Mick's Archaeology

Publisher: Tempus; price 12.99; published February 2000; revised edn. 2002
History Today Awards: New Generation History Book for 2000

Cover of Mick's ArchaeologySo much Mick Aston between two covers! It practically glows in the dark. The infectious enthusiasm we see on screen transfers well to the printed page, and with scarcely any loss of image, since we get a multitude of colour photos. One reason for the success of Time Team is its cast of colourful characters, none more so than the man who created it (along with producer Tim Taylor). This book will be enjoyed by those who want to know more about him. What drew him to archaeology? Who helped and who hindered? Why is he so fascinated by the lives of ordinary people in the past? Mick tells the story of his headlong career through archaeology in his own inimitable style. On the way we meet many of the great figures of British archaeology and some fascinating sites.

Time Team fans will not be disappointed. We learn how the whole thing began and get a glimpse into life in this unique travelling unit and film-crew. It sounds like archaeology in the fast lane - a lot of fun but challenging and exhausting. Mick can't hide his affection for the team, many of whom were his friends or students before TT. A boon for those whose memories are less than perfect is the complete list of all the Time Team programmes so far made, as well as the other series in which Mick has appeared: Time Signs, History Hunters and Time Traveller.

Then there are chapters on Mick's special interests, spiced with anecdotes and reflections. Landscape archaeology comes first (no surprise!) with some intriguing background on Mick's aerial exploits. The chapter on archaeology and science explains geophiz, dendro-dating, and those techniques with people in white coats in nice easy language for non-scientists. Thus far Mick and the rest of British archaeology will be in harmony. But when Mick comes to experimental archaeology and re-enactment groups, he defies the stuffier parts of academia. Some may look askance, but he defends the Time Team cameos as more than just window dressing. They can actually force a re-think about the past.

Naturally I like Mick's coverage of buildings and monasteries - my own special interests. But I have also been following with interest Mick's 10-year project at Shapwick. It has been a huge undertaking - investigating in depth the making of an English village. Mick's Archaeology gives us the story behind the scenes: his pursuit of deserted medieval villages (don't miss what he discovered while having a wee behind a hedge) and why he resigned from 19 committees to buy time for tramping around outside in the cold and wet. Finally Mick tours us round his favourite sites and museums here and abroad, starting with a beautiful shot of Stonehenge, the place where Mick's archaeology started. [Review by Jean Manco]