Mick Aston


Mick Aston was prob­ably the best-known archae­olo­gist in the UK. I’d also go so far as to say that he was the most influ­en­tial archae­olo­gist of the last 25 years.

Mick Aston

Mick Aston (centre). Photo by Wessex Archaeology.

The reason is Time Team, an archae­olo­gical series on Channel 4. If Sky at Night is Astronomy then Time Team when Mick Aston was in it was archae­ology. Its suc­cess massively expan­ded the uptake of archae­ology by stu­dents. Mick Aston’s idea was respons­ible sup­port­ing an incal­cul­able num­ber of jobs in uni­ver­sity depart­ments. It’s easy to over­look was an aston­ish­ing idea Time Team was.

The tra­di­tional doc­u­ment­ary places the aca­demic speaker at the author­ity speak­ing Truth. A recent example is Rise of the Continents, where Mantle Plumes are presen­ted as unques­tioned fact as noted in the post at The Theatre of Reason. A com­mon grumble is that sci­ence is a pro­cess not a body of fact, so how do you show pro­cess? Mick Aston reckoned you could pro­duce a usable brief eval­u­ation of an archae­olo­gical site in three days and this became Time Team. A cam­era crew fol­lowed an archae­olo­gical team as they dug for three days.

Below I’ve embed­ded the epis­ode from Blaenavon, which I hope 4oDDocumentaries have made widely access­ible.* You could make a drink­ing game from the num­ber of times someone says they don’t know some­thing. To steal a line from Paul Bahn: it’s not about find­ing things, it’s about find­ing things out.

As a meas­ure of impact, I offer another series, Bonekickers. Bonekickers was an attempt by the Life on Mars team to pro­duce a drama around an archae­ology unit. It was laughed out of the sched­ules because Time Team had demon­strated to a large chunk of the UK pop­u­la­tion how archae­ology worked. To be fair Bonekickers was pretty awful in its own right, but it’s thanks to the impact of Time Team that it became truly ris­ible. Can you ima­gine that hap­pen­ing with any other aca­demic discipline?

Mick Aston’s influ­ence meant that he became a ste­reo­type of an archae­olo­gist in his own time. That could sound snide, but rather it’s a meas­ure of how loved by the pub­lic he was.

He also had the poten­tial to keep innov­at­ing. After leav­ing Time Team, he’d been work­ing with Timothy Taylor on Dig Village. In some ways he was in the twi­light of his career, but he still could have shone for many years like the even­ing star.

Photo Time Team in Salisbury by Wessex Archaeology. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.

*I’m not optim­istic that it’s vis­ible bey­ond the UK. You can search for Time Team on YouTube, but embed­ding those videos isn’t sens­ible. Uploading a pro­gramme whole­sale, breach­ing the copy­right isn’t neg­ated by say­ing “No infringe­ment of copy­right is inten­ded”. These videos will be com­ing down sooner or later. My per­sonal favour­ite epis­ode is prob­ably Llygadwy / Celtic Spring, but that’s not so typ­ical of the series.

Want a happy holiday? Pray for an Arctic blast Telegraph tells numerate readers.


Dr Arnall’s hap­pi­ness for­mula is: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He. Put more simply, a numer­ical value for being out­doors (O) was added to nature (N) mul­ti­plied by social inter­ac­tion (S), added to child­hood sum­mer memor­ies and pos­it­ive thoughts (Cpm) divided by tem­per­at­ure (T), and added to hol­i­day excite­ment (He).

So explains the Daily Telegraph. When divid­ing a smal­ler denom­in­ator gives a big­ger num­ber. 1/10 is a big­ger num­ber than 1/100 des­pite 100 being big­ger than 10. When T approaches zero Cpm/T approaches infin­ity. Dr Arnall is we will be hap­pi­est when T = 0. That’s a sum­mer where the tem­per­at­ure hits freez­ing point if you’re meas­ur­ing in Centigrade,* when you’ll be infin­itely happy. If you’re meas­ur­ing in Fahrenheit you’ll be euphoric when the tem­per­at­ure reaches the equi­val­ent of –18ºC.

What’s pain­ful to read is that he doesn’t seem to under­stand his own for­mula. He’s quoted as say­ing: “June has also seen some warm weather after the cold spring, with people hop­ing more warm spells are ahead,” without warn­ing that in his fantasy this warm weather would be less pleas­ing than cold and drizzle.

*Anders Celsius ori­gin­ally set his scale the other way round, so that boil­ing point was 0º and water froze at 100º. Despite this, I strongly doubt Dr Arnall would he happy if someone tripped and spilled the con­tents of a boil­ing kettle over him.

Where can you find out more about the UNESCO Astronomy World Heritage Inititative?


For any­one search­ing for my name today, here’s the inform­a­tion you’re after.

The bit I’m work­ing with is the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy. This is the part where all the pub­lic inform­a­tion is.

There are pages about the ini­ti­at­ive at UNESCO and the IAU.

It’s excel­lent report­ing by Andy Carling, so if I’ve said any­thing incor­rect or muddled then it’s def­in­itely me who got it wrong, not some com­mu­nic­a­tion mix-up.

The Meaning of Liff at 30

There’s a radio show online cel­eb­rat­ing 30 years of The Meaning of Liff a dic­tion­ary of words that don’t exist, but should. The words are all place names that have been press-ganged into doing some proper work in the English language. As a respons­ible per­son I’m not link­ing to this web­site that lists many of the defin­i­tions in the book: http://​folk​.uio​.no/​a​l​i​e​d​/​T​M​o​L​.​h​tml

THROCKING (par­ti­cipial vb.)
The action of con­tinu­ally push­ing down the lever on a pop-up toaster in the hope that you will thereby get it to under­stand that you want it to toast something.

NAD (n.)
Measure defined as the dis­tance between a driver’s out­stretched fin­ger­tips and the ticket machine in an auto­matic car-park. 1 nad = 18.4 cm.

RIPON (vb.)
(Of lit­er­ary crit­ics.) To include all the best jokes from the book in the review to make it look as if the critic thought of them.

#Liff     #Books     #DouglasAdams     #Gplus  

The Meaning of Liff at 30
John Lloyd cel­eb­rates 30 years of The Meaning of Liff with Matt Lucas and Helen Fielding.