|Born||Michael Antony Aston
1 July 1946
Oldbury, England, United Kingdom
|Died||24 June 2013(aged 66)|
|Known for||Time Team (1988–13)|
Michael Antony "Mick" Aston, FSA (1 July 1946 – 24 June 2013) was an English archaeologist who specialised in Early Medieval landscape archaeology. As an academic, he taught at a number of universities across the United Kingdom, and helped popularise the discipline amongst the British public by appearing as the resident academic on the Channel 4 television series Time Team from 1994 to 2011. Through the series, Aston became well known to the viewing public for his trademark colourful jumpers and flowing, untidy hairstyle. He also published a number of books on the subject of archaeology, some of which were written for an academic audience, and others for the general public.
Early in his career, Aston worked for Oxford City and County Museum and later became the first County Archaeologist for Somerset. He taught classes at the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford and the University of Bristol. With the television producer Tim Taylor, Aston began to work on creating shows that would bring archaeology into popular consciousness, being involved in the creation of the short-lived Time Signs (1991), which was followed by the far more successful Time Team, which began airing in 1994 and ended in 2013. He retired from his university posts in 2004, but continued working on Time Team and commenced writing regular articles for British Archaeology magazine.
Aston specialised in landscape archaeology, focusing on the study of British landscapes in the Early Medieval period (circa 400 to 1200 AD). He had a particular research interest in the archaeology of towns and monastic sites from this period. As site director, he also undertook a ten-year project investigating the manor at Shapwick, Somerset.
Early life and education
Aston was born on 1 July 1946 into a working-class family in Oldbury, West Midlands, to cabinet-maker Harold Aston and his wife Gladys. He developed an early interest in archaeology, although teachers at Oldbury Grammar School attempted to dissuade him from pursuing it. His father gave him two books on archaeology as a Christmas present, and he subsequently spent much time visiting archaeological sites, sometimes bunking off school to do so. The first of his family to attend university, Aston studied geography at the University of Birmingham, albeit with a subsidiary in archaeology, graduating in 1967. He taught himself more about archaeology by enrolling in various excavations, and was influenced by such figures as his thesis supervisor Harry Thorpe, as well as the geographer Trevor Rowley and archaeologists Philip Rahtz and Philip Barker. His dissertation was on the development of settlement in the West Penwith peninsula.
Aston first gained full-time employment in 1970, working as a field officer at the Oxford City and County Museum in Oxfordshire. For a time living in a tent, he worked on the sites and monuments record and taught several extramural classes while based at the museum. This extramural teaching fitted closely with Aston's staunch belief that archaeology should be open to all who were interested in it. As part of this devotion to public outreach, he presented a radio series on archaeology that was broadcast on Radio Oxford. In 1974 he moved to Taunton to become the first County Archaeologist for Somerset, where he set up a new site record and oversaw the excavation of sites revealed by the construction of the M5 motorway. Again he also taught extramural adult education classes, this time for the University of Bristol. It was here that he developed a passion for aerial archaeology, and would often charter private planes in order to undertake aerial photography. Becoming a pioneer of landscape archaeology, along with Trevor Rowley he was responsible for coining the term in their 1974 book, Landscape Archaeology. With archaeologist James Bond he authored The Landscape of Towns (1976), in which he extended his use of landscape archaeology to urban areas. Recognising his contribution to the discipline, in 1976, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Tiring of his position as county archaeologist, finding it "too safe, pensionable and superannuable", in 1978 he returned to Oxfordshire to take up a temporary position as a tutor in archaeology and local studies at Oxford University's External Studies Department. That year he co-ran his first study tour to Greece with Peter Hardy; he would continue to run these annually for a number of years, most often visiting Santorini. In 1979 he returned to the West Country as tutor in archaeology at the University of Bristol's Extra-Mural Department, through which he organised weekend and evening courses throughout the region, introducing thousands of interested people to archaeology. During this period he also authored Interpreting the Landscape (1985).
Founding Time Team: 1988–1995
In June 1988 the producer Tim Taylor invited Aston to work on a new four-episode television series for Channel 4 called Time Signs, broadcast in June and July 1991. The series focused on the historical development of the area about to be flooded by the Roadford Reservoir in Devon, making heavy use of archaeological data. Aston brought archaeologist Phil Harding into the project in order to explain techniques of experimental archaeology to the audience. Meanwhile, in August 1989 Aston was promoted to the position of Reader in Landscape Archaeology at Bristol University. He also continued to write on the subject, authoring the book Monasteries (1993).
