TV’s Time Team reveal results of Wytch Farm dig

New light has been shed on Purbeck’s history following TV’s Time Team crew three-day dig carried out in fields at Wytch Farm near Corfe Castle in Dorset.

In three programmes now available on the Time Team’s YouTube channel, it follows the excavation of the site in September 2023, painting a picture of what the late Iron Age settlement would have looked like, as well as explaining how it changed following the Roman invasion.

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TIME TEAM

The Time Team crew celebrate the end of a successful excavation at Wytch Farm

Pot repurposed as an early clock

The fields where the archaeological dig took place are farmed by the family of Derek Pitman, head of archaeology at Bournemouth University, and also a member of the Time Team.

In 2021 Derek found skeletons of Iron Age villagers buried in a field at Wytch Farm.

There were indications that the land had been part of a large settlement which existed during the late Iron Age and for many years following the Roman conquest of Britain, after troops arrived in Wareham in 44AD.

Returning in 2023 with the Time Team TV crew to find out more about the lives of the people, new discoveries were made including remains of kilns for smelting iron, evidence of farming and also of industry linked to trading at Poole Harbour.

The remains of a boiling pan for producing salt from sea water was discovered in the fields, and there was a remarkable discovery of a pot which had been repurposed.

Three deliberate round holes had been made in the bottom of a large pot, potentially to make it into an early water clock in the style of the Romans.

The invaders from Italy were known for filtering water slowly through sand at the bottom of a pot with holes in. The time it took for the water to pass through the sand was worked out from a sundial, so that time could be measured when the sun was not shining.

TIME TEAM

Evidence that the Purbeck tribe may have refashioned a pot into a water clock as used by the Romans

TIME TEAM

How the clock would have worked, dripping water through a filter of sand

Tribe may have lived in peace with Romans

It had been thought that the Iron Age folk of Purbeck – part of the Durotriges tribe who ruled over modern day Dorset, Wiltshire and part of Somerset – viewed the invading Romans as bloodthirsty conquerors.

Instead, there is growing evidence that they lived in peace alongside them, traded with them and copied ideas from them to advance their standards of living.

TIME TEAM

Archaeologists Derek Pitman and Lawrence Shaw made the first dig at Wytch Farm after lockdown in 2021

One of the team makes an exciting find as the field reveals its treasures

An archaeologist at work in Trench One during the 2023 dig at Wytch Farm

“We went looking for a villa”

Derek Pitman said:

“Back in the late 1990s I lived near the Wytch Farm oilfield and they had done some archaeology around the site, so I was in the trenches as a little boy.

“Over the years we found lots of pieces of pottery, so in 2021 after the pandemic I went out with colleague Lawrence Shaw and we dug a small trench looking for a Roman villa – but instead, we discovered two very rare Iron Age burials.

“It was the first time we were able to get out to do archaeology after a long hiatus and while it was very important research, it was as much about getting together with my friends and colleagues and getting out into the field.”

TIME TEAM

In the Time Team tent, the skeletons of the Iron Age women found buried on site are laid out

Diggers open up a trench in the field expecting to find Iron Age and Roman remains

Opening up new trenches during a race against time to explore the site

“Iron Age burials rarely survive here”

Derek added:

“To stumble across a couple of Iron Age burials was quite spectacular, so ever since then I have wanted to go back and do a full investigation.

“If you really want to find out about something you have to get out there and dig a hole, but using remote sensing technology and geophysics technology you can do a whole lot of work without ever breaking ground.

“Iron Age burials in this part of Dorset rarely survive because of the acidic soils, so we had a rare opportunity to investigate what could be an Iron Age cemetery site and to find out how these people were living.

“It was a dream come true to bring the might of Time Team to our project and the discoveries were truly amazing! Purbeck has a huge, hidden archaeological story and I love that we get to share that with the world.”

TIME TEAM

Three trenches were opened up on Day One to uncover the Iron Age settlement

“A unique window into life in Dorset”

Lawrence Shaw, a member of the Time Team crew since its crowd funded revival, said:

“It was also an honour to host Time Team’s 30th birthday celebration in Purbeck and bring together the team, old and new. The site is very special and gives a unique window into Iron Age and Roman life in Dorset.

“During the Iron Age, some 2,000 years ago, the area was home to the Durotriges tribe, and this site offers excellent opportunities to investigate how they lived and died.

“The evidence that we found during the three-day dig in the shadow of Corfe Castle indicates industrial activity, several phases of settlement and even burials – an extremely rare find for this period in British history.”

TIME TEAM

An artist’s reconstruction of how the two women would have been buried

Skeletons dated to year zero

The Purbeck hills, studded with prehistoric barrows and earthworks, had been settled from prehistoric times – in wider Dorset, hill forts built to defend the area from rival tribes such as Maiden Castle have been studied most.

But by the time the Romans sailed into Poole Harbour to colonise the South Coast for Emperor Claudius, the inhabitants were farmers and traders and seemingly not interested in repelling the invaders.

Carbon dating on the skeletons found at Wytch Farm – two females, one in her 20s and the other a dozen years older and both only about 4 feet 11 inches tall, put them at around 2,000 years old, at the beginning of our calendar in year zero.

It means they were living in Purbeck at the end of late Iron Age Britain just before the Romans arrived, and the chance is that their children saw the area’s transition to Roman Britain.

TIME TEAM

A reconstruction of the kind of kiln which would have been built to smelt ironstone

Historians recreated the Romano Saxon kilns found on the site to fire their own pots

A second kiln was built to show how Iron Age pots would have been fired

Two races lived alongside each other

Pottery found in the same area was also dated to the first century, and the first signs of a building were also uncovered – and all of the evidence will feed into a wider investigation into the Durotriges tribe being run by Bournemouth University.

Remains of a pottery kiln from the Romano British period was discovered, and the Time Team crew reconstructed an Iron Age smelting furnace to show how the local inhabitants would have smelted ironstone found along Studland Bay.

But a very much later kiln and pottery, from the fourth century, was also unearthed, meaning that the two races likely lived alongside each other for the whole of the Roman occupation.

TIME TEAM

A artist’s impression of the briquetage pot used to reclaim salt from the sea

Time Team celebrated 30 years

The dig at Wytch Farm marked a significant milestone for Time Team – 30 years after the premiere of its inaugural episode in 1993 which focussed on a Somerset site believed to have been the fortress of King Alfred the Great.

Time Team ran on Channel 4 until 2014, fronted by Blackadder actor Sir Tony Robinson and archaeologist Mick Aston, and returned in 2022 to YouTube and online subscription platform Patreon, where more than 9,000 people now watch regular, exclusive content.

The anniversary on Friday 15th September 2023 was marked with a birthday cake and a hog roast provided by The Salt Pig and with entertainment provided by Dorset folk duo Ninebarrow.

TIME TEAM

Tim Taylor cuts the Time Team’s 30th anniversary cake

Time Team creator Tim Taylor with archaeologist and presenter Dani Wootton

Time Team creator Tim Taylor with archaeologist and presenter Dani Wootton at Wytch Farm

Legacy and longevity

Series producer Tim Taylor said:

“We couldn’t have chosen a better site to celebrate Time Team’s legacy and longevity. Here’s to the next 30 years of discovery!”

TIME TEAM

Dorset folk duo Ninebarrow sing their tribute to Purbeck’s historic past

Further information

  • Follow Time Team Digital on its website
  • Three videos telling the story of the Time Team dig are available on YouTube from Monday 20th May 2024

Watch the Time Team’s Wytch Farm videos

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