1. Education
K. Kris Hirst

Time Team America

By June 30, 2009

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Premiering Wednesday, July 8, 2009, is Time Team America, a new PBS television series that is the first U.S. program dedicated to showing the nuts and bolts of archaeology in action.

Time Team America
Time Team America. Photo by
Meg Gaillard

Time Team America member Julie Schablitsky.
Time Team America member Julie Schablitsky
Photo Credit: Laurance Johnson

Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and based on the madly popular British series Time Team, each program in Time Team America brings a Mission Impossible team of professional archaeologists to a different archaeological site in the United States. Sites featured in this premiere season include the lost colony of Roanoke, North Carolina; the extensive Clovis and controversial preclovis Topper Site in South Carolina; New Philadelphia, an Illinois town established by former slaves; Range Creek, a rocky valley with Fremont culture occupations in Utah; and the wild west frontier town of Fort James, South Dakota.

Time Team America Host Colin Campbell.
Time Team America Host Colin Campbell
Photo Credit: Crystal Street

The professionals on the team include historical and urban archaeologist Julie Schablitsky currently at the Maryland State Highway Administration; Plains prehistorian Adrien Hannus at Augustana College in South Dakota; Joe Watkins, Director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma; historical archaeologist Eric Deetz of the James River Institute for Archaeology; geophysicist Meg Watters; and head excavator Chelsea Rose, a graduate student at Sonoma State University.

Led by the charming host, artist Colin Campbell, Time Team America spends three days at each site, bringing along a raft of cutting edge remote sensing and geophysical survey techniques, such as ground penetrating radar,fluxgate gradiometer, resistivity, Lidar, and differential GPS. Meg Watters, geophysical expert for Time Team America, recently expressed the thrill of using Terravision GPR and Foerster gradiometer to discover buried remnants of the western frontier town of Fort James: "These two geophysical survey methods are just beginning to be used in archaeological surveys (in Europe) and our survey at Fort James was the first of its kind."

Time Team America member Joe Watkins.
Time Team America member Joe Watkins
Photo Credit: Laurance Johnson

All of this equipment is fairly expensive and all too often outside the budgets of many archaeological projects. I'm sure their use was warmly welcomed by the local archaeologists: but the real benefit the Time Team America brings is the diverse experience and backgrounds of the visiting archaeologists. I mean no disrespect to any of the archaeologists leading the excavations on the sites: speaking as an archaeologist I would have killed for a visit from such a team.

Each of the archaeologists brings his or her own set of expertise to each site: Schablitsky her background in historical and DNA research; Hannus his prehistoric Plains background; Watkins his extensive research in Native American history and experimental archaeology; and Deetz his three decades of historical work including Jamestown. This diversity helps even when the archaeologist is out of his or her area of expertise, leading a generalist curve to the excavations at play.

Time Team member America Eric Deetz.
Time Team America member Eric Deetz
Photo Credit: Doug Brazil

If Time Team America is a success this year, PBS may ask for another season, and tentative plans may involve sites outside the lower 48 states. My plans for this season are to post a review of each of the programs on the Monday before the program airs on Wednesday. In each program review, I'll include a bibliography and links to further information and photos of each site.

I'm excited! Are you? As Time Team America member Julie Schlabitsky puts it, "If the viewing public can learn that we don't dig dinosaurs, use the word 'geofizz' in a sentence, and appreciate the volumes of information archaeologists add to our history, I will be a believer in educational television for the rest of my life."

Time Team America member Adrien Hannus.
Time Team America member Adrien Hannus
Photo Credit: Laurance Johnson

Time Team America's Schedule

All programs air Wednesdays, 8 pm eastern/7 pm central

  • July 8: Fort Raleigh, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, location of the lost colony of Roanoke
  • July 15: Topper Site, South Carolina, where a fabulous Clovis period site is underlain by a controversial possible preclovis layer
  • July 22: New Philadelphia, Illinois, the first town founded by former slaves before the Civil War
  • July 29: Range Creek, Utah, a Fremont culture site
  • August 5: Fort James, South Dakota, where archaeologists are digging a Wild West frontier fort

Time Team Info

You can preview the episode about Roanoke Island on the PBS website. As is usual for PBS, each program will be available to watch on the site the day after it premieres.

If you are outside the US and having trouble viewing the PBS videos, I am reliably told that you can use a free American proxy from Xroxy to get in.


