Fourteen years ago I walked into a room. Facing the door, illuminated by a single wire reinforced window, sat the post-16 careers guidance counsellor.
What did I want to do after sixth form?
I was thinking of studying archaeology.
The advisor stared into the distance, glanced at my CV.
Had I considered an HND in forestry?
Fourteen years later and I’ve excavated burials from Suffolk to Sudan, used a particle accelerator to study ancient metals and worked in one of the world’s coolest museums.
I am yet to cut down a tree.
I never met Mick Aston but, like many archaeologists, I was deeply saddened to hear of his death yesterday. From the mid-nineties onwards he was a reassuring presence on TV with his garish wool sweaters redolent of his media personality; comfortable yet slightly prickly.
Time Team ceased to be required watching for me long ago, yet I’ve always felt a debt to Mick and his team. Without them I’m not sure I’d be working as an archaeologist today.
The brilliance of Time Team was in its presenters. No besuited dons, but muddy people with passion and charisma enough to make a teenager with inky NME fingers sit up and take notice. It took archaeology from a sense of otherness (interesting but perhaps not realistic to study) and made it, if not normal, accessible. This was best summed up in a TV review by Martin Bright:
The success of the programme is due almost entirely to the choice of the three team members who were chosen, it would seem, to prove that a fascination with archaeology transcends the class divide. It’s the interaction between the turnip-crunching yokel Phil Harding, university professor Mick Aston and posh head girl Carenza Lewis that really makes this work as television. ‘Just because you’ve got a professorship doesn’t mean you know everything,’ Phil tells Mick at one tense moment in tonight’s programme and you can almost hear those 25,000 amateur archaeologists applauding.
That transcending of class was crucial. It showed the (relative) diversity of the profession at the time and countered public perception of a sector dominated solely by bow tied Oxbridge dons. It meant that becoming an archaeologist felt an achievable and realistic proposition. It meant that ignoring career guidance counsellors became easier.
So #ThanksMick for helping me and countless other amateur and professional archaeologists set off on an extraordinary adventure into the past.