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Series / Time Team

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A popular series on archaeology, broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK from 1994 to 2013, and fronted by celebrity presenter Baldrick Tony Robinson of Blackadder (now Sir Tony Robinson).

In each episode, the team's archaeologists have three days to investigate a site not otherwise open for excavation, such as a golf course. The sites have generally never been explored with modern techniques, and often not at all, making this programme one of the few examples of genuine scientific research being televised. At some of the sites, Time Team have made discoveries of national historical significance.

The success of the programme inspired multiple imitators, such as Meet the Ancestors and House Detectives. There have also been several Spin-Off programmes, and live episodes; in 2006, for example, they broadcast live coverage of the team digging up the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

The programme does not follow the normal tropes of TV fictional archaeology, but it does follow the standard structure, with a teaser and a cliffhanger question before each ad break.


Episodes of this show provide examples of:

  • Ace Custom: Phil uses a personal shovel that he's modified to suit his needs. It has an extra-long handle and additional reinforcement so that he has better leverage when moving loads of earth. He also keeps it especially sharp in order to better pierce into hard soil.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Tony was fond of calling Mick Aston "Dumbledore" in later seasons in reference to his white hair and beard.
  • The Alcoholic: One of the digs turned up the body of a man who'd been buried clutching a beer pot, signifying that consumption of alcohol was probably very important to him.
  • Alliterative Title
  • Arrows on Fire: One of the experimental archeology sections was testing to see if fiery arrows hitting thatch would work in real life. Their conclusion was; yes, but only if whatever they hit was left to smolder for several hours.
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  • As You Know: Helen does this to explain the 1906 Treasure Act to the audience, which mandates that if more than ten bronze coins are found in a single place, they must be reported
  • Berserk Button: Do not step into Phil's trench without asking him first, as Tony found out early in season one. This is fairly standard archeological practice, because you never know if you are about to stamp on less than obvious archeology or just dirt. Phil just forgot Tony had zero archeological experience at that point and gave him a full on Drill Sergeant Nasty earful.
  • The Cameo: A dig at Sedgefield had a coda in which the local MP visited the site.
  • Clip Show: The episode "Greatest Discoveries" is just the main presenters (Tony, Phil, Mick Aston, Helen Geake, and Tony) sitting in a pub discussing past shows and clips thereof.
  • Companion Cube: Phil's shovel. It talks to him you know, it has the experience and expertise. The shovel must be handled with care and respect at all times! As demonstrated here!
  • Crossover: "The Edwardian Grand Designer" brought in Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs to speak about Sir Edwin Lutyens and Lutyens' impact on English design.
  • Dig Attack: The episode "Bridgenorth Castle" describes how, in real-life, merely the threat of a Dig Attack could be a winning move. The attackers dug a tunnel underneath the castle, which the besieged defenders could hear being dug, and because there was no way to counter-attack they had to surrender or face being exploded by gunpowder placed there. They surrendered.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • In the first series, each episode begins with a member of the public reading a letter that they've written to the Time Team, asking them to come and dig up something in their local area. During the titles, Tony Robinson then introduces which members of the team will be involved in that particular dig. "This week's Time Team are..."
    • Time Team became a household name in the UK for their excavations but the very first episode contained no digging whatsoever, just an archaeological survey of the area they'd been invited to investigate.
  • Einstein Hair: Mick Aston's hair was worn in this manner.
  • Flowery Insults: One of the episodes re-staged a Saxon debate with authentic flowery insults from the period. Although we're not certain about ending with "Up thine" though.
  • Iconic Outfit: Phil Harding is never seen without his manky old hat with a feather stuck in it, and is also usually seen in a ratty, holey, old green woollen sweater. Mick Aston was equally known for his colourful jumpers that he began wearing after a producer asked him to brighten up his outfits to which he responded by wearing the most garish and hideous piece of knitwear he could find.
  • Insistent Terminology: Tony and Phil got into an argument (and Running Gag) over the pronunciation of Mildenhall, with Tony pronouncing it phonetically and Phil continually correcting him that it was to be pronounced "Mine'all".
    • averted in that Mildenhall’s local pronounciation is “Mil’nall”
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: From the introduction of one dig: "We'll bring all our modern archaeological techniques — and Phil Harding."
  • My Local: When the team did a dig in a village with no pub they ended Day Two in a hastily assembled out door bar which they called "The Phil's Head", with a photograph of Phil superimposed on a standard snorting bull's head pub sign.
  • The Nicknamer: Tony. As part of his presenting style he would come up with nicknames for bodies uncovered during the digs, and for historical personages being discussed, in order to humanise them. He also came up with nicknames for various archeologists such as calling Mick Aston "Dumbledore" or Mick Worthington "Mick the Dig" in order to separate him from Mick Aston.
  • No Animals Were Harmed:
    • In one episode, they're excavating the grounds of one of London's law societies, but have to get permission from the gardener to carefully lift a geranium bed. At the end of the episode, Tony says "Just in case any lawyers are watching, not a single geranium was harmed during the making of this program".
    • Another Episode had them having to do a fingertip search for rare newts which bred on the site before excavating any sites. Tony closed the episode by assuring us that "No newts were found during this dig".
  • Noodle Incident: In "Return to Turkdean" (Season 6), reference is made to a "Ford Cortina twenty meters down". There are additional references to a buried Cortina before and after this episode (Season 6 episode 6 "Smallhythe, Kent", for example).note 
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: This is discussed in one episode regarding grave goods, in that what is buried with you is not necessarily an accurate reflection of what you were like, but what people most associated you with. Tony mentions that with him it would probably be a "bloody turnip".
  • One Steve Limit: If two archeologists had the same first name, the least senior of the two would be given a nickname to separate them for the ease of referral.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: The Team nearly always moans about the British Weather, but the episode "Romans on the Range" had weather so bad that even Phil Harding (who prided himself as being an "all-weathers archeologist") downed tools and led the protest about unsafe conditions which convinced the director to hastily arrange some shelter. He had a point, the wind-chill on the main trench was minus-ten Celsius.
  • Rage Quit: Sadly what Mick Aston did over changes to the format ahead of cancellation. Things were smoothed over, and he was going to become involved with the show again, but then the show was cancelled before anything more could be done. Then he died.
  • Solemn Ending Theme: An alternative ending theme tune, without the drumbeats, is used on "special" shows such as those dealing with WW2 archaeology where the team have exhumed things like crashed aeroplanes, or sites where there has been significant death count.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Different country, same trope: Don't let Phil's exaggerated oi-be-drinkin'-zoider country bumpkin accent fool you into thinking he's not just as smart as the rest of the team.
  • Team Dad: Senior site archeologist Mick Aston who managed to soothe troubled egos, and keep the digs running smoothly.
  • Treasure Map: As a show about real archeology you would not expect Time Team to feature one of these, but on the dig on Looe Island they were actually given a real "treasure map" that had been discovered by an amateur historian which, intriguingly, managed to coincide with a real geophysical anomaly. It turned out to be the marker place for a Victorian era flagpole. So much for the treasure of Cornish pirates.
  • Very Special Episode: Barrow Clump, a joint dig with Operation Nightingale, which aims to rehabilitate wounded soldiers through archaeology.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Phil and Tony. 99% of the non-archeology dialogue is them bickering with each and winding each other up.
  • Wild Hair: Phil Harding cheerfully admitted to not having had his hair cut for several decades and actively cultivated a yokel image.


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