Over the last couple of months, I’ve been tracking down my old Time Team colleagues to find out what they’ve been getting up to since the iconic show ended four years ago. But how does one track down an archaeologist? In the case of pottery expert Paul Blinkhorn, the roar of his motorbike and deep booming laugh are always enough to give his location away…
Ah, Paul Blinkhorn. Known to many as Time Team’s bike-riding, beer swigging, rugby-league loving pottery expert, he’s also known as the ‘pot-monkey’ who can spot a sherd of German Franken ware from at least fifty paces.
Born and raised in Whiston, Merseyside, Paul went on his first dig aged 14, whilst on holiday with his parents. He went on to study Archaeological Sciences at Bradford University and by 1983 he was specialising in pottery analysis for various commercial archaeology organisations. In 1988, he went freelance and that same year made his first ever Time Team appearance on the live shoot at Bawsey.
Since then, he’s spent most of his time on the telly sat by the side of a trench, waxing lyrical about his love of old pots in his booming Barry White-esque voice. It’s a mad job, but someone’s got to do it!
What did you do immediately after leaving Time Team?
Went back to my day job, then went on a diet in a vain effect to negate the effects of 15 years-worth of huge fried hotel breakfasts, fab location catering, and evening beers. But not for long, I was soon co-presenting Pub Dig with Rory McGrath! My time on Michael Wood’s Story of England was the epitome of healthy living by comparison!
What are you doing now?
Pots, pots, pots. An Early Saxon assemblage from Rugby. Quite rare in that part of the world. Also, doing a series of twelve Monday night archaeology talks in my local pub (the Olde England in Northampton), which has 20 real ales on the go at any one time. It’s a dirty job…
You weren’t just on the telly with Time Team though were you?
No, my years at Bradford coincided with some of Time Team’s other luminaries. Jackie MacKinley was a student in the year above, and an afternoon on Ilkley Moor in February, under the supervision of a young Post-Doctoral student called John Gater was enough to put me off Geophysics for life!
If working on Time Team taught you any life lessons, what was it?
That if a TV executive tells you it’s night-time, look out of the window.
What was your best Time Team memory?
I’ve got so, so many, but it all begins with the first time I stayed away with the crew at Raunds in 2000. That was a bit special – it was the first time I really got to know everyone, and it was quite a site, too!
And your worst?!
The last couple of series when it was obvious that Channel Four was trying to kill the programme. The atmosphere was utterly poisonous at times.
There were a lot of pranks played on cast members. What’s your most favourite, salacious or ridiculous memory of these?
At (I think) Hunstrete. Certainly, a big, posh, country hotel, complete with helipad. I remember opening the curtains of my room one morning to see Matt Williams, in his bed, asleep on the huge, immaculate lawn in front of the hotel. Watching Matt wake up and realise where he was, wrap himself in his duvet, get out of bed and trudge towards the front door. Laughing that hard at that time of the morning can’t be good for you.
You once told me that you were a roadie – how does that compare to the life of a circuit archaeologist?
The pay, catering and accommodation is definitely better for roadies.
So, counting pots and analyzing them must be a dreary task at times – what music do you listen to when you’re in the ‘pot monkey zone?’
This varies enormously. I listen to Radio 6 a lot, Radcliffe and Maconie make me chuckle (and I’ve been on ‘The Chain’ twice!) then anything from 70s Krautrock through to dub. I’ve currently got a John Cooper Clark anthology t’missus got me for Christmas on the go.
When you’re not doing archaeology, what do you like doing?
Beer, music, and sport. I used to play sport a lot, but am now too old and knackered. So now I watch it instead, mainly on TV (football, Rugby League, cricket, baseball, MotoGP), but go to live St Helen’s Rugby League games a few times a season. Apart from that, my other big passion is being a blindly optimistic Liverpool FC supporter – so I’m used to disappointment!
If you were a type of motorbike what model would you be?
Some sort of highly tuned, sleek, sports bike like a Ducati…. No? Oh, OK then, a large porky BMW tourer of some description. Painted black.
What is your favorite road journey?
Rhyader to Cwmystwth mountain road in mid-Wales. By motorbike, naturally. When it’s not raining. Anywhere round there, really. Its my ‘happy place’.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Um. Not sure I do. George Orwell is a hero, if that counts. I visited his grave at Sutton Courtenay while we were doing a Time Team shoot there.
What’s been your favourite archaeology TV show since Time Team?
Apart from Pub Dig? I don’t watch a lot to be honest, but anything by Michael Wood (ok, he’s an historian…). He’s still the daddy as far as I’m concerned. ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’ got me into Anglo-Saxon archaeology. And he’s a lovely, lovely bloke, an absolute joy to work with.
What do you think is the most recent promising or exciting discovery or development in archaeology?
LIDAR has got to be up there I think, just for the sheer volume of new sites being discovered. Potentially, rehydroxylation dating of brick, tile, and pottery. This is still under development, but early results suggest very, very accurate dating results for bricks and tiles. It’s a shame everyone seems dead set on throwing them away…
And finally, if you put your hand in your pocket right now what would you find?
Boringly, my house keys and a pound coin.
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