July 2, 2009 at 7:08 pm
(1) anthrogirl says:

I feel of two minds on this. On the one hand, as a former practicing cultural anthropologist, I’m thrilled to see the profession get any good publicity that doesn’t involve rolling rocks, ancient cursed tombs, or glorified fortune hunters. On the other hand, I’m a person of color in a field where people like myself are invisible. We are usually only featured when we talk about people of our own ethnicity, as if we are only capable of studying ourse;ves. when I was teaching, most of my students (and quite a few fellow professors) were shocked to find out that my area of expertise was not focused on people of color in any particular way. Many of my students were shocked that there were any social scientists at all who were people of color.
I would feel much more comfortable if science shows, and shows where academics are featured, were a bit more obvious and less stereotypical in presenting people of color as experts in fields that are less familiar to the public. Doing so would give more young viewers permission to pursue their interests in the sciences, and would help adults understand that science (especially social science) is no longer stuck in the colonialist era.

July 3, 2009 at 10:57 am
(2) Kris Hirst says:

You make a really interesting point, although I’m not sure whether you’re saying that TTA should have picked a person of color who did not study his or her own culture to participate in the show, or that Joe Watkins in particular as a role model should be studying something other than Native Americans. Whichever point you intended to make, I think the issue speaks to what we as a culture expect from successful members of minority (or power-challenged) groups, and that I understand all too well. Speaking as a plain old white woman, I understand how people have expectations about what I’m supposed and not supposed to do. And how doing whatever it is I do makes me a “role model” to the next generations.

In an essay called “Positive Obsession” in her collection Bloodchild and Other Stories, African American science fiction writer Octavia Butler wrote that people (including family members) often said to her “What good is science fiction to Black people?” as if to say because she was African-American, she was not supposed to be writing science fiction, but something “of use” to “her people”. Butler thought she was doing good for “her people”, no matter what she did, but she also felt that she did what she had to do–what she called a “positive obsession”–and she shouldn’t have to justify herself and her study to anybody.

I also have what Butler called “a positive obsession”, in that I do what I do because I have to–despite what other more useful things I could be doing other than writing about archaeology, which after all, isn’t saving anybody’s life. You could argue, I’m saying, that I shouldn’t be wasting my time writing about archaeology when I could be doing more important things and being a better role model to young girls by writing about health issues or politics or global warming.

I think I get your point: because he is Native American, Joe Watkins should at least talk about more than Native American archaeology. Although I hate to put words in his mouth, Watkins’ career has really focused on ethics and social archaeology rather than Native American studies per se. Further, maybe Joe Watkins studies what he does because he has a positive obsession. I’m guessing that’s right because he’s damn good at it. I believe that any person who follows their positive obsession despite great obstacles is a role model, even if it is “just” studying archaeology–and even if you aren’t doing what other people might consider would be better for whoever “your people” are.

As to whether TTA should have picked somebody else, I have to disagree with you there. Joe Watkins is an interesting guy, and he brings a range of strengths including ethics, Native American history, experimental archaeology, and social issues to the program.

Maybe I’m being obtuse. Did you think they should have picked another person of color in addition to Joe? That would have been good, but I don’t know who they would have excluded, and I don’t know what the choices were or how the process worked, so I can’t really speak to that.

July 5, 2009 at 12:34 am
(3) anthrogirl says:

Oh, I think Mr. Watkins is the right person for the job. He’s great at what he does. I don’t think TTA should have chosen anybody else. But as you said, everyone should be able to follow their positive obsession. I don’t think my writing was clear, and I don’t think you are being obtuse at all.

Do I think it would have been good to have more than one person of color on the team? Yes. Do I think that people of color should be able to talk about more than people of color on tv or academia? Yes. It’s not that I want to see (white) people excluded. Rather, I’d like to see ‘the only one’ syndrome avoided- that is, the syndrome in which people feel they’ve advocated for adversity by choosing ‘only one’ of a minority group. This isn’t the same as tokenism- the person chosen is qualified (perhaps way more than qualified) for the job. But by choosing ‘only one’, the message is sent that there aren’t very many qualified minority people who make the grade, and no need to examine why.
‘The only one’ can be the only man in a women’s study department, the only woman in a physics lab, the only Native American on an archaeological team. in some way it’s flattering to the person who is chosen- it shows that person is special. But it’s also rather isolating. when it’s combined with ignoring a person’s full skill set and concentrating on having them interpret things related pretty much solely to their minority status, it’s also potentially condescending and in some cases, racist/sexist/what have you.

