Tools down for Time Team: Raksha Dave on the end of an era and her new adventure

Raksha Dave DigVentures

DV Field School Manager and Time Team archaeologist Raksha Dave advises us all to switch off the remote and make our own adventure…

It’s the end of an era, a watershed, a seminal moment for TV archaeology: Time Team has finally ended.

I know I’ve been remarkably quiet (for once) about the whole thing, and there’s a reason for that. At DigVentures, we want to support public archaeology as much as possible, and not jump on the usual bandwagon of cutting every programme to shreds. However, upon reflection, it’s time for me to let rip on Time Team’s last-ever programme. And to share a few other things about my ten-year journey as one of the Time Team archaeologists, why I’m glad it’s over, and what I hope will happen next for everyone who loved the show.

But first, the final programme. It was meant to be a compilation, a snapshot of what we had achieved over two decades. I expected to feel a little bit sad and nostalgic about the job that took over my life for 10 years, but instead I felt angry and short-changed: where was ‘The Team’?

I wanted to be taken on a lovely trip down memory lane and to be reminded of the people who I know and love, and have shared some fantastic moments with. Instead we got a quick one-hour bundle through 20 years and a rather unceremonious send-off.  Yes, yes, yes we had the same old interviews with Tony, Phil, Mick and Francis, but what about the rest of us?  The plethora of field archaeologists, landscape/survey, geophys, film crew, graphics, numerous experts and endless people who made the show happen?Raksha Dave DigVentures

The whole reason why Time Team worked was because it wasn’t just about the stars. Every single person on screen or off played a crucial part in the delivery of the show –  we really only had three days and we stuck to it and we, (and I mean all of us) worked bloody hard to make this happen. After the on-screen talent left, our dedicated post-ex/reinstatement team stayed extra days, sometimes working through weekends, to ensure the archaeology was recorded to a high standard. This was how we rolled.  Sadly, the final programme did not reflect this at all.

Girl power?

It was also a shock that the programme did not acknowledge the women in the team. All of the ‘talking heads’ were men!  What about Carenza, Jenny, Katie, Helen, Bridget and all the other females that contributed?  Every one of us are highly regarded in our profession – so what happened?

I wasn’t really surprised though, as there was always an underlying current of uncertainty to how women should be portrayed on Time Team, which you would only know if you had been a part of it. Bottom line, we had as much right to be there as the boys – and sometimes it really didn’t feel like that. There was always a constant change of female cast – one minute they were there, and the next they were ‘let go’.

In my early years, I was constantly looking over my shoulder: am I too fat, boring, sexy, girly or informative enough?  One year I had suffered extreme weight loss due to work-related stress and the loss of my father, and quite sadly at least two TV execs congratulated me on losing a few pounds. I can also relay stories of how one of the females on Time Team was given money and told to have a ‘good hair cut’, whilst another was told that it was a shame because she ‘looked good but didn’t have a personality’.

I know that TV is not the real world, and one thing we should all have is perspective. At the end of the day I am an archaeologist – the TV bit is just the means to communicate my work to a larger audience.  But it does make me reflect on the sometimes uncomfortable gender issues in being a female archaeologist, down to things like comfort facilities on site or having to put up with nudie calendars in site huts. I’m not going on a feminist rant by any means, but it does make you think.

Being MarmiteRaksha Dave DigVentures

It was really weird being an archaeologist for Time Team. Whilst millions of people loved the show and took us into their homes every Sunday, the profession gave us a luke-warm reception at best. Time Team was a bit like Marmite – you either loved us, or you hated us.  Many still think we don’t do ‘proper’ archaeology – conveniently forgetting that three-day evaluations are standard in the commercial sector. In fact, many major commercial projects are currently being squeezed by developers to work within even smaller timeframes.

I’d like to see any archaeologist at the age of 25 manage a different team of rolling staff on a multitude of sites with different time periods and geology, and then deliver a comprehensive interpretation that is understood by a non-professional.  I was but 25 when I started on Time Team, and this was the norm.  I was digging at breakneck speed for 12 hours a day, encouraging and motivating new staff whilst dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis to deliver the archaeology.

