2012: Series NINETEEN

Episode 01 - Gateholm, Pembrokeshire.
Dig by wire.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 22nd January 2012 at 6pm.

Tony Robinson and the team visit a tiny windswept island off the coast of Wales. The only way to get to it is by rigging a 500-metre zip wire way above the wave-lashed rocks. Incredibly, it seems that Gateholm Island in Pembrokeshire was once inhabited, but whether by Romans, Vikings, Celts or druids nobody knows.

A handful of mysterious objects were found on the island years ago, including a rare Roman stone phallus and a beautiful bronze stag, suggesting that it may have been some sort of religious centre. Of course, the team have to dig for answers, but the weather's throwing everything it has at them.

To make their task that bit tougher, they discover they also need to dig at a second site a quarter of a mile away. Although this one, thankfully, is on the mainland. Team leader Francis Pryor thinks it looks like what they're investigating is a classic Iron Age fort, with curved banks and ditches on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. If he's right, it should give Phil Harding and his diggers at least enough work to keep them busy for three days. And if he's wrong, there's no hiding place on this beautiful but bleak coast!

Episode 02 - Bitterley, Shropshire.
A village affair.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 29th January 2012 at 6pm.

There's a problem in the chocolate-box village of Bitterley in Shropshire. The village's school and cottages cluster prettily around the green. But the village church and the manor house lie more than half a mile away, on the other side of a lumpy, bumpy empty field.

The villagers, led by energetic community archaeology group leader June Buckard, have been exploring the field and believe that their village used to be much bigger, with the field full of houses and streets. They have called in Tony Robinson and the Team to see if they're right.

But they're not expecting the professionals to do all the work. Half the village turn out, ready to dig test pits in their gardens and in any spare piece of land they can get on to. Trenches appear almost hourly in gardens, from the smallest cottage to the grand manor house lawns.

And it takes every hour of the three days for the villagers to get their answer. But judging by how much they seemed to enjoy it, they're probably still out there digging anyway.

Episode 03 - Dunwich, Suffolk.
The drowned town.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 05th February 2012 at 4:20pm.

Tony Robinson and the Team head to Dunwich, a village that's literally falling off the edge of the UK. Coastal erosion has eaten away most of this once-bustling settlement, and before the whole place is lost to the sea, there's a last chance to find out more about the lost origins of this dramatically situated town.

Could it even be possible to prove conclusively that it dates from Anglo-Saxon times?

But the archaeologists face a huge challenge. Up around the old walls they have to dig one of the deepest trenches they've attempted in recent years. And on a second site by the popular beach cafe, they're searching for an early medieval hospital. But it's not easy to access in the gaps between the fish and chip shop, crowded car park and public toilets.

Team leader Mick Aston is also desperate to understand the layout of the town's medieval priory, and sets the geophysics experts a Herculean surveying task.

And the Team don't just concern themselves with dry land, employing ultra-high-tech sonar technology to explore the large portion of the medieval town that already lies beneath the waves.

Episode 04 - Newmarket, Suffolk.
The first King of racing.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 12th February 2012 at 4:25pm.

Tony and the Team visit Newmarket, the birthplace of horseracing, in search of the earliest archaeological traces of the sport of kings. They dig in the heart of the historic town, in search of the remains of King Charles II's racing stables - arguably the world's first stables dedicated for racing.

It's the last chance to work here, as construction is about to begin on a multi-million-pound National Horseracing Museum.

From the start of the dig, the challenge for the Team is to find evidence that will enable them to distinguish a racing stable from an 'ordinary' royal stable block. The pressure's on for team leader Jackie McKinley to deliver the key small find or insight. With a thick layer of concrete lying over the site, it's not an easy task.

And across the road from the stables site, there's a second area to explore: King Charles II's 17th-century Newmarket palace. To add to the excitement, there's the prospect of Tony Robinson attempting to ride a mechanical racehorse, and a team visit to the racecourse on Ladies Day.

Episode 05 - Beadnell, Northumbria.
Chapel of secrets.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 19th February 2012 at 4:05pm.

Tony leads the Team to the village of Beadnell on a beautiful stretch of the Northumbrian coast, to explore an unusual promontory, from which mysterious fragments of human bone have emerged over recent years.

Legend ties the site to local seventh-century Saint Ebbe, and it's widely believed that a 13th-century chapel stood here. But could there also be the remains of an earlier structure on the site, perhaps dating to the time of St Ebbe herself? Or are the earthworks on the promontory an indication of Viking or even Iron Age inhabitants?

The only way to find out is by putting spades into the earth, but, before long, the Team are stumbling onto confusing signs of Second World War defences. And then, shockingly, they find skeletons of babies in the trenches. It's a sobering discovery, and one that raises more questions than it answers.

Team leader Mick Aston has just three days to untangle this archaeological jigsaw puzzle. And on such an exposed coastal site, any change in the weather could wreak havoc...

Episode 06 - Swansea, South Wales.
A copper bottomed dig.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 26th February 2012 at 5:20pm.

