Professor Michael Aston was best known as the leading archaeologist (series 1-19) on the popular Channel 4 television series Time Team. He was an Emeritus Professor at Bristol University, and Honorary Professor at Durham, Exeter and Worcester Universities.

Mick Aston 1946-2013

Mick at Wells March 2012

Mick Aston died unexpectedly at his home in Somerset on Sunday night, 23rd/24th June 2013, aged 66. His funeral on 12 July was private.

Mick was best known to the public as the wild-haired, rainbow-jumpered professor on Time Team. He was its chief archaeological adviser from the show's inception in 1994. It was Time Team's producer who broke the sad news. It is with a very heavy heart that we've been informed that our dear colleague Mick Aston has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family. On the Access Cambridge Archaeology blog Mick's former Time Team colleague Carenza Lewis commented Principled, intelligent, brave, loyal, warm, humorous and visionary, I was privileged to have known him for as long as I did. If humanists had saints, he should be one. The Guardian reports the shock of Mick's Time Team colleagues Phil Harding and Francis Prior in their news coverage. The obituary in the Independent† has comments from Sir Tony Robinson, including: Archaeology is now a subject that tens of thousands of people enjoy and value, and this is almost solely down to him. I hope he'll receive belated recognition for that fact. He will be sorely missed by all of us who worked closely with him over the years.

More4 aired a substantial tribute to Professor Mick Aston on 13 July. Channel 4's head of factual programming, Ralph Lee, said: We have been terribly saddened by death of Professor Mick Aston. We are broadcasting a tribute night, recognising his important contribution to Time Team over the years, and the key role he played in making archaeology so popular. Time Team Executive Producer Philip Clarke said: Mick was a one-off. He was really irreplaceable as the heart and soul of Time Team. Thousands of people were not only inspired by him but truly warmed to him and felt they knew him. He was a television natural whilst professing to have no interest in the medium. He lived for the thing he loved which was archaeology. In the More4 tribute itself, fellow members of Time Team remembered him as an enthusiast, populist, scholar and legend in newly-filmed sections which framed three Time Team programmes selected to display aspects of his achievement: those at Much Wenlock, Nether Poppleton and the Isle of Man.

The academic world recalled how Professor Aston shaped the development of landscape archaeology. The Independent has an excellent obituary written by Mick's longtime friend, landscape archaeologist Christopher Dyer. Bristol University offers an appreciation of his life and achievements by Dr Stuart Prior and Professor Mark Horton. Mick's colleague Christopher Gerrard provides an affectionate tribute for Antiquity.†There is also a rounded obituary in The Telegraph. The Post Hole, a student-run archaeology journal, has memories of Mick from Helen Geake (Time Team and Finds Adviser to the Portable Antiquities Scheme), Mike Heyworth (Director of the Council for British Archaeology), David Hinton (President of the Royal Archaeological Institute) and Bob Croft (Somerset County Archaeologist): Remembering Mick Aston: The man who brought the past to the present.

Shapwick book cover Although born in the Black Country, and educated at Birmingham University, Prof. Aston spent most of his life in Somerset, where he was the first county archaeologist, appointed in 1974. In 1978 he left that post to become a full-time tutor in local studies at the Oxford University External Studies Department. Then in 1979 he returned to the West Country as a tutor in archaeology at the University of Bristol Extra-Mural Department. He lived and worked in Somerset continuously from then on. He helped to raise funds for the new Museum of Somerset at Taunton, and then turned his attention to another museum project. On the memorable date 12.12.12, he signed a petition backing the £1.7 million bid to redevelop Glastonbury's Somerset Rural Life Museum. It was a museum dear to his heart. I love this museum and have done projects of my own here, it's a brilliant place and should be developed further and further. Somerset County Council staff paid tribute to his work and influence in his home county. He was at one time a trustee of the now-defunct Bath Archaeological Trust, and also served for 14 years as a trustee of the thriving Cotswold Archaeology, which also pays tribute to Mick. Chief Executive Neil Holbrook said Mick had an infectious enthusiasm for archaeology. The archaeology was always his paramount concern. He was much less interested in the business side of things. I worked with Mick on a number of Time Team programmes over the years and my abiding memories are not of what we filmed on camera, but the chats we had over a glass of wine at the end of the day.

Large chunks of Mick's life were devoted to projects in Somerset. From 1987 to 1997 he led a thorough study of the parish of Shapwick, which included field-walking, surveys of the buildings and test-pitting, as well as in-depth investigation of a remarkably rich documentary heritage. The result was the most detailed look so far at the development of an English village. Mick was always anxious to ensure that findings of any study make their way into print as soon as possible, and he began publishing reports on Shapwick in 1989, but the final massive report was published in 2007 (see Mick's books). That scholarly work was followed on 28 February 2013 by an account with more popular appeal. Mick Aston and Christopher Gerrard, Interpreting the English Village: Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Glastonbury was published with wonderful full-colour illustrations by Victor Ambrus, familiar from Time Team. There is a sample on the cover. Mick Aston was interviewed by Oxbow Books & The David Brown Book Company as part of the book launch. He was answered questions sent in by the public. You can view the result on video below.