Maybe there was something to be said in the beginning of the show about how we did things, but that changed radically for the better in 2003 when we sub-contracted Wessex Archaeology to act as the ‘back office’ to our excavations.  Our beloved small Wessex team followed us around dealing with on site and post-ex functions such as recording, planning and report writing. Slowly but surely, we proved the strength of our work, and we were almost accepted as part of the establishment when we started to gain permission to excavate Scheduled Ancient Monuments.  By the time the show ended, Time Team had grown to become the biggest private research funder in UK archaeology -  and most importantly, we were having fun too.

The Cardiff move and other disasters

Nothing stays the same, however, and in 2010 we were given the fateful news that the London office was to pack up and move to Cardiff. Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, this was the death knell for Time Team. The 200th episode for us was bittersweet; we had reached a milestone, but had lost the collective expertise of our production team. I vaguely remember clinging onto a wine bottle at the wrap party, as huge tears rolled down my face.  Things were never going to be the same – Time Team was a family, and when you lose 20 people in one fell swoop, it’s really tough to bounce back.Raksha Dave DigVentures

But we all knew we had to suck it up and give the Cardiff staff a chance, and support them, so that the show could continue. But then it came anyway, out of the blue, the bleak January phone call spelling out the changes to the show for the upcoming season.

It was awful. It reminded me when Carenza left – a bit unceremonious, a ‘thanks but no thanks’.  We were told that Helen and Stewart would no longer play integral roles, and Faye was let go. Instead we were to have a new female co-presenter, new landscape expert-cum-presenter, and a new archaeologist.  As well as a change of on-screen personnel, the format was also to change. Suddenly the established staff had to cope with new production, new team, and new format – all in all, too much change for one year!

But we only fought back once it became clear that the emphasis of the programme was shifting away from the actual archaeology. Archaeologists can be a bloody-minded bunch, but we knew that they were turning something we had all nurtured into a second-rate entertainment show. The people I really felt for were Mary-Ann and Alex – what an awful atmosphere to have entered. These poor lovely people were caught in the crossfire and it must have been bewildering.  Worse than that, It was blatantly obvious that there was no real plan for what they were supposed to do, and how they were supposed to fit in with the rest of us.

The worst was to come with ‘Mary-Ann Gate’.  There’s no need to rehash the whole story, (and have a look at this too) but I will say that the backlash by the general public was unfair and unwarranted. Previously, no one seemed to care if on-screen personalities such as Alice Roberts were not archaeologists, (*newsflash* people she still isn’t!), so why was this so different for Mary-Ann?  The manipulation of the story by certain journalists s unfairly put all of the blame for that terrible season, and Mick’s quitting, at Mary Ann’s feet. It’s rubbish.

Poor change management and the lack of sensitivity to how these upheavals would affect our work patterns had sown the seed of a deep unhappiness within the Team. We are all responsible for our actions, however, and I think some situations and personal reactions could have been dealt with more sensitively and with more professionalism. When passions run deep there is inevitably a watershed moment. For us, it was too little too late when management finally realized they had pushed people one step too far. We had lost Mick.

The End of an Era

But we soldiered on. We all knew going into the final season that it would be our last. Our commission was up, and why would a channel want to re-commission a show that they had blatantly been sabotaging for the past five years? The writing was on the wall with C4 continuously changing viewing schedules – without notice – so that it was increasingly difficult to find Time Team in the Sunday schedule. Not surprisingly, we started to lose viewers. The channel obviously wanted an excuse to get rid of us. Time Team was expensive, big-budget telly that cost nearly 75% more to make per hour than the churned-out, creatively bankrupt, trendy youth agenda programmes that now litter the C4 schedule. Burn baby burn Raksha on pyre

Admittedly though, Time Team needed to change. Management never nurtured the younger archaeologists, and the programme format was quite limiting. It was getting monotonous and the sites we were digging were also a bit stale. We had forgotten our roots in finding archaeology in the most inconceivable and mundane places, giving the public a taste of the mystery that might just lie beneath their back garden. The recent success of finding Richard III in a car park suggests that this still whets the viewing public’s appetite: the extraordinary in the ordinary. So, by the time the final bell was rung, I already knew I would be leaving. I was bored. Nothing was a challenge anymore, and I had grown out of the role. I was quite relieved to hear the news when it finally came.

I’ve heard from so many viewers who are grieving the loss of Time Team. I have mixed emotions about this, because of course it’s hugely flattering – but it really was time to move on. The world is different, archaeology is different, there are so many amazing new ways of doing things and being involved, and that’s where I spend my energy now with my new project at DigVentures.