Two hundred years ago, Swansea was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, if not the world. The source of those riches was neither the coal nor the steel recently associated with the area, but copper.

The Welsh port city once led the world in copper smelting, but today there's almost nothing to be seen of this unique heritage. So Tony Robinson and the Team investigate one of the very first copper works, White Rock.

Records show that its Great Workhouse housed as many as 20 furnaces, right by the River Tawe, and also that copper production once devastated this landscape, leeching deadly toxins into the ground and sending countless workers to an early grave.

The poisonous fumes blighted the landscape, and the valley was described as akin to Dante's Inferno, with smoke, noise and pollution. It's a complete contrast to what can be seen there today.

But as the archaeologists strip turf and shift tonnes of muck, they reveal the traces of this once-great industry and rediscover the story of the men who worked in it.

Episode 07 - Earl's Colne, Essex.
The only Earl is Essex.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 04th March 2012 at 5:20pm.

Property magnate Paul Whight has two very expensive hobbies. He collects and drives classic racing cars, which he keeps in the grounds of his second obsession: his beautiful stately home and garden in Essex. Paul is so keen to know everything he can about the history of his home that he's rashly invited Tony Robinson and Time Team in to do their worst.

The site used to be owned by one of the nation's foremost families, the De Veres, who were better known as the Earls of Oxford. In the twelfth century they founded a grand priory somewhere on this site, and centuries later they may well have built themselves a fine country house. What's more, the most famous and dissolute Earl of Oxford - who some believe wrote Shakespeare's plays - might even be buried here.

The Team rip up Paul's pristine lawns and subject his house to merciless scrutiny, gradually conjuring up the ghosts of the De Vere family.

Episode 08 - Kenfig, Bridgend.
Secrets of the dunes.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 18th March 2012 at 4:40pm.

Eight hundred years ago the people of Kenfig on the south coast of Wales thought they had built the perfect town, nestled round a harbour with easy access to the sea and a sheltered position. The town appears to have been a thriving commercial success but then it vanished, leaving just a few castle walls to mark its existence.

Extraordinarily, the ruins of the complete town are believed to still lie buried under the immense sand dunes that have covered the whole site since a series of violent storms lashed the coast over 500 years ago. But even before the storms made life untenable in Kenfig, it seems that the Welsh locals weren't too keen on its Angle-Norman settlers. There are records of a series of attacks from early in the town's life.

After getting through ten metres of sand, Tony Robinson and the Team have just three days to work out the size of the lost town and see if there's any evidence that the Welsh inflicted any damage on the interlopers.

Episode 09 - Caerlon, Newport.
Rome's wild west.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 25th March 2012 at 4:10pm.

The Roman legionary fort of Caerleon in South Wales is one of the most famous and best preserved Roman sites in Britain. It stood on the edge of the Roman Empire, but its huge amphitheatre and immense baths, and the scale of its ruined walls, are all testament to its power and importance. But just outside the fort, archaeologists have discovered signs of yet another huge structure leading from the fort down to the river. It seems to be a vast courtyard surrounded by stone buildings and with a mysterious square structure standing in the centre.

Joining a large team from Cardiff University, Tony and the Team have just three days to help piece together the answer. And when they do, it casts new light on what was once seen as solely a military outpost.

Episode 10 - Crewkerne, Somerset.
How to lose a castle.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 01st April 2012 at 5:25pm.

For generations a family of Somerset farmers have been wondering if there was ever actually a castle on top of the hill they call Castle Hill. Records show there was a Norman castle in the area, but they are not clear about exactly where and there are several likely locations. The only answer is for Tony and the Team to dig - once all the kit has been hauled up the steep slopes.

The geophysics looks exciting, throwing up almost immediately what looks like the outline of a perfect castle keep. But as the three days progress everything is far from clear. Finally the pieces of the jigsaw do join up, but only in a very unexpected way. Do the farmers have their castle? Well... while the Team give with one hand they take away with the other!

Episode 11 - Clipstone, Nottinghamshire.
King John's lost palace.
First broadcast on Channel 4: 08th April 2012 at 4:05pm.

Tony and the Team don their hunting green, pick up their bows and arrows and head for the fringes of Sherwood Forest, where residents of Clipstone village in Nottinghamshire believe some impressive ruins in a farmer's field may have played a part in the ancient tales of Robin Hood and Bad King John.

The history books describe these crumbling walls as the remains of a royal hunting lodge. But the locals believe it was actually a palace: a vast complex of chambers, chapels and halls where King John stayed when hunting in Sherwood Forest. Royal hunting lodges were very popular with the kings of medieval England, and John was no exception, but was this one so grand as to be more important than all the others?

The extensive building records and a few tantalising high-quality carvings prove there was certainly a fine building somewhere here, but finding out what it looked like and how large it was frustrates the archaeologists for a good while. The trenches reveal a great array of finds, but it's not until the clock is counting down the third day that all becomes clear.