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During the first week of October 2004, Time Team filmed the final episode of their 12th series at a site just outside Grafton Regis (and technically just inside Buckinghamshire). When, last year, I worked as a "local digger" on an episode filmed at The Prebendal Manor House in Nassington, I considered it would be my one an only involvement with the programme. However my name must have been left on their database and perhaps they were short staffed at the last moment, because on October 1st they invited me back to reprise my role as a clapped out, arthritic, trowel monkey. Having been stuck in front of a computer screen for several months and mindful of the very fine lunches that were on offer, I accepted with indecent haste.

The site was on land farmed by the late Oliver Ransom and first excavated by the Wolverton and District Archaeological Society in 1980. Since 1998 it has been the home of a training excavation run by the Gordon's Lodge Archaeological Field School which had produced evidence of medieval settlement and metal working, while aerial survey has revealed a large enclosure that was thought to be either medieval or prehistoric. The Domesday entry for the area described amongst other things, an unusually large number of pigs, perhaps reflecting its association with woodland.

Day One

A view of the main site
The main site

When viewed on the first day, the main part of the site appeared to be a large abandoned excavation that was now covered in thistles. As with the episode of Time Team filmed at Nassington, the "local diggers" spent, the first hours sitting around doing nothing. However by mid morning we were all called out for a spot of troweling.

Sharon & Jennifer waiting for the JCB to finish
Northamptonshire Archaeology diggers,
Sharon Clough and Jennifer Jackson,
watch while more clay is exposed for them to trowel.

Unfortunately the site is on clay which all excavators agree, is the worst soil to dig on. It is unyielding when dry and intractable when wet. Troweling it is torture and the edges of archaeological features are at best indistinct if not actually invisible. To begin with we concentrated on an area within which were the remains of a structure, thought to be part of a manorial site. It rapidly became clear that the structural remains were those of a small building with unmortared walls that was soon being described as a hovel rather than a manor. The highlight of the day was without doubt a lunch of duck legs in a citrus glaze and all the trimmings.

Day Two

Troweling resumed around the original building while new trenches were cut elsewhere in the surrounding area, including one across the large enclosure. After lunch (lasagne), I moved into a new trench where two sections of the ditch were being cut. This revealed a very fine land drain, which was picked up in the second cut along with another larger and more recent pipe. The possibilities of a land drain typology began to suggest themselves.

Digging continues...
A triumph for geophysics!
Digging continues 
Two land drains in one trench
But is this nature's way of suggesting that we are looking in the wrong place?
The first of two land drains located in the same trench.

Day Three

I moved to a new trench and was told to mattock an area of what looked to me to be natural subsoil. It seemed as though we had been assigned the role of producing a repetitive metallic thud to counterpoint the clinking trowels that were being filmed at the other end of the trench. Obviously, televised archaeology requires a certain amount staging but some of this was a little questionable. When the Northamptonshire Archaeology diggers turned up on the first day they were wearing fluorescent coats as is required by Health and Safety regulations on sites where heavy machinery is operating. They were immediately told to remove them by a member of the production staff because the coats made them too visible (rather the point you might have thought).

The final afternoon was preceded by a vast plate of chicken in a tangy sauce followed by fresh fruit salad. Then I was given a substantial post hole to dig that produced some respectable quantities of medieval pottery. Finally it emerged that the site was being interpreted as a specialist pig farm on the basis of the large numbers of pigs mentioned in the Domesday Book. From the Time Team excavation there had been some finds of bones but these were predominantly cattle and sheep. It was proposed that the putative pigs were raised and possible slaughtered on the site but were then either driven to market or taken there "on the bone". Thus no trace of them was actually left on the site. This may seem like a rather rickety ladder of inference, even for Time Team, however I recall a recent hypothesis, similarly unencumbered by evidence, being proposed by Oxford Archaeology to posit Iron Age horse rearing in the upper Thames valley.

the puzzle of the disappearing pigs
A hypothesis of disappearing pigs eventually
explains the site
I look forward to viewing this programme after seeing the episode filmed at Nassington. There, the final result came as a complete revelation to an uninformed participant. Much of what was concluded from the 3 days of digging had been already known from previous excavations at the site (as was true of Grafton Regis). Most of what was done by the diggers during the 3 days never appeared in the programme and it may be that the "pig hypothesis" is eventually discarded. But, however odd it all may seem from an archaeological perspective, the fact that this was the 13th programme of the 12th series speaks for itself.

Martin Tingle, October 2004