DV is all about the future – making the excitement, sense of discovery and magic of archaeology accessible, without the TV screen in between you and the archaeologists, so that in the end everyone can be a part of the team. We’re having so much fun already, and looking forward to an amazing dig this summer at Leiston Abbey!

The ‘Save Time Team’ petition is a nice effort, but I really wish that everyone would think about what they are actually supporting by signing: is it the programme itself, or is it the people who were on it, or the sense of discovery and amazement about this crazy island we live on? Because we’re all still here, we’re all still digging, and there are much more personal ways for viewers to follow us and learn about our exploits. There’s no need to Save Time Team, we’re all just fine!

Of course Time Team’s legacy should be celebrated.The show inspired an international community to become more deeply interested in its heritage, and inspired countless people to study and enter the profession. Being part of the show was a very special moment in time for me, and for everyone who loved it and watched us every week – but ultimately, Time Team’s legacy is about the people: the people of the past who make up the archaeology we unearth, the people of the present and most importantly, the people of the future who will take archaeology forward.

If you miss the show, be a part of this legacy and get involved – there are plenty of options out there such as local societies, archaeology groups, field schools and education of all levels. Check out the Council for British Archaeology’s website, it’s a one-stop shop for getting involved in archaeology.

Most importantly, switch off your remote and make your own adventure – I know I am this summer. Anyone fancy a trowel?

DigVentures Raksha

And here’s an Easter treat: Raksha’s starting a Flickr album of her favourite behind-the-scenes photos from her ten years on Time Team. We’ve got the first batch up already!

Tools down for Time Team: Raksha Dave on the end of an era and her new adventure

19 Responses

  1. A very good article Racksha. I concur with everything you say. very best of luck with your new project. I cannot ask to join you guys, too old and infirm. Armchair bound these days, but I did a few volunteer digs in the early sixties. So onward and upward for Digvetures, from strength to strength. I will look for your progress.

    jimmy fen 26 May, 2013 at 2:35 pm #
  2. So sad – the finish of Time Team. But thanks to that programme and great archaeologists like yourself there are many young people starting careers and following in your footsteps. This would never of happened had it not been for the quality and and dedication show in the making of the series and the trip to the pub at the end of the day!.
    I too would love to join the team but I live in Tasmania, Australia. All the best I know you will be inundated with eager, budding archaeologists.

    Heather 5 June, 2013 at 1:06 am #
  3. We’ve just caught up about the demise of Time Team at the same time we heard about Tony Robinson’s knighthood. Thanks for the very informative article Raksha. Here in Australia after a long hiatus we are now seeing Time Team every weekday, but in no particular order and with many repeats, so although we noticed that Professor Mick was missing sometimes we had no idea that he actually left the show. Television executives seem the same the world over – having to mess with a winning formula to justify their existence and no doubt inflated salaries.
    If I lived in England I’d love to take part in a dig with you, but I live in Australia. I did take part in a suburban Melbourne dig of the homestead built in 1841 by one of the first clergymen to live here, and it was an amazing experience. I still have my trowel and would love to use it again if my 72 year old knees could take it! Best wishes to you in your new venture and I hope to keep up with the progress of your investigations.

    Tony Andrews

    Tony Andrews 16 June, 2013 at 7:17 am #
    • couldn’t agree more with all the commentary, thoroughly enjoyed all the TT moments and characters, happily they’re still repeating TT in Aust. so I’ll have something to discuss with my mate Geoff at work…Harry Flashman, Belmont Victoria.

      Harry 25 June, 2013 at 11:51 am #
  4. really sad that time team finished but nice to read your story. loved seeing you on the show . had to watch every time it was on out here in Australia .wondered why mick was missing now know thank you. hope you do well in the future thanks.

    tom o'donnell 19 June, 2013 at 6:31 am #
  5. I’m particularly gutted about the way Time Team has ended. Strangely, I found it the most relaxing and enjoyable program on television. I particularly loved the on camera ‘slanging matches’ that Tony had with Mick, and Phil had with Tony, and in particular his mocking of ‘Geo Phys’. (I’m sure it was Phil’s way of showing respect to their art). I cant count how many times I have been rolling around on the couch due to this banter.

    Its also sad to hear about the way the professional women have been treated. Its seems big nob TV executives etc. still don’t get it when it comes to respect for women.

