Archaeology as a subject has always held great fascination for the people of Britain. This is obvious through the number of local societies and groups that take an interest in their past. Bitterley represented an opportunity to help a local group refine their methods and ask the right questions about the history of their village. Of course, Mick Aston was very happy to be involved in such a project as his long term passion is community archaeology and local history.
Luckily we were in good hands. The Bitterley Archaeology Group had clear questions that they hoped we could answer and a whole village of friendly, willing participants only too keen to get going with a series of test pits that would help us trace the development of the settlement over time. Mick, of course, is always keen to emphasise that a good archaeological project begins with good research and Bitterley was no exception. A trawl through local mapping and documentation well in advance of the shoot gave the research team some tantalising hints to the history of the site, but it soon became clear that the only way to answer the questions we had been posed would be through a comprehensive series of test pits.
In archaeology test pitting is a method that enables us to gain 'spot dates' for particular areas of a site under investigation and to understand, through the stratigraphic layers represented, how the site has been formed over time. Each test pit produced pottery which was carefully examined by our on- site experts. The dates were then transcribed on to a large map of the village enabling a pattern to emerge. In this way we began to see how the village had grown, shrunk and shifted location over time with these dates often tying into events recorded on documents.
For the production team a project like the one at Bitterley is logistically challenging. Our own team of fifty have to be accommodated, transported, fed and watered. Add a couple of hundred villagers to the mix, plus children and it can all become extremely complicated. Luckily we had so much help from everyone at the village that our lives were made considerably easier - although there certainly were moments of controlled chaos!
However, it's not all about cold, hard, facts and logistics. Time Team couldn't have been made more welcome at Bitterley. It's testament to the hard work of the archaeology group and to the hospitality of the village that the project was such as success. This sort of work also emphasises an important and often overlooked aspect of archaeology - its social component. The project was a way for the villagers to work together, strengthening bonds in the community. The work helped contribute to local history which was of benefit to the village school and will ensure that future generations have a sense of their own heritage.