Sometimes i turn on my tv and watch the Food Network, and I wonder why all the white people there can talk about any cuisine they wish. They can travel to countries other than their own, and they can prepare any food they wish. And then I get angry at shows featuring African American or Asian cooks, because they don’t get to examine the foods of Italy or Latin America. Yet as a person of color I’m supposed to feel thrilled because at least these people have shows and that’s a big deal. yet I have why are people of color not usually allowed to show the same ranges of interest and inquiry as white people? Why can’t they be on tv as experts in a variety of things? while I agree with your point about Octavia Butler’s family, I doubt there are a whole bunch of Native Americans producing TTA who feel that there’s only a need for one Native guy, and that one guy should only show his expertise about Native stuff. We also know that people are often chosen for tv (even public and educational tv) because they are engaging to the audience and fit a certain profile, not because they are the best in that field.So someone made a decision somewhere along the line as to what sort of lineup would look best on this show, and chose the individual experts accordingly. And somehow, they didn’t find a single person of color who had an interest in anything other than people of color, or in groups other than their own ethnic group, but they were able to find plenty of white people who can talk about the whole gamut without breaking a sweat.

I’m beginning to wonder if I was mistaken for a white kid and so somehow didn’t go to the special school where I only learned about people like myself. I’m wondering why I can point to a variety of cultures other than ones related to my own background when discussing any aspect of anthropology. I’m wondering why even though I know of East Asians who teach Greek and Roman classics, Latinos who study physics, and Africans who teach mathematics, none of these people are ever visible when the media mentions their fields, unless their ethnicity can be tied in somehow. I also find this very disturbing, just as I find it disturbing when people assume that women can only be experts on stereotypically womanly things. One of the reasons Ms. Butler’s relatives were so myopic is because when science fiction writers are shown in the media, they’re white men 90% of the time and they are allowed to discourse on pretty much any subject. In anthropology as well as other social sciences, people of color are mute objects of study, unless someone from that group can be found to speak on them- but not on any other topic. And so (to give an example) black people are allowed to be experts on slavery before the Civil War and on the effect of Reconstruction on blacks, but they are never shown talking about the mapping of battle sites, or Civil War forensic studies, or the socio-political effects of war on middle-class families of all ethnic groups. What I wonder is why so many white social scientists tolerate this, because it makes the social sciences look more intensely racist than it is, and destroys its credibility.

July 5, 2009 at 10:46 am
(4) anthrogirl says:

Argh. I was tired yesterday. ‘Adversity’ should be ‘diversity’; there are other errors.

BTW, I want to thank you for bringing up the show and engaging me in dialogue. Although I practiced culturalism and not archaeology, I think many of the issues are the same. (Disclosure- i was once thinking of becoming an archaeologist and wanted to specialize in Nubia; I don’t think of studying groups of people who are perceived as similar to you is a bad thing.) And since the social sciences have often grown from people wanting to know more about aspects of themselves (often because they want that self to be taken seriously), it’s not surprising that we often study that which we want to understand about our ethnic pasts.
However, that understanding is often not linear. I’m interested in Medieval and pre-Meiji Japan because I fell in love with Kurosawa films and I love societies in transition. I’m a child of the 70s, so i know what it’s like to live in an uncertain world where everyone’s roles are being re-defined, and to long for stability, even when it’s rather negative. My love of Japan isn’t really related to my ‘blackness’, although the lives of people in Edo during the dismemberment of samurai culture reminds me of how blacks had to re-define themselves after the Civil War ended and many of them had to find new places in society. In he end, who we are is really only important as a springboard for inquiry- it should not be defining to the point of suffocation, I think. I think if one is watching someone else being put into a strait-jacket against that person’s will, or one sees that person constantly yearning for a strait-jacket, though, some questions should be asked and some assistance should be offered. The people forcing strait-jackets on others should be questioned as to their motives to see if there’s a good reason for their behavior. And I think that one should ask why one has not been bothered by watching others put in strait-jackets when they aren’t showing any signs of insanity- do we gain something from allowing others to be controlled, silenced, ghettoized, or valorized for trivialities?

In the end, it’s not about race or ethnic group. it’s about who benefits from the images we see or don’t see of social scientists, and about the long-term effects on everyone confronted by seemingly monochromatic and/or stereotypical images and expectations.

July 6, 2009 at 1:59 pm
(5) Kris Hirst says:

Thanks so much for bringing this issue up. Several years ago I had a memorable discussion with a woman of color who was studying (I think) Bronze Age Italy and felt pigeon-holed such that it was an uphill struggle to get the work appreciated in her department.

It makes me a bit uncomfortable to name names, but of course there are what I think of as “high profile” scholars from one ethnic group who study another group. Mayanist Takeshi Inomata springs to mind, because I featured his work here: but I’ve never met him personally, so I’m making an assumption on his ethnicity based on his Japanese name. Also Saburo Sugiyama and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, both Mesoamericanists; again guessing based on their names; and I don’t know if any of these are foreign-born or Americans (in the broadest sense of the word) with specific ethnicities. I’m pretty sure Proskouriakoff was Russian-born, though.

