Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Archaeologist of the Year

'Who is your archaeologist of the year?' the letter that accompanied the monthly archaeo-themed magazine that dropped through my door demanded (quite aggressively I thought).

It's not a question that I think I could ever satisfactorily answer, given the number of exceptional practitioners out at work around the world at this present time. I'm sure, however, if you tied me to a chair, shone a light in my eyes and threatened to remove every one of my toe-nails with a rusty butter knife, that I could probably supply a name - but is this the best way to get a result? 

What's really needed here, I would argue, in order to be totally objective, is a long and deeply thoughtful couple of days spent by the sea with the full backcatalogue of archaeological magazines and journals for 2012-3, general silence, wall to wall sunshine and a continuous run of gin and tonic. Having none of these immediately to hand (well, all except the aforementioned rusty butter knife which I have now safely secreted in the recycling bin just in case), I suppose I would have to say that there really is only one honest answer to the original question; my vote going to the late great Michael Antony Aston.

Mick Aston was, without doubt, archaeology's most passionate advocate. Sadly, I only had the opportunity to work with him on a few projects (between 2003 and 2005), but I, like most people, have been acquainted with his work for a considerable period of time. Considerate, thoughtful, intelligent, deeply knowledgeable, witty and, at times, overtly mischievous, Mick was never less than the most enthusiastic devotee of field archaeology and historical research. Archaeology is not just about simply understanding and interpreting the past, but bringing it to life and informing / enthusing a wider public and there have, in my mind at least, only ever really been three truly great archaeo-communicators: 

1) Augustus ('The General') Pitt Rivers (1827 - 1900)  

Career soldier, landowner, first inspector of Ancient Monuments in the UK and, arguably, one of the first true scientific archaeologists (excavating settlements rather than just rich burials), Pitt Rivers helped educate and inform the public by disseminating his results through privately funded books, a museum and an impressive set of public gardens.

2) Mortimer ('Rik') Wheeler (1890 - 1976)

Archaeologist, soldier and founder of the Institute of Archaeology in London, Wheeler popularised archaeology in the years before and after World War Two, bringing it to a mass audience through accessible excavations, fieldwork reports, popular books and multiple appearances on radio and television (becoming TV personality of the Year in 1954).

3) Michael ('Mick') Aston (1946 - 2013)

Tutor, lecturer, tireless fieldworker and key figure in Time Team, Aston brought archaeology out of the serious and rather dry ‘documentary-as-lecture’ world that it had inhabited throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s and into the popular mainstream, reaching audiences that both Pitt Rivers and Wheeler could only have dreamt of. 

We who work in the profession will always be in their debt.


  1. Hear hear! My votes in the post.

  2. Hear hear too! Also in line for archaeologist of the century!