Mick’s spade

A couple of weeks ago there was an archaeological dig in our village and I went along to watch, learn and volunteer. Phil Harding, a member of the TV series Time Team was the lead archaeologist and it was a real privilege to watch him work, ask him questions, and listen to his stories and advice and instruction he gave.

Although the archaeology of the little ruined church where the dig took place was the most important and fascinating aspect of the week, it was also very interesting to hear Phil talk about Time Team. It was first broadcast in 1993 and I watched all of the following twenty series, it was one of my favourite programmes. One the most popular aspects of the programme was the relationship between the different experts in the programme, the diggers, the surveyors, the landscape investigators, the geophysicists, the presenter… It was what made the programme so popular, the way they would discus,, argue, disagree, all in the most friendly way, but all in order to find the truth about what they were uncovering. it was a TV programme, yes, but it seemed very much like what might happen on any other dig. So when Phil stopped digging in our little church, paused to chat for a moment and told us about what actually happened in the programme, it was great to discover that the people we viewers felt we knew so well, actually were very much as they seemed on camera.

As well as the various stories he told, Phil very proudly showed us his spade. It was a long-handled tool with a leaf-shaped blade, and he told us it had belonged to the lead archaeologist for most of the programmes, Professor Mick Aston, who sadly died two years ago. When Mick died very unexpectedly, his widow gave the spade to Time Team, and it was decided that Phil should have it. He was obviously very touched by this, and felt honoured, and would treasure and use it as he was now. On the back of the handle Mick had carved his mark, Mix (Mick’s)

dig uphill 9.9 (8)Mick’s spade and a mattock

The report in our local paper:


Watching Time Team

Lovely sunshine meant loads of washing, and loads of washing means loads of ironing. I set up the ironing board in the sitting room and went through the channels on the TV to find something to watch. I was pleased to find that my all-time favourite programme was being repeated, Time Team.

Time team is a programme about archaeology, using a team of renowned and revered archaeologists and other experts. it is presented by Tony Robinson, now Sir Tony, who is well-known as an actor, and the premise is that the team have three days to do a ‘dig’, usually to find a particular thing, or the truth about a particular place, or at the behest of a viewer, or history club or society, who believe they have something of interest in their local. It may seem on paper to be an artificial concept ‘only three days to find out whether…’ but if it was just an open-ended challenge it would go on forever! However, because of the quality of those involved, their knowledge, their personalities, the seriousness with which they took on the challenge – and yet with friendly humour among the team, it was not only a huge, huge success, but must have inspired thousands upon thousands of people young and old to become interested in history, and what lies beneath our feet.

There were twenty series plus ‘specials’, for example week-end events, and although there were many different people involved, the main team consisted of a lead archaeologist, usually Professor Mick Aston, a couple of diggers and archaeologists including the amazing Phil Harding and his hat, a landscape investigator, a geophysicist, a surveyor and an illustrator. There were other regular diggers, who appeared week after week, series after series.

The programme was eventually cancelled which was a great shame; it had begun to change, in my opinion, as although the core team remained strong and never, ever, ever, ever  dumbed down, somehow the emphasis seemed to shift as if trying to appeal to an imaginary audience  who wouldn’t know the first thing about archaeology. In fact, I believe the viewers were enlightened and educated, enthralled and intrigued – even young children loved the show, as I know from my own family!

Watching it again as I busily ironed, I thought again how sad it was that it no longer had new series, and how grateful I was to all concerned for the twenty years of episodes I have enjoyed.


Professor Mick Aston… a sad loss

I was so saddened to read this evening that Professor Mick Aston of Bristol University and known as a mainstay of Time Team, has died. he was only sixty-six and it is a tragic loss. My condolences and sympathy to his family and his friends, many, many people will be sorry to read this and grieve for the loss of a such a respected and well-liked person. He will be remembered not just for his stripey jerseys and amazing hats, but for his humour, his knowledge and his love of history and archaeology which he communicated so well. He was, I am sure, an inspiration to many people.

Goodbye, Time Team… I shall miss you

Last night saw the final episode of a television series which has been running for twenty years, and every programme (and I’ve watched most of them) was a winner! The series is Time Team and thhe premise is that a team of archaeologists should dig a site in three days. It sounds amazing that they should hope to find anything in these three-day events, but they do, because of the skills and expertise of the team and the use of technology.

The programme is fronted by Tony Robinson, an actor, the archaeology team is led for the most episodes by either Professor Mick Aston, or Francis Pryor. As well as the lead field archaeologist  the fabulous Phil Harding (and his hat) there is a geo-physics team  organised by John Gator; the other ‘regular’  and a man I find fascinating in his ability to ‘read’ a landscape, Stewart Ainsworth.

What is nice about watching the programme over the years you see people who start as diggers and become  more and more prominent as the series evolves such as Raksha Dave, Matt Williams It is the personalities of the team, and their interaction which adds to the interest in the programme, even Ian the digger driver is an archaeologist!

I vividly remember the first ever Time Team because the site they chose was Athelney, not too far from where we live; following the programme we went to Athelney and it was so interesting to be able to look at the area and have some grasp of what went on there a thousand or so years ago…. and that was what Time Team did, it made you go out and look at place with new eyes  see the history around us. There were events organised which involved whole villages, or young people, or the whole country, such as the Big Dig – people dug a square metre of their back garden to see what they could find. We dug, but sadly found nothing!

Time Team dug all across the British isles, and on the continent, and in the Americas… even when they found nothing, which did occasionally happen, it was interesting.

I’m shocked that the plug has been pulled on such a great programme; it had everything, serious archaeology,   fun,  skill, personalities, history, information… everything… and not forgetting the wonderful pictures by Victor Ambrus the site artist.

Goodbye Time Team, I’m really sad you’re finished, shame on Channel 4 for cancelling you, but luckily I can continue to watch the repeats… not quite the same as the excitement of a new episode.