Archeologists have unlocked the secret of why the Roman villa was built in a quiet valley two miles from Banbury - Time Team's Tim Taylor sums up the first dig of the legacy project

Specialists in a number of archeology disciplines have unlocked the secret of the huge Roman villa at Broughton where excavation of the ruins got under way at the weekend.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 12:04 pm

Exploration of the extraordinary site on the Broughton Castle estate is being undertaken by Time Team - the iconic Channel 4 archeology programme that ended in 2014, but has been resurrected thanks to a crowdfunding site on Patreon.

As the tents were dismantled and trenches back-filled, Time Team's founder and producer, Tim Taylor, reviewed the three days of this first dig.

"I always like it when archaeology behaves like archaeology does - you think you're going to find one thing, then you find something else. Here at Broughton we've found a whole set of amazing things and a whole a whole new subject area that wraps around this villa, which sets it in the whole landscape. It's a villa and it's got mosaics and various other things but why was it put here and what went on in the landscape?

The landscape that has given Time Team archeologists important clues about the Roman villa, hidden beneath the soil on the Broughton Castle estate for nearly 2,000 years

"At Broughton we have found things that actually make this not just your average villa but a place where people 1,500 - 1700 years ago put a huge amount of effort to create something really beautiful. It's a lovely bit of landscape to see, just standing here now, with these hills around us and that lovely dip - and to know what we now know about that villa which we didn't know three days ago makes it very special."

Patreon subscribers will get exclusive footage of the deductions made by Roman specialists, landscape, environmental and small find archeologists, while the public will have to wait until Christmas to see a free YouTube programme, giving a fabulous, distilled version of this spectacular legacy project which will continue for several years to come.

"Vierwers will see a 3D landscape of this whole thing recreated as it might have been at its height and it will look incredibly beautiful and make you understand why this villa was built here in this landscape. It's been fantastic having children from the local school up here today (Monday) while we are back-filling the holes. Education is part of the Time Team thing. We like to work with the community and we like to make a difference and in the three days we've been her. I think we've made a hell of a difference," said Mr Taylor.

Mr Taylor said Time Team is likely to be back on site next year. "There's a lot more work to be done here; there's all sorts of things to do with the relationship between this villa and where the nearest village to it was, like Swalcliffe Lea, and the villages down the valley. You'd have had hundreds of people working here and not living at the villa. So where did they live? And often the start of the villa is just the start of a whole set of work that spreads across the landscape.

Tim Taylor, founder and producer of Time Team

Mr Taylor said Time Team had got hugely valuable support from landowner Martin Fiennes, of Broughton Castle, and farmer John Colegrave.

"John Colegrave is talking about managing the fields in the best interests of the archaeology. We've got a good landowner in Martin and a good farmer in John; we've got local people who are enthusiastic and wanting to help and for us it's an ideal project," he said.

Mr Taylor said that away from the dig, the team had a huge amount of work to do editing film, analysing, dating and identifying finds and writing reports.

"There's something like 32 hours of film which we've got to distill into an hour and also little mini-films and series. Editing is a massive job. It's a craft thing - you don't just stick it all together and whack it out. It will be made with a music soundtrack and voiceover and it looks stunning because most of it was shot in 4k. It's one of the highest resolutions you get in terms of cameras we're using. There is high definition and then there's 4k."

The topography of the land around the Roman villa site is extremely important to Time Team's assessment of the location

Astonishing multi-view 3D digital models are being created and ultimately viewers will be able to download a model of the villa in its surroundings. A model has already been created of Broughton Castle where viewers will be able to look on the roofs, around the sides of the buildings and in the passages.

"We had an email from someone who said he was 4,000 miles away but felt as though he was there. What this material we're generating does is to allow somebody sitting in a chair in California or Latvia or New Caledonia to look at what we're doing almost in real time," said Mr Taylor.

"And we'll gradually process it and they'll be able to sit at home and work their way around the trenches, look at the finds, look at the big view from the sky look at the beautiful landscape.

"Now we're taking more interest in our local areas. Archaeology can make you look at that. Imagine that villa, imagine there was a temple on the hill opposite and suddenly the landscape you've driven past for a long time becomes filled with the stuff of the past."

The team has been working with Oxfordshire County Council, whose archeologists were at the dig at Broughton, and the two organisations are discussing various ways of taking the project forward.

To become a Patreon subscriber for a few pounds a month see https://www.patreon.com/TimeTeamOfficial You can read how the story of the discovery of the Roman villa unfolded in this Banbury Guardian feature in 2018 and how children from North Newington's Bishop Carpenter CE Primary School understood archeology for the first time at the Roman villa site.

And Sunday's report about the first two days of the dig can be found here.