“Day Two, and we’re here on Time Team excavating a site just outside Little Shelton, a village south of Hannart. Aerial photography has shown a series of circular features in a field….”
“Even I can see that’s not prehistoric,” said the animated gnome, peering into a tray of potsherds. He picked one out and held it up: a large curved triangle, one side glossy white with a blue pattern. “I think my mum’s got something like that on her mantel.”
“Quite possibly, Chony,” said the ceramics specialist. “That’s a piece of typical Kernsburghware from the end of last century. Very popular, shipped all over the country.”
“There’s a lot of rubbish like that in the top layer,” put in the team leader. “But don’t worry, we’ve got that stripped off now, getting down—what would you say, Fyl?” he said, turning to the field archaeologist. “Are we down to the Period of the Earldoms yet?”
“Oh, I’m sure of it, Mikk,” was the answer. The burly, long-haired man stepped closer to the side of the trench he stood in. Dust from the digging powdered his hairy calves. “Look here.” He pulled a small plastic finds bag out of the pocket of his shorts. “See that?” He held it up for Mikk Astin to take. “That’s our best find to date—and I do mean ‘date’. You can’t get better evidence than that.”
The camera angled in for a close-up as Mikk carefully opened the bag and took out a coin. “Oh, lovely,” he said. “Excellent detail.”
“It’ll need cleaning up,” said Fyl, “but I reckon that’s a copper from Keril’s reign. You can just make out the letters of his name round the edge.”
Mikk handed the coin over to Chony, placing it gently in the palm of his left hand. The TV presenter took it gingerly between thumb and forefinger and held it up. The cameraman adjusted to extreme close-up; and there was a pause while he got the focus right.
“Right, get that back in the bag,” said Mikk. Handing it then to one of the junior team members, he told her to take it along to Preservation.
At that, the gnomish Chony was off, talking into his mobile, “Stiuart, we’re finished at Trench One for the moment: you up for that overview of the site?”
“We’re still in the foothills here,” said the landscape investigator to Chony in one of their carefully choreographed, apparently spontaneous conversations. “To the south,” he gestured, “the land rises to the high volcanic ranges that once marked the boundary between North and South Dalemark back in the days of the Earls. To the north,” he swung round, “the land falls towards the sea. Now, in the prehistoric period—which is what we’re hoping for with this site—the mountains didn’t come this far north.”
“You’re talking about King Hern’s day,” put in Chony, for the benefit of the viewer.
“The legendary Hern, first King of Dalemark,” Stiuart agreed. “The early years of his reign were marked by unprecedented tectonic activity on a massive scale—a series of volcanic eruptions that raised the mountains on the north side of the range and radically altered the entire topography of the continent.” He paused: in post-production, a map of Dalemark would be inserted at this point, showing the changes in much-sped-up animation.
“The River,” said Chony, to restart the conversation. “It’s mentioned, of course, in the famous spellcoats that were found in the Marshes.”
The camera shifted to show that Helyn Geack was also present.
“Yes, the so-called spellcoats were our first indication that Dalemark geography was once strikingly different from the way it is today,” she agreed. “The legend of the invasion from Haligland—whoever wove the coat actually wrote it into the fabric in a primitive version of the old syllabic script. Not that anyone for centuries believed it to be an account of actual historic events. Until recently, it was impossible to find traces of the great River that dominated so-called ‘prehistoric’ Dalemark though—” At this point she deviated a bit off script. “—Riverland culture would be the more precise name. They did, after all, have writing.”
“But the River’s not mere myth,” put in Chony firmly to bring the discussion back on track.
“Nothing of that size can truly disappear,” Stiuart assured him. “Today, aerial photographs show the course of the ancient River clearly through crop marks and shadow marks.”
“How does that bear on our current investigation?”
“This village we’re looking for was situated on the bank of the River,” Stiuart responded.
There would, at this point, be an interpolation of the geophysical results; so Chony and the camera crew headed off to liaise with Jon Gaetir. He was located near the field whose further reaches were still being transversed by the Geophys team with their H-frame magnetic imagers. Called on his mobile, he headed for Trench Two so that the scene could also include the second team leader, Frensis Prire.
“So, do you have new results for us?” Chony began.
“I do indeed,” responded Jon.
He held out the map, which—like most geophysics maps in Chony’s eyes—looked like nothing so much as a series of dark blobs on white. Or white blobs on black: it was all in how you looked at it. At least, that was the gist of the comment he made, knowing that viewers enjoyed this sort of jesting introduction to the more blatantly scientific side of the investigation.
“No, look here,” said Jon earnestly, seemingly rising to the bait. He jabbed a finger at an irregular scatter of vaguely circular shapes.
“Those are clearly round houses,” agreed Frensis. He beamed, “I think, you know, Chony, we may really have it this time. A prehistoric settlement, actually on the ancient River. Those markings are very clear. Why I think—” He pointed at one of the more clearly circular features. “That may even be a hearth, there in the middle.”
“Are you saying you want to dig it?”
“Oh, I think we must!”
“Open another trench?”
“Why not? It’s what we’re here for, after all. And it’s an unprecedented opportunity.”
Which was all very well in its way; but, aside from a few shots of the digger scooping back the top layers of soil (always part of the show), the new trench would be unlikely to show filmable results until the following day.
“Stiuart was telling me,” Chony said, mindful of the rest of the information that this particular scene was supposed to cover, “that the village was on the banks of the River. What evidence do we have of that? I mean—” He swung round dramatically in a circle, arms outstretched. “—I don’t see any river, do you? Well,” he added with humour, “I suppose there could be a stream or two.”