Aston and Taylor subsequently decided to work together on a new archaeological television series, devising the format for Time Team. Whilst Taylor organised the film production side of the project with Channel 4, Aston located suitable sites to excavate, and gathered together a team of specialists to appear on the show, among them field archaeologists Harding and Carenza Lewis, artist Victor Ambrus, and historian Robin Bush. He knew the actor and television presenter Tony Robinson after they had met on an archaeological course in Greece, and successfully requested that he present the show. From an early stage, they had agreed that every episode would feature a practical process or a re-enactment alongside the field archaeology.
Time Team was first broadcast in 1994, and would attract around four million viewers per episode, with Aston becoming "an icon to the viewing public." Writing in The Guardian, Christopher Dyer noted that Aston's "unkempt hair and beard, multicoloured sweaters and Black Country accent made him instantly recognisable" to the British public, describing him as "a popular success" who had attracted "a large public following". Aston acted as chief archaeological adviser to the programme until the end of series nineteen, starring in almost every episode, although he would later comment that when it first started he had no idea it would continue for so long. Aston enjoyed working with the Time Team crew, commenting that they were "a great gang... There are some real party people."
Aston saw Time Team as an extension of his work as an extramural tutor, telling a 2013 interviewer that it was "a way of reaching 3 million people rather than 30 people in the village hall." Commenting on the popularity of Time Team, and its role in exposing the British public to archaeology, in a 2010 interview Aston remarked that "My motive was to get as many people as possible interested in archaeology, because we [in the profession] all enjoy it and think it interesting. That was my personal aim… and on that basis I think it is a success." Time Team encouraged wider public interest in archaeology and led to increasing numbers of students applying to study archaeological courses at British universities, while subscriptions to Current Archaeology magazine quadrupled to 18,000 in the show's first five years. In Autumn 1998, Channel 4 started a Time Team fan club, which had 16,000 members within a few months, while Aston became a supporter of the Council for British Archaeology's Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC), and with Harding gave regular talks to YAC branches. Aston found himself giving up to 20 public lectures a year on the subject of Time Team, describing the public feedback as "embarassingly encouraging".
In 1996, Aston was appointed to the position of Professor of Landscape Archaeology at Bristol University's Department of Continuing Education, a post designed explicitly for him. In 1998 the post was moved to the Centre for the Historic Environment within the Department of Archaeology. He would subsequently be instrumental in setting up the master's degree in archaeology and screen media at the department. By 1996, Aston was feeling "a bit frustrated" with Time Team, primarily because he was always "number two" to Robinson. He proceeded to present his own six-episode series, Time Traveller, in which he explored various archaeological sites in the counties around Bristol. It would be broadcast on HTV over July and August 1997, and gained the largest local audiences for its time slot.
The archaeology students of King Alfred's also participated in a 10-year project led by Aston to investigate the manor of Shapwick in Somerset. It would become the "type site for the study of the development of medieval villages". Publishing the results of the project, he co-wrote The Shapwick Project, Somerset: A Rural Landscape Explored (2007) with Christopher Gerrard, followed by a more popular account of the project in 2013.
Alongside his academic publications, Aston wrote two books on archaeology for a more general audience, both of which were published by Channel 4 Books as a spin-off from the Time Team television series. The first of these was Time Team's Timechester: A Companion to Archaeology, co-written with Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding and published in 2000. Based around the fictional British town of Timechester, the book looks at how the settlement would have progressed from the Palaeolithic through to the modern day, and examines the remains that each period would have left behind in the archaeological record. This was followed in 2002 by Archaeology is Rubbish: A Beginner's Guide, which Aston co-wrote with Tony Robinson and dedicated to Harding. Archaeology is Rubbish describes a fictional excavation site in an ordinary suburban back garden, and discusses the evidence from different archaeological periods, the field methods and techniques used by the excavators, and the legal proceedings and problems that archaeologists in Britain face.