    Gonna miss the show, been watching repeats on U-Tube to see if there are any that I have missed.

    I wish all the team the very best for the future and hope that a quality archaeological show isn’t too distant again in the future.

    David Roenfeldt 24 June, 2013 at 9:24 am #
  6. Raksha, I think TV does represent real life, just in condensed magnified form. I used to wonder why the female faces varied so much but a core of males remained; thanks for the explanation.

    It is really relevant to the wider socio-political sphere; try being a female Prime Minister in Australia just now! Try being any kind of female professional with the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott running down women every chnace he gets, and giving implicit permission to every sexist male to have a go themselves, when we had almost taken a step forward for gender equality.

    And sorry to hear of the untimely death of Mike Aston. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23041568

    Marie Claire 25 June, 2013 at 12:01 am #
    • I am also sorry to hear of the untimely death of Mick Aston. He and Phil Harding held the “show”together with their knowledge unlike the show pony who interrupted all the time like he was the star. All the girls where very enthusiastic. I sit here in Australia watching yet another repeat.
      Good luck in the new venture Raksha

      Barbara Donoghue 2 December, 2013 at 11:23 pm #
  7. So good to see so many comments from others in Australia. My partner and I are both UK born and we thoroughly enjoy having Time Team on every weeknight. It invites much discussion and we were shocked to hear of Mick Aston’s death last week. Having read the reports of this and discovering that the program was ending, I thought I would have a browse online and check fully into the whys and wherefores. Congratulations Raksha on such a brilliant article. I am totally in agreement with the comments from the other Aussies. May we wish you every success with your new adventure and only wish that we could join you. I should also like to mention how we were very impressed with the episode with the soldiers who had returned from war zones both physically and mentally affected by their experiences. The whole team must have been really proud to work alongside these men finding their feet again and to know that they were contributing to their rehabilitation.

    Jenni and Alec

    Jenni Carrington 5 July, 2013 at 10:05 am #
  8. Raksha, you have been a wonderful person to know, albeit on screen, as an eminent archaeologist at the heart of Time Team. It’s so sad that it has fallen apart in the way you describe. Like so many others in Australia, Anne (my wife) and I feel a deep bond with the Britain that is in our background and in our very bones. It’s not surprising that so many of your respondents have been Australians: Time Team has taken us beyond, below and also way above the place that is the Britain of today and into many hidden layers of the the land as it was in centuries long gone. As literary people we share with you a love of the past in its rich and subtle relationship with the present. Your warmth, enthusiasm and expertise will undoubtedly ensure that DigVentures will continue to provide many with the delight of sharing in archaeological discovery. We wish you well.

    Christopher Wortham 5 July, 2013 at 12:58 pm #
  9. Thankyou to Time Team for making history and Archeology so interesting. I have always been interested in it, but girls in my day were not encouraged to do it.Still have over the years read lots about it and when travelled to England have seen some of the real finds. I visit my birth town (ST. Albans) regually and love the Roman theatre etc. We also used to find flints and bits of pottery in our garden. So long ago! Now thanks to Time Team my 11 year old Grandaughter has been interested in history and all the questions from small finds. Thank you again to all the team.

    Elizabeth Gaeth 7 July, 2013 at 5:18 am #
  10. I would like to add my congratulations to Time Team. As a secondary school Science Teacher I was always pleased to watch a program that respected the scientific approach to debate and evidence, and that these popular programs were definitely reinforcing these ideals. To their great credit a few shows they produced had no “results” at all, and often chased up myths and legends that amounted to very little science, but the untangling of local rumor and folktales revealed as much about people everywhere as much as anything.

    It was a pleasure to understand the complexity and skills of our forefather’s lives (everywhere?) and appreciate how they lived and created their worlds around them. It was also a pleasure to hear debate between experts on various topics to try to establish a common understanding.

    I was always really thrilled with Victor’s drawings and would love to have a really huge coffee table book of his favourite sketches (I would be happy with his choice). His characterisations of people’s faces and forms were a real delight. I was even more impressed when the USA time team tried to imitate with a similar artist of much less skill that made it all the more clear how talented Victor was. He breathed life into so much of Time team’s discoveries more than many words. Mind you the work of the artisans who worked to recreate particular finds or technologies were also a joy to me as well. I loved people producing “copies” of jewellery or weapons or bowls or meals (poor Matt!!) etc were just fantastic.

