Welcomed by Paul into his home we were offered coffee and sandwiches and set about discussing the potential of a Time Team investigation at the site with the other guests; the English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments and a representative from the archaeology section of the County Council. Following a lively discussion and several sandwiches the group had a look at the site to decide how best to proceed with archaeological research questions.
On these visits our thoughts turn to practicalities. How will we access the site? Where will equipment be stored? What can we use as an incident room? These factors are often relatively easy to resolve. The nature of the work we do on site is often more complex... We were keen to provide a complete layout of the priory with a comprehensive geophysical survey, determine the condition of the archaeological remains and, hopefully, answer Pauls questions - where was Edward De Vere and could we locate the remains of his manor house.
Earls Colne Priory is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. This means that the site is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Any archaeological work must be clearly justified and be shown to produce results that either contribute to knowledge of the site or can help English Heritage in their ongoing management role in regard to Scheduled Monuments.
On a protected site the process of excavation involves a continuous discussion and revision of targets and strategies between Time Teams own experts, the English Heritage Inspector and other relevant local archaeological officers. This process is rarely shown on camera but it is as important to the success of any Time Team project as the location of individual trenches. These processes are always a negotiation and there were several areas that English Heritage felt could not justify invasive work. This made sense and so areas of investigation were agreed.
Of course it's not all over when the cameras leave. Earls Colne was a complicated multi-phase archaeological site. The field team spent an additional two days completing excavation and recording work. Our partners Wessex Archaeology draw sections and plans, take photographs and label and catalogue any finds. All these paper and digital records then return to the Wessex Archaeology offices where, combined with data from John Gaters' survey team, they begin the preparation of the site report. Time Team works very closely with English Heritage. This relationship includes an agreement that any protected site on which the team works should be published in an academic journal. Wessex Archaeology prepares these articles on Time Teams behalf. Many of the sites the team have investigated over the years can be found in journals across the UK.
So the next time you watch an episode of Time Team spare a thought for all the work that goes into bringing archaeology to your screens!