Aston retired from Bristol University in 2004, subsequently becoming Professor Emeritus. He was also appointed an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Exeter, University of Durham, and the University of Worcester. That year, the University of Winchester awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters. In 2006 Aston began writing a regular column, "Mick's Travels", for the bimonthly journal British Archaeology, the publication of the Council for British Archaeology. For each issue he travelled to another archaeological site across the British Isles, and discussed it, in doing so dealing with such disparate places as the early Christian monasteries in Glamorgan, and the Second World War defences on Jersey. In 2007, Worcester University awarded him an honorary doctorate, and that same year a number of his colleagues released a festschrift in his honour, edited by Michael Costen and published by Oxbow.
Final years: 2012–2013
In February 2012 it was reported that Aston had left Time Team. He explained his position to the Western Daily Press, stating that the show's producers had made a number of changes to the series without consulting him, and that in the process Time Team had been "dumbed down", something he considered bad for archaeology. He was annoyed that a number of archaeologists, like surveyor Stewart Ainsworth, small finds specialist Helen Geake, and illustrator Victor Ambrus, had seen their roles diminished while a new co-presenter, Mary-Ann Ochota (a former model with a bachelor's degree in archaeology and anthropology), had been introduced, and that as a result the episodes now contained "a lot of faffing about." In an interview with the magazine British Archaeology Aston said: "The time had come to leave. I never made any money out of it, but a lot of my soul went into it. I feel really, really angry about it."
Responding to the controversy, Ochota posted on Time Team's Facebook page to state "I always loved Time Team, and was very excited to be working with Mick – he wasn't so keen!" before she too announced that she had left the series. Channel 4 denied that she had quit, and stated that the decision not to include her in the twentieth series had been taken in December 2011.
In July Aston received a lifetime achievement award at the British Archaeological Awards, with Bristol University's Professor Mark Horton praising him for making "the past accessible to all". In October, Channel 4 announced that the twentieth series of Time Team would be its last as the show was being axed. In December Aston publicly signed a petition advocating his support for the revamp of the Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, which was then seeking financial backers.
On 24 June 2013, it was announced that Aston had died unexpectedly at his home in Somerset. The news came as a shock to many of his close friends and colleagues. Time Team revealed the news on their official Twitter account, while thousands paid tribute to Aston on the site. Across the internet, obituaries for Aston made it to the top of most shared and most viewed lists. A Facebook tribute group was set up by Time Team fan Lee Brady, who called for Channel 4 to commission a one-off special episode dedicated to Aston, an idea supported by archaeologist Greg Bailey in his column for British Archaeology magazine. Ralph Lee, head of Channel 4's factual programming, announced that they had been "terribly saddened" by the news, and that they were planning a "tribute night" to Aston consisting of Time Team episodes to be screened on More4 on 13 July.
|Landscape Archaeology: An Introduction to Fieldwork Techniques on Post-Roman Landscapes||1974||Trevor Rowley||David and Charles||978-0715366707|
|The Landscape of Towns||1976, 2000 (revised ed.)||James Bond||Littlehampton Book Services||978-0460041942|
|Interpreting the Landscape: Landscape Archaeology in Local Studies||1985||–||Routledge||978-0713436501|
|Aspects of the Medieval Landscape of Somerset||1988||–||Somerset County Council||0-86183-129-2|
|The Rural Settlements of Medieval England: Studies Dedicated to Maurice Beresford and John Hurst||1989||David Austen, Christopher Dyer||Basil Blackwell||978-0631159032|
Monasteries in the Landscape (revised. ed.)
|1993, 2000 (revised. ed.)||–||Batsford
The History Press (rev.)
|The Medieval Landscape of Wessex||1994||Carenza Lewis||Oxbow||978-0946897780|
|The Atlas of Archaeology||1998||Tim Taylor||Dorling Kindersley||978-0751303209|
|Mick's Archaeology||2000, 2002 (revised ed.)||–||Tempus
The History Press (rev)
|Time Team's Timechester||2000||Carenza Lewis, Phil Harding, and Tim Taylor||Channel 4||978-0752272184|
|Monastic Archaeology: Papers on the Study of Medieval Monasteries||2001||Graham Keevill, Teresa Hall||Oxbow||978-1842170298|
|Archaeology is Rubbish: A Beginner's Guide||2002||Tony Robinson||Channel 4||978-0752265193|
|Interpreting the Landscape from the Air||2002||–||NPI Media Group||978-0752425207|
|The Shapwick Project, Somerset: A Rural Landscape Explored||2007||Chris Gerrard||Maney||978-1905981861|
|Interpreting the English Village: Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Somerset||2013||Chris Gerrard||Windgather Press||978-1905119455|
Aston was known for his "unfailing commitment and integrity", with his life being dominated by "old-fashioned idealism and loyalty". He was a vegetarian and a naturist, as well as an anarchist and an atheist. His hobbies included gardening, walking, pottery, painting, listening to classical music, and cooking. He supported a number of charities and other causes, including Greenpeace, The Woodland Trust, Oxfam and Sightsavers International. He liked to live a private, hermit-like life, and once commented that "For some of the time I feel I could be a monk" but that he "couldn't cope with the celibacy." A self-described "solitary person", he found it somewhat annoying being a television celebrity in Britain, where he was often recognised by members of the public, some of whom requested his autograph.
