TV archaeologists Time Team have unlocked a 2,000-year secret and proved that there was more to one of the region's Roman forts than historians believed.

A three-day dig on farmland at Binchester, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, showed that there was an earlier, larger garrison on the site.

A few inches below the surface, inside one of four newly-discovered burial chambers, the Channel 4 programme makers uncovered a crumbling skull and two intact bowls. If they can prove the graves were military mausolea, they can claim the first garrison find in modern times.

More importantly for Binchester, they could stimulate new interest in the fort, which has always been overshadowed by its neighbours on the Roman Wall.

Durham County archaeologist David Mason would only say yesterday that he was exploring ways of enhancing Binchester. And landowners the Church Commissioners were interested enough to visit the dig as it ended yesterday afternoon.

Presenter Tony Robinson said the whole crew had been excited by what they had found.

He said: "This is going to be one of the great Time Teams. There is a great tale to tell.

"There is a lot of interest in Binchester. It is one of the most iconic Roman site in Britain yet it only gets 4,000 visitors a year.

"If this gets more people to come here, it will be brilliant.

"We have always known where the Roman fort was, but what no one realised until we came here three days ago was that there was an earlier fort, which was much bigger.

"It makes a lot of sense. When the Romans first came they would have needed far more soldiers to suppress the Geordies.

"When they had the area under control, they would have needed less people."

The Binchester site dates back to AD 75 when it was built to guard the point where the River Wear was crossed by Dere Street, the main Roman Road from York to the Roman Wall. It was abandoned in AD 410.

It boasts the best-preserved example of a military bath house in Britain and is open to the public from May 1 to the end of September.

The Time Team programme will be shown early next year.