Mick Aston and Teresa Hall with students at Sidcot School, Winscombe (Weston Mercury)On the completion of the Shapwick report, Mick and a small team including his partner Teresa Hall started a second Somerset project - this time in Mick's home parish of Winscome. Once again test pits were dug. In June 2012 a Neolithic axe (held by Mick in the photo right) was among the finds at a local school. As a parish of scattered hamlets and multiple ownership, it was very different from Shapwick, as Mick explains in the interview by Oxbow. Once again, Mick plunged rapidly into print, contributing annual articles on their findings to the county archaeological journal and Medieval Settlement Research (see Mick's articles.)† It was his intention to spend only five years on field-work, so he had almost achieved his goals by the time of his death. The 2013 Conference of the Council for Independent Archaeologists was originally planned to showcase the work of Mick Aston on the Winscombe Project. His death removed its keynote speaker, but Teresa Hall and Mick's old friend James Bond agreed to step into the breach and introduce the conference in September 2013 in memory of Mick. Teresa assured the audience that Mick's work lives on. She and the team that Mick built up have continued to dig test pits to trace the fortunes of the parish.

Current Archaeology no. 274 (7 December 2012) saw the start of Mick's Dig Diary, a column every other month by Prof Aston recording the trials and triumphs of his project. He started by recalling its genesis: An Unexpected Project. He followed up in CA 276 with A green and pleasant parish. Both can be read online. His publication fees went into the project kitty. He had long been a supporter of Current Archaeology, which mourns his loss. Current Archaeology 271 carries an interesting interview with Mick, Mick Aston: an archaeological journey, part of which can be read online.

Mick lent his aid on one occasion to Dig Village, a project on Dunster, Somerset, co-ordinated by Tim Taylor, producer of Time Team. Drawing on his experience in his own Somerset parish history projects, Mick explains to Danielle Wootton his method of using maps to work back into the history of a parish, and the problems of working out a monastic or town plan,†in two videos (below). As becomes clear, Dunster was in fact a borough, not a village. It was included in Mick Aston and James Bond, The Landscape of Towns (1976) and Michael Aston and Roger Leech, Historic Towns in Somerset: archaeology and planning (Bristol 1977).

Mick was a prolific writer of both scholarly and more accessible material. In recent years British Archaeology has been carrying a regular contribution from Mick, called Mick's Travels. Among the many enthusiasms revealed in these chatty pieces was his love of Cornwall, an early archaeological hunting ground for him in the 1960s. I used to visit Cornwall a lot. I spent my formative teenage years walking all over western Cornwall visiting field monuments, making sketch plans and producing drawings of inscribed memorial stones and crosses. So it was a pleasure to him to return there for occasional Time Team digs, as he explained in In search of Cornish relics, BA, issue 100 (May/June 2008). More recently he had been able to spend more time in Cornwall and one of his last pieces for the magazine returned to the county. Following the sad news, the magazine has compiled all of his articles from Mick's Travels into a special online issue. The final installment of Mick's Travels was published in issue 132 of British Archaeology (September/October 2013), together with tributes to him.

Mick also served on the advisory panel of BBC History Magazine, which offers its own obituary.

The news came out in February 2012 that Mick had left Time Team - a decision made in the previous summer. You can read his comments to The Western Daily Press online: Professor Mick Aston quits Time Team over 'dumbing down' row. The March/April 2012 issue of British Archaeology carried an interview with him, and commentary by the editor. Mick's retirement from Time Team triggered the recognition of his lifetime's work by the 2012 British Archaeological Awards. The Lifetime Achievement Award winner was Professor Mick Aston, for his long-term commitment to public education and for his support for developing our understanding of past human behaviour, as well as major personal contributions to archaeological knowledge and the development of new methodologies. Also the award for Best Public Presentation of Archaeology went to Time Team series 18 episode 1, Reservoir Rituals, which was the 200th episode of Time Time and led by Mick. Since Mick hated going to London, the award was actually presented to him at home on his birthday, 1 July. After the sad news, CBA director Mike Heyworth said: It was an honour and a privilege to have an opportunity to tell him to his face how much he was loved and valued by everyone with an interest in archaeology all over the world. Here is a video of the event in Mick's conservatory.

Mick had prepared for his own passing. Editor's choice on the letters page of British Archaeology November/December 2012 is a thoughtful plea from him to consider where the personal archives of archaeologists should be deposited. Having† passed the age of 65 in July 2011, Mick considered the time ripe to arrange with Somerset county museum and record office to deposit his archive with them. Huge bundles of papers were transferred. Memorabilia of Time Team, such as those famous stripey jumpers, donned to make him instantly identifiable on the programme, were deposited in the museum. He had already published a delightful autobiography: Mick's Archaeology (February 2000; revised edn. 2002), which could scarcely be bettered as a portrait of this remarkable man.