Aston had a son, James, and a stepdaughter, Kathryn, both children of his former partner Carinne Allinson, with whom he broke up in 1998. He later entered into a relationship with landscape historian Teresa Hall, who survived him on his death. He lived in what he called "a rather grotty sixties bungalow" in Somerset. The reporter Steve Eggington visited Aston's home in 2008, where he noted that it was filled with "a labyrinth of books and maps, seemingly with different projects at different stages in each room."
Aston commented that throughout his life he suffered from poor health, living with aspergillosis since the early 1980s, and also being afflicted with asthma. He suffered a brain haemorrhage in March 2003, and was hospitalised for two weeks. The experience sent him into depression for eighteen months, during which time he read the autobiography of actress Jane Lapotaire, who had gone through the same experience, something which he believed aided his recovery more than anything else.
Aston did not believe that he would leave a significant legacy behind him. He commented that this was the case because Britain's archaeological community had failed to develop the work that he had done with Time Team and with extramural teaching, and that all the public outreach he had accomplished would die with him. He felt that there was no "celebrity archaeologist" to replace him, and ultimately felt that the situation in British archaeology made him "angry and sad."
British Archaeology magazine described Aston as "the Mortimer Wheeler of our times" because, despite strong differences between their personalities, both had done much to bring archaeology to the British public. It went on to note that Aston reminded archaeologists that "their job is to do archaeology, and if that was an archaeology that meant nothing to ordinary people, there was no point in it – and government would be among the first to notice." Two of Aston's colleagues from Bristol University, Stuart Prior and Mark Horton, commented that "Mick brought archaeology into the living rooms of half the nation, and left a legacy that will shape the discipline for decades to come."
Following Aston's death, former colleague Francis Pryor noted that Aston was a "remarkable archaeologist who could really dig", being a "warm, loving, nice man." Another colleague, Phil Harding, commented on Aston's "incredible knowledge" and "effortless way of making archaeology accessible to people." Tony Robinson wrote of him: "Mick was a real child of the 60s and a bit of a rebel, but he was also a series of contradictions. He was one of the best academic archaeologists in the country, yet his real love was teaching ordinary people. He was the grumpiest old Black Country curmudgeon you could imagine, but he had a heart of absolute gold." He also noted that "archaeology is now a subject that tens of thousands of people enjoy and value, and this is almost solely down to him." Ralph Lee, head of Channel 4's factual programming, described Aston as a "brilliant communicator" who helped make archaeology "so popular" in the UK. Emma McFarnon described Aston as "Somerset's premier archaeologist" in her obituary on the This Is Somerset website.
- Aston 1998.
- University of Bristol 2002–2011.
- Dyer 2013; The Telegraph 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 13; The Telegraph 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 11; Hilts 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 14; Prior & Horton 2013; BBC News 2013; The Telegraph 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 13; Dyer 2013; Hilts 2013.
- Aston 2000, pp. 14–16; Dyer 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 51.
- Dyer 2013; The Telegraph 2013; British Archaeology 2013, p. 17.
- Prior & Horton 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 26; British Archaeology 2013, p. 17.
- Aston 2000, pp. 18–19; Dyer 2013; British Archaeology 2013, p. 17; The Telegraph 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 44; Prior & Horton 2013.
- Prior & Horton 2013; Dyer 2013.
- Dyer 2013.
- The Telegraph 2013.
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- British Archaeology 2013, p. 17.
- Aston 2000, p. 52.
- Aston 2000, p. 20; BBC News 2013; The Telegraph 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 27; Prior & Horton 2013.
- Aston 2000, p. 23; Prior & Horton 2013.
- Aston 2000, pp. 28–30.
- Aston 2000, p. 79.
