Since becoming warden it has been a dream of mine to expand our knowledge of the site at Branodunum. Countless times I have been asked where the site of the fort is by people standing in the middle of it. The disappointment is rarely concealed when they realise all we have to show them are some grassy mounds.
There is an old adage that you should never meet your heroes, unfortunately I had no choice in this when it became obvious that Time Team were to dig at Branodunum. I, like many of you reading this, have spent the last 20 years watching Time Team on Sunday evenings, know all the names and have my favourites in the team. I have to also admit to being almost word perfect to every Blackadder episode! Unlike my immediate boss who quickly admitted she had never seen either an episode of Time Team or Blackadder, there was talk of having her banned from the site!
Now I had to act professionally when meeting these people, this started on the day before the dig when the Location Manager arrived to prepare the site, Kerry Ely! 14 year veteran of the series, quickly followed by John Gator and his geophysics team to test their equipment.
In the evening there was a production meeting as the rest of the team assembled, on more than one occasion I had to stop myself saying hello to people I knew. The reason? Although I knew them like old friends, they didn’t know me from Adam. They were almost all there; Matt Williams, Raksha Dave, Cassie Newland and Francis Pryor, I could go on but that would be just name dropping. (I was looking over Jimmy Adcock’s from geophys team shoulder at the prelimary results).
The questions we had asked at the beginning of the dig were:
1. What was the building date for the latest fort?
2. Was there an earlier fort on the site because the vicus is at a different alignment to the fort? 3. Are there any stones left from the walls?
The first morning of the dig started with Time Team's star digger arriving, Dr. Phil Harding, wearing the hat we all associate with him, and soon that familiar laugh was heard. After more geophys the first turf was cut at 11.50 and Phil was put to work. A second target was soon found and Cassie’s trench was started. It was soon obvious that the geophysics was not only pretty special on this site but when a trench was put in; the archaeology matched it.
What's in the box?
Tune in next year and find out.
Over the three days, five trenches were opened: Phil’s over the main building showing on crop marks inside the fort; Cassie’s over the only other building showing as a crop mark inside the fort; Raksha’s over the outer wall near the northern entrance gate; Matt’s in the north field investigating a possible earlier fort and Rob’s in the vicus field. The person I would like to give special praise to on this dig is Graeme Atwood from the geophys team who must have covered miles and miles, I believe it is a record amount for one person to have done. Of course I cannot say exactly what was found but none of the trenches disappointed, with some of them outstanding.
I would like to dispel some rumours at this point. The digging does only take place over three days, no exploratory test pits. Diggers arrive on-site for the first time on the first morning.
All the diggers are in the trenches all day only breaking for lunch, not just turning up for filming.
Despite the three-day limit, the archaeology is carried out to the highest standard which resulted at Branodunum in less trenches being dug because the archaeology found was so good.
Finally I can recommend if your heroes match up to mine then you should meet them, I have fantastic memories of the Time Team visit including being told of the Brownlee gold and bronze medal by Tony Robinson while grabbing a cup of tea, rubbing shoulders with the whole crew at a Roman feast including local oysters and beer and Raksha leading a hummed rendition of the theme tune after Tony’s wrapping up speech.
Filming the Roman feast
Although currently Branodunum has now returned to grassy mounds and a weird quietness, following the broadcast of the programme next spring and the return of the artefacts after cataloguing, which may take a year, we will hopefully be able to update our interpretation with much more information to make any visits more enjoyable. In the meantime if you visit Branodunum and see someone wearing rose-tinted glasses and wearing a Time Team bracelet looking longingly at the ground it could be me and my memories of a visit from Time Team.
Keith with his signed picture of the Time Team
All photos: Victoria Francis