Time Team 2009

From the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, by Tara Dundon. 17th July 2009
Top TV archaeologists from Channel 4's Time Team have spent three days unravelling the secrets of the world's first purpose-built prisoner of war camp near Peterborough.
The Time Team crew have uncovered hundreds of finds and unearthed some fascinating facts during the three-day excavations at the 212-year-old Norman Cross Barracks for prisoners of war, which was purpose-built to house thousands of Napoleon's troops captured in battles on land and at sea.

After months of research into the 22-acre site at Norman Cross, using plans, maps and museum collections and archives from Peterborough and throughout the country, the experts marked out specific sites where they were certain they would make a find.

The 50-strong team, made up of camera crew, producers, researchers, archaeologists and presenter Tony Robinson, arrived on the site on Monday morning and began the first-ever excavation of the site.

The team put down eight trenches about 40cm deep and 4m long and began hunting for the remains of the old camp.

Related: Factfile: Norman Cross prisoner-of-war camp.

And even the very first spade dug into the soil unearthed a wealth of treasures, including items made from bone, carved by the prisoners, pottery, buttons, glass, parts of the prison itself, knife handles, and dominoes.

Peterborough Museum archaeologist Ben Robinson was delighted by the finds, which he hopes will return to the museum in the near future.

He said: "This is a fascinating and unique site. The concept of a prisoner of war camp did not exist before it was built in 1797.

"It was an inspired experiment in taking huge numbers of enemy troops out of action, but also keeping them in as humane conditions as possible.

"It was an experiment in its time, and because of its success in housing 7,000 prisoners, Dartmoor and Perth followed suit.

"All of the prisoners were transported back to Britain by the navy. This site was chosen because it was far enough inland that prisoners wouldn't try to escape, and because of its agriculture and 100ft deep wells.

It was also right next to the Great North Road and Fenland waterways, making it ideal for captured soldiers and sailors to reach.

"Norman Cross is such an important site in modern world history, and yet there are still so many mysteries about it. For example, the depot cemeteries, where more than 1,700 prisoners were buried, have never been located.

"The site has proved to be much more important and spectacular than we originally thought."

The artefacts found will now be taken away, cleaned and analysed.

Peterborough Museum houses the world's finest collection of artefacts made by Napoleonic prisoners, including jewellery boxes and pictures decorated with straw marquetry, and mechanical models of bone.

However, viewers will have to wait until 3rd October 2010 for the broadcast.

Tony Robinson and the 'leaning on the bonnet' shot.

One of the trenches.
 Collected pictures by Paul Biggins and Charlotte Purser