kicked off with a three-part extravaganza of 30-minute episodes that aired Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (18, 19 and 20th March) – all available to watch for free on their YouTube channel Time Team Official.
Hearing the original title credit score once again, I was ready for nostalgic flashbacks to the original series and its non-returning cast members (including Sir Tony Robinson). Instead, the first episode dives straight in with new presenter Gus Casely-Hayford OBE, historian and inaugural Director of V&A East, as he welcomes the audience to Boden, Cornwall. This is the site of a Middle Iron Age souterrain (or fogou), comprising a system of underground stone-lined and rock-cut chambers and passageways. Though Gus undoubtedly had big shoes to fill, he offers a gentle and insightful narration throughout the dig that is suffused with a genuine enthusiasm for each find uncovered.
In the true spirit of the show, the Team have three days to explore the fogou’s layout and uncover the many other archaeological secrets lurking beneath the topsoil, and the fogou itself is certainly a remarkable construction. The sheer amount of time and energy that would have been expended in assembling this monumental feat is highlighted by a delightful animation of fellow-presenter Natalie Haynes navigating the labyrinthine passages, accompanied by James Gossip of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, who led the excavation on-site.
The first episode also sees the happy return of some familiar faces: we join Professor Carenza Lewis and Dr John Gater as they pore over a map detailing the geophysical outlines of mysterious features – debating what they might allude to – before deciding they have ‘just got to dig it’, as well as an excited Dr Helen Geake crouched in the mud, holding out what she anticipates might be a Roman coin.
Fragments of cooking vessels and cord ware pottery, some decorated with fingernail impressions, offer a tangible connection to the site’s ancient inhabitants. Experimental archaeologist Angie Wickenden delivers one of the highlights of the episode, guiding Natalie Haynes through the process of crafting a pot with the techniques and materials that would have been used at the site during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
So, what’s different about this incarnation of Team Time? Besides the charm and expertise of several new cast members, these episodes wholly embrace the countless scientific advances in dating and scanning that have occurred over the last decade. This is exemplified by Dr John Gater towing a state-of-the-art Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) device along the earth and receiving instant results, rather than waiting hours to examine the data. Moreover, a 3D model of the fogou passageways rendered using photogrammetry and LiDAR data truly highlights how novel technologies can widen our understanding of the past more than ever before.
A spotlight was also shone on the involvement of the Meneage Archaeology Group (MAG), a community of local volunteers and the custodians of the site, who were busy digging test-pits where a Romano-British structure had been previously identified. The volunteers – ranging widely in age and background – were each brought together by the ‘archaeology bug.’ Thus, I have no doubt Time Team’s return will ignite a love affair with the past for many of its fledgling viewers.
You can catch up on the Cornwall dig at Time Team’s Official YouTube Channel, free to watch online, as well as a second trio of episodes that aired over the weekend. These cover Time Team’s explorations of a vast Roman villa situated in the grounds of Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire.
And if you’re still craving more Time Team, we are celebrating its return in the next issue of Current Archaeology (available on The Past Wednesday 6th April) by going behind the scenes of both excavations.