Time Team series 20, My Fifth Episode: Day Three

Not the best of weather. While the rest of Britain was enjoying almost uninterrupted sunshine our site was under cloud. I don’t think the rain was as heavy as Day 1 but it was annoying nonetheless. So it was back into the Gore-Tex.

The archaeology was fascinating. I don’t want to give away precisely what happened, but it was all about fixed versus changing expectations. That sounds a bit obscure, so let me explain. Every Time Team has to begin with a Big Question that’s posed, often in his opening PTC by Tony. This time it was all about the early origins of the Industrial Revolution and I think some people (especially those not used to archaeology and its ways) expected to find intact evidence for the beginning of these mines. Locals, some of them very informed, had told us that huge dumps of waste rock had been removed from the ground four hundred years ago. But when we came to examine them more closely we proved beyond any doubt that they were less than half that age. I can’t say how we did it, but it didn’t require excavation, nor any clever science. It just took patience and sharp eyesight. We could show that there was indeed good evidence for mining four, even five or six centuries ago, but it, too, was largely out of place. Much had been moved or obscured by what had happened in subsequent times.

So I suppose you could say that our results weren’t successful: with one exception (which really was very spectacular) we hadn’t revealed intact ancient mines or mine workings. But viewed from a more realistic, dare I say it mature, perspective we had revealed the truth about the place, and that’s what matters far more than a mere journalistic story. What we had shown was that the early miners of medieval and Tudor times had sown the seeds of success. Their work had established a prosperous and viable series of enterprises that flourished right through to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when cheaper sources of ore elsewhere made our mines un-economic. And that, surely, is what matters. We now understand far better the reality of the place and perhaps more importantly, the people whose job it is to maintain and look after that important historic landscape will know a great deal more about the monuments in their care. No, I’m in no doubt: despite the rain and the appallingly difficult access problems, it was a terrific success, and our local archaeological colleagues were superb. It was a great privilege to work alongside such professionals – but then again, I suppose they’re used to such terrible weather.

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