Monday, November 21, 2005

Back to our roots

At Athelney, in Somerset, Time Team revisits the site of one of its first programmes, filmed ten years previously in 1993. Back then, the Team was not allowed to dig within the area of the scheduled ancient monument. So the resulting programme – the first Time Team ever screened – is distinguished by the fact that, 100 programmes later, it is still the only one that doesn't feature any trenches.
Now, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, Time Team is back – and this time English Heritage has given permission to excavate 400 square metres of trenches.
The historyWe know that Athelney once stood as a lone hill among miles of marshes. The site was fortified by King Alfred, who used it as a base to launch attacks on Danes (Vikings) in the surrounding area. Through great skill – and the luck of the battlefield – Alfred managed to force the invading Danes out of Wessex and eventually out of the whole of southern England. Documentary sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, tell us that Alfred returned to Athelney after these battles and constructed an abbey on the site to give thanks for his victory.
The questIn this special 100th-anniversary programme, Time Team's experts carefully consider the geophysics survey results and place their limited-space trenches after earnest deliberation. Over the three days of painstaking work, the Team discovers not only the original defensive ditches from Alfred's fort, but also evidence for a solid monastic structure. The remains of an iron-working site are also discovered – leading to the tantalising speculation that this might have been the place where Alfred had his weapons produced to supply his army.


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