I haven’t gone to a national or international meeting for several years, so I can’t really say much about the prevalence of such scholars. I know that in the U.S. minorities as a rule don’t choose to go into archaeology at all–statistics from surveys of scholars over the past few years certainly reflect that. It’d be interesting to talk to those few about what kind of archaeology they chose to pursue and why. One trend I have seen in the past ten years or so is that English publications from non-English-speaking countries either have several scholars from those countries in the list of authors, or are solely written by those scholars, leading me to believe that the west is losing its total control over the English-language-reporting of the science. About time, too. That’s a side issue, but pertinent, don’t you think?

You would know best if it is a reality that ethnic scholars are constrained to choose certain studies; but if you’re right, then our public archaeology venues should attempt to address that, and I thank you so much for bringing it up here.

July 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm
(6) K. Blankenship says:

I can not wait to watch Time Team America. I’ve been an avid Time Team (UK) follower for many years now, and the hardest part for me is going to be remembering NOT to judge the Americas team against Tony, Phil, Mick, Carenza, Victor, John, Stewart etc… The UK team has been to the Americas before, they did a Mayrland? show and another out west digging for dinosaurs. Maybe the future holds an episode where the American team visits the UK. Can’t wait.

July 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm
(7) Kris Hirst says:

Measuring up to Tony Robinson is going to be tough, alright. I keep thinking about him in Black Adder, and snickering!

July 8, 2009 at 10:59 pm
(8) Shelly says:

Awesome program.

July 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm
(9) josh says:

This is such a great program for the public to become educated on archaeological digs around the country. As a high school student aspiring to become an archaeologist, this program is great second hand exposure to the field. There is no other program like it.

August 3, 2009 at 8:28 am
(10) Jon says:

I’ve seen every episode of the UK’s Time Team and have witnessed two Time Team digs and they have been brilliant. It’s brought a whole new cultural and historical enviromental awareness to a huge audience and I so hope it does the same in the states!!! Support it and you won’t regret it!!

December 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm
(11) JoeBlow says:

You guys should read Anthrogirl’s comments, they are extremely relevant to the show.

I am a professional archaeologist, and Time Team is professionally unethical.

1. These sites do not need to be excavated in a 3-day rush. That is a horrible thing to do. It fundamentally destroys archaeological data, and it is unnecessary.

Believe me, I’ve excavated under pressure, it is not pretty. I’m sure they all have too, they know better.

(the following two complaints are common to much archaeology in the States, not just Time Team)

2. These sites do not need to be excavated, period.
(we have thousands of unexamined collections rotting away in bags and boxes all over the country that have NEVER been looked at since they were excavated).

3. The show neatly avoids the sticky issues in archaeology such as good old fashioned Hollywood racism like Anthrogirl was mentioning, and that contemporary Native American perspectives are not included. I know that Joe is director of a Native American studies program, but, just because you have one bona-fide Indian doesn’t mean you are in the clear on that one. Lumping all Native people into one ethnicity is a huge mistake, and almost as racist as not including them at all.

Archaeology does not exist outside of our contemporary society. It is a part of it. Just because you call it “Science” (a somewhat dubious title, as almost any archaeologist will joke with you about that one), doesn’t mean you are not responsible to the contemporary society in which you live, and where the sites reside.

Native American people will often tell you that we already know what we need to know about archaeological sites.

Archeologist will often say, “We know more about their own culture than they do!”

My friends who are Tribal members and also archaeologists have told me, that their community members are often not aware of how much forensic information we can get from examining someone’s skeleton, for example, and are often impressed when they find out.

We all have a lot to learn, but these issues are not about information, or scientific truth, as cases like Kennewick man are often portrayed.

They are about power.

To be frank, White people get most of the power, attention, and respect when it comes to archaeology, especially in the public mind. They decide, at their academic leisure, which sites to excavate, wherever in the world they want to, and who will excavate them, or they are given priority in interpreting the significance of archaeological sites.

Most of the time they don’t even ASK Native Americans (like polite people) if it’s alright to dig up their ancestral sites. They have the Scientific Imperative, so they feel they don’t need to.

Even if a local Native Tribe’s explanation of an archaeological site is scientifically erroneous, it is usually intertwined with social meaning and significance that is often overlooked or dismissed by scientists (archaeologists).

To be honest I’ve learned more about life, how to live, and how to protect our future, from Native American myths than I have from excavating Native American burial grounds.

We have always known what we need to do. Be aware of the concequences of our actions. Our ancestors have been living here for thousands of years, they ate what they could grow or procure locally, and walked most of the time. We pretend we have forgotten this, and have to dig it up on a weekly basis, just for the suprise factor.

Honestly, archeological sites are not entertainment.

If you want entertainment I might recommend Dave Chappelle, Tennessee Williams, Monty Python,

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