After more than 10 years of archaeological fieldwork, geophysics specialist Bryan Haley is used to the unusual. While on the job, he has had a run-in with armed looters, dined on roasted rodents in Belize and escaped from a cave as water rose during a thunderstorm. But recently, the Kentucky native encountered a new situation: working in front of a camera.
Haley, coordinator of remote sensing applications in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi, is among nine experts selected as a regular for the American version of Britain’s hit archaeology show “Time Team.” The U.S. version, “Time Team America” is airing this summer on PBS.
“[The first shoot] was a learning experience for sure,” said Haley, whose previous television appearances included only local news segments. “Literally, what you don’t realize watching is how there might be 15 to 20 takes going on to produce that one scene, so that was hard. I’ve gotten more used to the cameras; I wouldn’t say you ever get totally used to it.”
Haley, 36, is one of two geophysics specialists on the show, which also features diggers, a pencil artist and archaeologists specializing in different historical time periods. He focuses on remote sensing technology, the use of high-tech applications to gather information on objects that the team may not be in direct contact with, such as underground archaeological structures.
“Time Team is a show that is largely led by geophysicists,” said Graham Dixon, senior producer of “Time Team America” who has been with the British show since 1992. “As an experienced geophysicist, Bryan is a very important member of the team. He brings a vast amount of experience carrying out geophysical surveys on many different sites. We depend on him to work well under pressure and use his skill and experience to get results that can help us target our investigation.”
The American show follows in the footsteps of the original British series, which is in its 16th season. On the show, archaeologists use new technologies to attempt to answer historical questions within a span of three days.
“Normally, we have a lot longer on a site,” Haley said. “The premise is, we have three days to come in and do the whole range of archaeology, including excavation, archival work – the whole spectrum of archaeology. All these experts come together and take a look at a question that maybe hasn’t been answered before.”
Haley’s “long and winding road” to high-tech archaeology began with a childhood interest in computer programming, which he studied at the University of Kentucky before taking a year off to visit Japan. In Japan, he discovered his affinity for archaeology.
“I was really intrigued by the cultural differences that I saw and also the antiquity of their society,” he said. “One of my favorite things there was going to Buddhist temples, some of which were a thousand years old or more. This led me to anthropology in general and archaeology specifically, although I have always kept some of my interest in the hard sciences.”
Haley returned to Kentucky and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1999 before enrolling in UM’s graduate anthropology program. At the time, UM was one of few universities in the Southeast to offer remote sensing education options.
“(Studying at UM) was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” Haley said. “We truly are one of only a handful of universities teaching these technologies in the U.S. as a regular part of an education in archaeology and, therefore, we have developed an international reputation for it.”
UM’s Center for Archaeological Research has offered instruction in Geographic Information System and remote sensing technology for 15 years. The remote sensing emphasis took off about nine years ago, when NASA funded a project create expertise in the technology, said Jay Johnson, director of the center. This also provided funds for graduate students in the field; Haley was in the first class.
“We took advantage with the funding to develop courses and buy equipment,” Johnson said. “We’re training people for the future of the discipline. There will be a time when you really can’t do a responsible project without beginning with remote sensing.”
The first season of “Time Team America” features five sites in the U.S., including Haley’s favorite location, Range Creek in Utah. Range Creek was home to the Fremont culture, a people who flourished from about 700 to 1250 AD before disappearing, Haley said. The team was able to use remote sensing at Range Creek to discover a buried Fremont pit house.
“Up until that shoot, we were given some really challenging sites for remote sensing, so it was gratifying to see something come up on our computer screen that we knew was archaeological,” Haley said. “We were able to find it (the pit house), map it out, and come in and excavate it.”
Other sites to be featured on the show include the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in North Carolina, where an early English settlement vanished; the Topper site in South Carolina, which Dixon said is “a controversial site that may have found the earliest evidence of people living in America some 50,000 years ago”; and New Philadelphia, an Illinois town founded in 1836 by a freed slave – possibly one of the first integrated towns in the country.
While the Time Team crew is composed of experts, an important part of the show is explaining the process and results in terms an average person can understand. This can help increase the general public’s knowledge of archaeology, something both Haley and Dixon hope the show will accomplish.
“Time Team is successful because it allows viewers to share in the excitement of the dig,” Dixon said. “It provides the viewer with the next best experience to actually being there. They get the chance to watch over a digger’s shoulder and share the moment of discovery – or disappointment.”
While a second season of “Time Team America” is still up in the air, Haley is confident he’ll be involved in archaeology and UM long after the cameras stop rolling.
“In the next five years, I hope to still be where I am – at Ole Miss,” he said. “I think we are building a really strong program and research center. I love my job.”