Greg Bailey reviews the Channel 5 Pub Dig program in the July/August British Archaeology magazine. He admits that excavation techniques “seems efficient” and that picking pub locations is logical as they are “archaeologically rich aggregation-sites”, or to most people, a very good bet that you will find something.
Mr Bailey seems to have a problem with the scale of the excavations. He bemoans the lack of resources in relation to the numbers of diggers used and the lack of wiz-bang graphics. He then make an assumption that there “appears to be limited desk-based research” before digging begins.
I see that Mr Bailey works as an academic for the University of Bristol. I am not going to make my own assumptions about Mr Bailey’s experience in the field.
From my own experience Pub Dig is as near to the real thing as any program on TV, much more so than Time Team. As any digger will tell you most excavations are carried out on small sites with two, three or four diggers in attendance working in a limited space, both on evaluations and fully contracted sites, nearly all carried out on limited budgets. What you dig is what you get and the viewers are seeing real archaeologists working on real sites with interpretation of the evidence produced. We do not have computer graphics and fly-through films of Roman and Medieval houses in the site hut, to recreate the ‘feel’ of what we have dug up (“and this is what it would have looked like – TA-DA!”) whilst having a cuppa and eating soggy sandwiches.
As to the seeming lack of desk-based research, I do not believe that any archaeologist, or TV professional, would go into a project blind. The TV people want the ‘goods’ and will not leave it to chance. The locations are picked due to there being a very good chance that archaeology will turn up. Just like Time Team. Does he believe that everyone on TT is really ‘surprised’ by what they find. The basic information of what is there archaeologically will be known well before the team arrives.
As to the dodgy history, that will be down to poor work by researchers and then script writers. That needs to be sorted. But it does not impact on the archaeological work done by the diggers. Their work is grounded in the facts of what is found and in educated interpretation. Of course, if diggers could have Mary Beard, Neil MacGregor and Michael Wood on site to lend their academic expertise it would make life so much easier. And they could have their turn making the tea and spending eight hours a day, five days a week, up to their ankles in mud – and so could Mr Bailey.