Posted by Jarsto in Media
January 25th, 2009 | No Comments »

I like what I tend to call “low impact documentaries” as my moving wallpaper when I’m home, both when I’m working on something and when I’m just trying to relax. How much I see of these can differ, which has a positive side-effect of allowing me to watch the same thing more than once, especially if I wait a while between showings.

Recently I’ve managed to get hold of a good number of episodes of the British TV series “Time Team”. It’s not 100% documentary technically, but it falls into the same sort of watching. For those who don’t know it, I’ll give a quick overview of what the show is like.

Each episode of Time Team consists of a team of archaeologists going to a site which has (usually) turned up some indications that there might be something in the past. They then do a 3 day exploratory dig to figure out what’s there. This is always limited to 3 days, which provides part of the entertainment component of the show the “will they or won’t they” excitement.

At the end of the 3 day exploration the team presents its finding to the locals or whoever called them in, and of course to the TV audience. There’s no faking the findings either, so if they find absolutely nothing that’s what they’ll have to present.

Which brings me to the episode that prompted me to blog about this show. In an episode in 2007, a dig taking place near the village of Warburton in Cheshire, the Time Team – in the words of presenter Tony Robinson did “… what we’ve always threatened, after a hundred and sixty programmes we found absolutely nothing.”

The episode had been prompted by people finding artefacts while walking a field, but in the end the field proved not to contain any detectable buildings, in fact the only real conclusion about the field was that it had been farmed since Roman times.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t valuable results. Granted I’m not an archaeologist, or even for that matter any other sort of historian. But even so I think I know enough to know that a negative result doesn’t mean no result. By finding out that all the objects found in the field were – in the words of the show – “the background scatter of history” it managed to show that finds in the topsoil don’t mean there has to be something major underneath.

Which I suppose, or at least hope, is part of the explanation for why I like shows like this. There may be an entertainment component in them. And they don’t, generally, even claim to be the greatest form of discovery in history. But they do deal with real evidence and real science, and I like that in a show.

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