When Time Team Dug Up a Faked Site & Other Unforgettable Digs

30 years after Channel 4’s Time Team first aired, we excavate some of its most memorable digs

Sir Tony Robinson presenting Time Team on Channel 4
Photo: Channel 4 /Videotext Communications

Starting in 1994, Channel 4’s exemplary reality TV series Time Team captured the imaginations of Saturday teatime audiences, coaxing them into the rich and fascinating landscape of the UK’s distant past with the promise of treasure troves of knowledge – and sometimes just plain old treasure – lying just beneath our feet.

Esoteric archaeological terms like ‘geophysics’ and ‘dendrochronology’ quickly entered the common language, as a nation’s eyes were opened to stories that had lain buried sometimes for centuries, sometimes for millennia. Time Team’s brief was to place the viewer side-by-side with the archaeologists in the trenches as they worked, seeing what they saw, sharing in their discoveries, and feeling what they felt. There were no gimmicks save the central one – the team had only three days in which to survey and investigate a site – which was necessary to prevent episodes lasting over six weeks, and the show’s editors having a mental breakdown.

It’s estimated that the show pumped somewhere in the region of £4m into archaeology throughout its original run – research, site surveillance, post-excavation services and reports – making it, to date, the single largest source of private funds for this branch of history and science in Britain. Not to mention the number of viewers it inspired to pick up a trowel themselves.

The real engine of the show though, was the earnestness, dedication, commitment, passion, humour and excitement of the team itself – ever-changing, but always with Sir Tony Robinson at its helm. Join us as we look back at six digs that encapsulate the range of everything that made Time Team so special.


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