“If you look at the larger picture,” said Jon gamely, “there’s a clear broad sweep where the ground changes. “
“Where Trench Three was put in,” said Frensis.
“And core samples are being taken,” added Jon, “to see how far down the alluvial deposits go. Don’t forget: the River had an annual flood when meltwater came down from the mountains in the spring.”
The scene showing the core samples being taken had already been shot. It was never the most interesting shot. Someone—this time, a sturdy young woman—screwed the borer down, foot by foot into the earth, to bring up a sample of long-buried dirt. The analysis might well provide fascinating results; but that would be reported in voice-over after the dig itself was over.
Trench Three was another matter.
“God, the finds trays look empty!”
Chony had always known this one was going to be tricky. The trench was a long narrow slot across the field; and, on the surface, there was nothing of interest to mark it—save, of course, the spoil heap. Standing atop this, he looked down into an empty hole. This was usual, of course. (What else, after all, is a trench but a neatly squared hole cut in dirt?) However, given the depth of prehistory they hoped to reach, the trench had to go down a long way. It was stepped at either end so that the archaeological team could get in and out safely, which might have been mildly interesting as a set-up for the shot. In the end, though, they had decided to have Mitt stand mid-trench, shoulder-deep, with his arms crossed casually on the lip.
He grinned up at the camera. “Oh, we have found a few things,” he responded to Chony’s comment. “Look in that one.” He pointed.
Looking even more than usual like a bald, grinning gnome, Chony came bounding down the spoil heap to squat by the tray. “You mean this?” he asked. Whatever it was, it had been slipped into a finds bag.
“Careful, it’s fragile,” Mitt warned, as he looked about to open it.
Chony changed his mind, and held it up. As the cameraman moved in for a close-up, he said, “Am I right in thinking it’s made of bone?”
“We think it’s a fish hook.”
“And where there’s a fish hook, there must be fishing; and where there’s fish, there must be water,” said Chony brightly.
There was a pause while he and the cameraman worked out the best way to film the fragmentary piece of bone without the bag obscuring the shape too much. Later, he knew, a reconstruction of the fish hook—if the experts determined that that was, in fact, what it was—would be created and filmed so that the viewer (if not Chony himself) could get a clearer idea of what exactly they were supposed to be looking at.
That done, he rose to his feet, mindful of the fact that they had come to Trench Three for a reason. “Aside from the odd find, though, what have you been doing here?”
“Ah,” said Mitt, and moved aside so that Chony—and the camera—could get a clearer view. “Look at how the colour of the soil changes? At that end, you’ve got the same soil basically as in the other trenches: that’s dry land, then as now. However, as you move along this way—” He swung round, and Chony and the camera obediently moved with him. “—you can see that we get more and more of the alluvial deposits.” He moved to the other side of the trench and squatted, pointing out the downward curve. “That’s left behind by the annual floods.” There was a pause for clear filming; then he straightened and headed along the trench. The cameraman shifted to hold him in view: a long shot down the trench. The alluvial line dipped deeper.
“Along there, we come to actual River level, as it was for most of the year,” Mitt finished. “It was just offshore, so to speak, that we came upon the fish hook.”
At this point, Chony felt his mobile vibrating in his pocket. He might have ignored it and gone on—they always filmed far more than could be used, just in case—but the call might be important. With the camera on Mitt, it was safe for him to make a throat-cutting gesture with one finger to indicate that the shot should end.
He took out his mobile and answered it. “What’s up?”
“It’s nearly six o’clock.”
The three-day digs usually stopped around six or seven, unless fading daylight or appalling weather forced an earlier quitting time. The comment—which to Chony was a mere ice-breaker—fell on dumb ears. Mikk and Frensis were conferring eagerly with Fyl, and looked round blankly.
“We’ve really found something?” Chony tried again.
“Oh, yes,” said Mikk. “We’ve definitely got a round house and a hearth. I think there’s charcoal—” He looked round at Fyl.
“Definite signs of charcoal,” said the field archaeologist, nodding vigorously. He took off his disreputable, famous hat for a moment, ran his hand through his hair, and put it back on. “I’m sure there’s enough for carbon dating.”
“And there are post holes!” said Frensis with glee.
Chony walked to the edge of the trench and looked in. By now, he was familiar with the signs of post holes—usually one or two, representing something indeterminate and undatable. The fact that two of Fyl’s team were wrist-deep in delicate excavation and three other darkish marks had tags beside them made them easy to spot.
For once, he decided not to feign complete ignorance. Checking that the green light was lit on the camera, he launched his spiel. “I can see five post holes—I’m right, aren’t I? Those dark features are post holes?—and they seem to form a rough curve.”
Half an hour later, they’d filmed the discussion , got a few close-ups as they talked, and moved in for a few good shots of the ongoing work.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I could murder a pint,” said Chony.
“Now you’re talking!” responded Fyl.
“And cut!” said the director, for the final time.
It was, indeed, knocking off time, more or less. It was the end of Day Two; and it was clear that this was going to be one of their successful digs. They had coins and fish hooks (or one fish hook, at least), and a few shards of pottery from at least Amilian times or earlier; they were fixing the route of the River in these parts, and establishing its relationship with the village; and they had at least one prehistoric cottage, complete with post holes.
“And Trench Four begun,” said Frensis eagerly, as they headed back to base.
But that could wait for Day Three.