Exclusive - Banbury Guardian interviews Time Team's Tim Taylor on this year's excavation of the Roman Villa at Broughton

News that Time Team is being revived, starting with a huge Roman villa on the Broughton Castle estate, has thrilled millions all over the world.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:04 pm

Thousands of the 4,000,000 Time Team fans around the globe have been supporting and contributing to the first fan-funded digs that will begin later this year at the villa site on the Broughton Castle estate.

We can reveal that the Broughton filming will take place over three days in September although experts will be examining critical geophysics maps and the most up-to-date laser mapping beforehand.

Time Team has been planning with Martin Fiennes of Broughton Castle and historian Keith Westcott, who discovered the villa, to hold an Open Day during the event.

Members of Time Team who will be coming to explore the site of the large Roman villa at Broughton
Members of Time Team who will be coming to explore the site of the large Roman villa at Broughton

This week the Banbury Guardian spoke to Tim Taylor, founder and producer of Time Team, about what the archaeologists hope to accomplish in this first modern excavation of a major Roman villa site - with a distinctly 21st century, technological advantage.

"'We're bringing back old friends of Time Team who are very good at what they do. We've got about 20 already who are going to be joining us. It's very encouraging and an exciting stage of the project," he said.

"Among them are Stewart Ainsworth, who we call our 'lumps and bumps' man; John Gater, Helen Geake (the master of small signs and portable antiquities) and our graphics team. Sometimes you can begin these projects with the end vision and what I hope comes out of this will be a wonderful image of a huge Roman villa, possibly with mosaics, possibly with bath houses. The scale of the site is just amazing.

"When you look at a project like this, you try and work out which experts you're going to need. So we'll be bringing in someone who's an expert on Samian pottery - the most distinctive kind of Roman pottery - we're hopefully going to have with us a classicist, who can talk about life in Roman Britain," he said.

Tim Taylor, founder and producer of the popular archaeology programme, Time Team

"Behind all the archaeology there's a person; there was 'somebody' and his family who had made enough money to build this villa. In the late fourth century in Oxfordshire and in the Cotswolds there seems to be a golden age of villas. It's probable this person had a senior job in the Roman administration in Cirencester and this was his country houses of state.

"It was a time when people were consciously embellishing their homes, turning them into grand country houses and they were doing things like laying mosaics depicting classical stories. They were spending a lot of money to show how refined and well-off they were and to elevate their status.

"Often in these big villas there's a central dining room, where people are invited and it's a chance for the owner to show off his estate. And it's likely that would have would have been a garden planted with all sorts of beautiful trees and flowers. Places like this needed huge amounts of local resources so the local people would have been providing whatever he needed - all the wood for the furnaces to keep the floors warm in winter. There's a whole superstructure that goes around these villas."

Mr Taylor said the Oxfordshire potteries were important to the Romans and the relics are easy to date precisely. He said the Romans felt secure in this part of England which was a pleasant place to live. Cirencester provided the 'joys of town' but a villa such as this would be a country retreat, possibly with statues, fountains, beautifully painted plaster and lots of classical figures.

Martin Fiennes shows his parents, Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, around the trial dig at the Roman villa site on the Broughton estate

"If we're lucky we'll find little pieces of these so we can imagine what it looked like inside," he said. "It was a courtyard villa and in that courtyard there might have been a pool with a fountain; there may have been beautiful walkways.

"We don't know yet just how how opulent it was; maybe it was something much simpler. The new ground penetrating radar (GPR) is a critical bit of kit and by getting a highly detailed scan of what's going on to the ground, it should be able to tell us a great deal."

Mr Taylor said the team will be looking out for fragments of the vessels used to bring wine, olive oil, fish sauce and other European luxuries to Britain from Gaul. Dinners would be served on beautiful tableware. They will also be looking for clues as to their religion and whether they were making the transition from pagan to Christian.

"Everything is going together to reconstruct this person and their family. We know that someone was buried on this site and the Romans had a fascinating way of still believing they could communicate with the dead; they would have little dinner parties with discussions with members of the family who passed away."

Keith Westcott, who discovered the Roman villa beneath a wheat field at Broughton

Mr Taylor said the excavation would be a long term project stretching further back from Roman times. "It would be nice if we could, over the next few years, make a sort of timeline of the history of that site from the probably prehistoric beginnings, around the edges of the site, right up to the period of the castle being built and then some of the small mediaeval villages which still exist."

Mr Taylor said the team will be looking at the site in the context of the surrounding landscape to discover what the advantages were to building the villa there.

"One of the one of the reasons we brought Time Team back was that there was a lot of new technology we didn't have back in the day. And we're going to have some of the most advanced GPR - which can really revolutionise the way we see things under the ground. It's extremely accurate and in the right conditions you can actually begin to see three dimensional pictures of the walls and buildings underground."

Time Team 2021 at Broughton will also be using LiDAR - a very advanced radar flown from drones, which can explore the ground through woodland or hedges. The other new technology being employed is photogrammetry which builds a picture of the landscape by taking millions and millions of photographs from different angles.

This technology will enable the team to see any lump on the ground, down to as little as five millimetres high.

"One of the things we're hoping to do, with Martin's permission, is to do a photogrammetry scan of the whole castle so we will have a sort of 3D model. And the beauty of it is that all this new technology goes together into something that people anywhere, overseas for instance, can watch with virtual reality goggles."

Mr Taylor describes the period of this Roman villa as 'a wonderful golden age' which was coming to an end as the Romans were having to gradually take troops away to look after Rome itself. Villas such as this ended up crumbling back into the earth and being destroyed, to be replaced by the Anglo Saxons who had much less interest in fine, mosaic floors.

Time Team hopes to involve the local community and is already communicating with a local school. The team will also hope to get knowledge and clues from local farmers who have known the land for a lifetime.

With permission from the Fiennes family, the team expects to be on site for about a week each year gathering evidence and information, starting this September.

Mr Taylor acknowledged the 'amazing' way thousands of Time Team fans are backing the return of the programme through the Patreon site.

"We've got thousands of people backing us. You can start for less than the price of a cup of coffee a week. And by getting onto Patreon, you can see all the background information we're putting out about the sites and the work we're doing. You can become part of the project. The more people keep backing us, the more work we can do.

"By the end of it, the graphics team will build and construct a wonderful image of what that place would have looked like so at the end, when the music plays and the titles roll, we hope you'll be looking at a rather grand villa with a family enjoying a pool in the courtyard, drinking a glass of wine and enjoying a nice Roman meal with a mosaic in the background.

"The difference this year is that the viewers will be virtually behind our shoulders as we're working on it because we'll be sending out live feeds - there's more sense of them sharing and being part of the project with us which is rather nice. It's a lovely thing to do and it's why wasn't very difficult to persuade some of my friends to join us again. It will be lovely to have Carenza (Lewis), Stewart, John, and Henry (Chapman) and others all working together again."

To join Time Team as a Patreon fan please click here. And to read previous stories about the discovery of the Roman villa use the hyperlinks - please click here.