- Prior & Horton 2013; BBC News 2013.
- Egginton 2008.
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- Aston 2010.
- Aston 2000, p. 40.
- Aston 2000, p. 42.
- BBC News 2013.
- Bailey 2013, p. 14.
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- Aston 2000, pp. 37–39.
- Aston, Lewis and Harding 2000.
- Aston and Robinson 2002.
- Manco 2011.
- Aston Jul/Aug 2008.
- Aston Sept/Oct 2010.
- Festschrift: People and places : essays in honour of Mick Aston / edited by Michael Costen. Oxford : Oxbow, 2007. ISBN 1842172514
- Aston 2012.
- The Telegraph 2012.
- British Archaeology no. 123 (March/April 2012), p. 12.
- Western Daily Press February 2012.
- Hough 2012.
- Bristol University 2013.
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- British Archaeology 2013, p. 16.
- Eames 2013.
- Williamson 2013.
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- British Archaeology 2013, pp. 16–17.
- Eggington 2008.
- Aston (unknown).
- Tony Robinson, "Mick Aston: 1946-2013", Radio Times, 6–12 July 2013, p.143
- Aston, Mick (n.p.). "Mick's Good Causes". Mick Aston. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Aston, Mick (n.p.). "Mick's Articles". Mick Aston. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Aston, Mick (28 August – 3 September 1999). "Mick Aston talks to Radio Times!". Radio Times. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- Aston, Mick (2000). Mick's Archaeology. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 978-0752414805.
- Aston, Mick (July–August 2008). "Early Monasteries in Glamorgan". British Archaeology 101: 40–41.
- Aston, Mick (September–October 2010). "Jersey: a defended island". British Archaeology 104: 46–47.
- Aston, Mick (13 February 2012). "Professor Mick Aston: Why I quit Time Team, and the danger of losing touch with our history". Western Daily Press. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Bailey, Greg (2013). "Greg Bailey on broadcasting". British Archaeology (132). p. 14.
- BBC News (25 June 2013). "Mick Aston, ex-Time Team expert, dies aged 66". BBC News. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Bristol University (19 July 2012). "Emeritus Professor receives prestigious archaeology award". Bristol University. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- British Archaeology (2013). "A Life in Archaeology: Michael Antony Aston". British Archaeology (132). pp. 16–17.
- Dyer, Christopher (25 June 2013). "Mick Aston, archaeologist at the heart of Channel 4's Time Team". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Eames, Tom (27 June 2013). "'Time Team's Mick Aston to receive More4 tribute night". DigitalSpy. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Eggington, Steve (January 2008). "The Time Team Prof". The Mendip Times 3 (8).
- Gover, Dominic (25 June 2012). "Time Team Star Archaeologist Mick Aston Dead". International Business Times. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Hilts, Carly (7 June 2013). "Exclusive interview – Mick Aston: an archaeological journey". Current Archaeology. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Hough, Andrew (9 February 2012). "Time Team: Mary-Ann Ochota quits Channel 4 archaeological show". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Lewis, Carenza; Harding, Phil and Aston, Mick (2000). Time Team's Timechester: A Companion to Archaeology. London: Channel 4 Books. ISBN 978-0-7522-7218-4.
- Mcfarnon, Emma (25 June 2013). "In profile: the life of Time Team archaeologist Mick Aston". This is Somerset. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Prior, Stuart; Horton, Mark (25 June 2013). "Professor Mick Aston, 1946-2013". Bristol University. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Robinson, Tony and Aston, Mick (2002). Archaeology is Rubbish: A Beginner's Guide. London: Channel 4 Books. ISBN 978-0-7522-6519-3.
- The Telegraph (8 February 2012). "Mick Aston quits Time Team after producers hire former model co-presenter". Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- The Telegraph (25 June 2013). "Professor Mick Aston". Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Western Daily Press (10 February 2012). "Professor Mick Aston quits Time Team, and now Mary-Ann Ochota is leaving too". Western Daily Press. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Western Daily Press (13 December 2012). "Professor Mick Aston backs revamp of Somerset Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury". Western Daily Press. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Williamson, Marcus (26 June 2012). "Mick Aston: Archaeologist who found television fame on 'Time Team'". The Independent. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- "Mick's Travels". British Archaeology. All of Mick Aston's articles in British Archaeology between September/October 2006 - July/August 2013.
- Mick Aston at the Internet Movie Database