5 minutes with the creator of Time Team

PUBLISHED: 09:22 07 July 2020

Tim Taylor and the cover of his book Dig Village. Photo: Tim Taylor

Tim Taylor and the cover of his book Dig Village. Photo: Tim Taylor

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Annette Shaw speaks with history buff Tim Taylor about his latest book

Sara Nunan's illustration of Crediton Church from the Time Team's Dig Village bookSara Nunan's illustration of Crediton Church from the Time Team's Dig Village book

If I had to choose an absorbing non-fiction book this summer it would be Time Team’s Dig Village by Tim Taylor. Not an inexpensive purchase, but it is an incredibly exciting and practical picture of history at a local level. The book covers key buildings, the origin of place names, forests, woodlands, life and the law within settlements.

It was a pleasure to talk to Tim because he makes the past very accessible, backed up by Sara Nunan’s quirky illustrations, literally with depth!

“We aimed to make this as visually enjoyable as possible,” says Tim. “We also listed as many subjects as we could to add information and value, so we included artistic themes, archaeological, social and botanical, as well as the technical.”

The reader is introduced to all the necessary tools to uncover the richness of our heritage, using case studies that centre on Dunster in Somerset, but there are many references to Devon.

One of Dartmoor artist Sara Nunan's illustrations for Time Team's Dig Village.One of Dartmoor artist Sara Nunan's illustrations for Time Team's Dig Village.

“We’ve been welcomed by the people of Dunster since 2012,” continues Tim. “It became the trial site for many of the ideas in the book but the principles and practices apply generally.”

Talking more about Devon, Tim elaborates: “Go into a coastal town and you can read the landscape picking up Spanish influences. I remember when we were in Plympton exploring roof space and found beams from the thirteenth century. And it’s that sort of sense of what lies beneath the surface that makes the subject so appealing.”

The style brings us closer to the experiences of our ancestors. How hard was it? How did they survive? Tim and I touched briefly on human needs as laid out by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper  “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.

“We don’t often have to consider what we need to live. But turn back the clock and the essentials would be water, shelter and nutrition,” says Tim. “It’s levelling to think about our forebears in Medieval Britain depending on the seasons and crop yields when malnutrition and starvation would be an ever-present danger.”

The section on food and drink concludes with suggestions for further research such as looking for fare associated with the area in which you live and noting old buildings that would have been used for food production and storage.

Read more: discover ancient sites in Devon .

Younger readers may find the chapter on Apothecaries and Healthcare a timely comparison and perhaps value the NHS even more. As Tim writes: “It was not until the 19th century that the medical profession began to understand the connection between germs, bacteria and disease.”

Time Team excavated the area close to St Leonard’s Hospital in York. Monks and nuns offered treatments of the day, but up to three patients shared a bed! Of hedgerows and plants, we learn “…hedges are not only boundaries…but have acted as habitats for wildlife including pollinators, and sources of medicine, shelter and food.”

Hence, how the desire to demarcate our territory “speaks to our sense of security.”

What we now drive or walk past without a thought once “acted as a medicine cabinet for generations of villagers,” a place where plants such as wild garlic, fennel and borage flourished.

To sum up, Dig Village is a walk through time. As Tim comments: “The beauty of a landscape is a tribute to how it was managed in the past. This book helps readers to appreciate the people who went before and connects us to the past and a simpler way of life.”

Tim Taylor is the creator and series producer of Time Team. He began his career in education and attributes the first sparks of a lifetime interest to the great fieldworker W.G. Hoskins. Born in Exeter in 1908, Hoskins is credited with establishing the first university department of English Local History.

A village near Roadford Reservoir, in North Devon, was the location Tim explored with archaeologist Mick Aston as part of a series called Time Signs, the first step in the Time Team story, and Tim recalls this as being instrumental in launching the show on television.

Tim has written several best-selling books on archaeology and has been a visiting professor at Bristol University. Running at 220 programmes, this hugely popular series ran for over two decades. The popularity of Time Team spans 35 countries!

Sara Nunan illustrated and designed Dig Village. With what turned out to be good timing, she met Tim, by chance, when she was involved with Devon Open Studios. Her career as an art editor and illustrator for book publishers Dorling Kindersley, HarperCollins and BBC Worldwide provided a perfect set of skills for his new project which took two years to complete. Sara lives on the edge of Dartmoor where she works on commercial and private commissions.

Time Team’s Dig Village by Tim Taylor. Illustrated and designed by Sara Nunan is published by Time Team Digital and costs £34.95

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