    In this day and age of “finished and dusted” shows where everything is predictable (apart from the self indulgent bad behaviour on so called reality shows) that endlessly peel out of commercial TV, it is no wonder that eventually the production team behind the “Time Team” show would become avaricious for recipes for greater kudos, if not monetary results.

    Unfortunately a quality program is a huge compilation of many vested interests, and I suppose inevitable that a core group of people with simple scientific ideals, and a desire to communicate them, would be inevitably be undermined by the ruthless economic forces of media machinations. What is truly surprising is how long it took to happen!!!!

    We should just be thankful for some small positives in our lives,

    rob

    Rob Ward 16 July, 2013 at 10:38 am #
  11. @Rob Ward: Victor has several books. Go to Amazon and search on his name.

    My wife and I are really going to miss Time Team but, frankly, it had a great run and I think it would have best if it had ended a couple of seasons ago before they started messing with the format and presenters. And with Mick gone, the show would have lost one of the main drivers anyway. So whether he was forced out or not, the show without him would not have been the same.

    I was surprised that Rahsha didn’t mention a very special lady: Jackie McKinley (the osteoarcheologist) who seemed to always be filmed wearing her skull and crossbone work gloves. She had a special reverence when she handled human remains … “We may not know who you were but we know you were here and we wil treat you with all possible respect.”

    Finally, google’s auto-complete on Raksha Dave includes a search on “Raksha Dave Matt Williams married”. Is that true? I hope so and I wish them the very best.

    John Beamish 22 July, 2013 at 4:08 am #
  12. Nice to get a bit of background on Time Team It was always a fascinating programme. Good luck for the future Raksha.

    Rod Allen 26 July, 2013 at 1:54 pm #
  13. Thank you Raksha, not much chance of me making it for a dig, but this is an excellent piece of media history in itself. You’ve placed the Time Team series in a context for us. You’re right “Time Team’s legacy should be celebrated”.

    Viewing the series was immensely satisfying, particularly given the more limited practice of archaeology here. Archaeology in Australia is a major challenge given the relatively low population densities over the past 60,000 years or so, yet it’s essential given the amazing continuity of occupance.

    maximos62 1 August, 2013 at 4:11 am #
  14. Very revealing; sad in places, but great to know you are forging ahead and still positive about your work. I was sorry to learn of Mick’s passing a few months ago and I miss all of you from the best days of Time Team. I got a bit annoyed with Tony sometimes, but he can’t help it. I watch the re-runs on more four a lot and track the digs on Google Earth. I just hope some other TV company has enough foresight to come up with another informative programme, that focuses on the actual archaeology again.

    I quite agree as regards the marginalisation of the fantastic women of the programme – to my eyes you were all beautiful, as well as being wonderful professionals contributing some of the best insights and more than your share of the grunt work. The digs would have been impoverished without the wonderful women archaeologists of Time Team. I doff my figurative hat to you all!

    brahyih 10 September, 2013 at 3:03 pm #
    • Just a further note to the above. At school History bored the pants off me, but since watching Time Team I love it.

      brahyih 14 October, 2013 at 2:07 pm #
  15. I recently moved to Australia from Canada (where we didn’t get the show) and, as a geophysicist, I was put onto Time Team by my colleagues. I believe I was hooked the first time I saw John Gator use geophysics to guide the excavations! As mentioned by many already, the shows here don’t appear to air in any particular order and, like those same folks, I turned to the web for answers to the mystery of the disappearing.re-appearing people! Thanks for such a concise explanation.

    Even in re-run form, Time Team is a pinpoint of wonderful light in a dismal sea of television brain-rot. Best of luck to you and all your former colleagues.

    Janet 19 February, 2014 at 11:21 am #
  16. Excellent article. I, like everybody else miss Time Team very much and would agree that when Mick left, it took a downward turn. I was in awe at the knowledge and intelligence of all the Lady’s and Men on the program, this is what made the program so good. I also watch all the re-runs on More 4 and Discovery and still enjoy it very much. Good Luck in all your future endeavors and of coarse this goes for the whole team, also very sad at hearing of Mick Aston’s passing. I saw Phil Harding in Salisbury once did not speak though but was quite made up though. You were all a brilliant team shame the bosses could not see that. Thank you for many happy hours of television viewing. Good Luck.

    Les Rickman 25 March, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

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