In my previous post I explained how my deep interest in the medieval period was precipitated by becoming engrossed in the subject of the status of my home village at the time of the Domesday Survey (tiny acorns and mighty oaks, I know). Take a step further back and it becomes the case that I wouldn’t have even been sat in the garden at that moment – or at least not with a head filled with thoughts of eleventh-century local history – were it not for the influence of Time Team and so by extension the work of Mick Aston, who died a few days ago.
I never met Prof. Aston, though I did have half a chance once a few years ago. It was my birthday and my girlfriend at the time was indulging me with a day out in York. We were in the city’s archaeology centre at the same time as Mick – I seem to recall he was giving a talk later on that day or the next, but tickets were sold out and already he was the centre of much attention, too much to warrant hovering around on the off-chance. In retrospect, this was a shame, not least since I had a winning gambit of having received as a present that day his and Christopher Gerrard’s write-up of the Shapwick Project. It’s a book that I heartily recommend for all those interested in landscape archaeology and related disciplines, as I would wager it’s the most detailed study of a single English parish ever published. Indeed, it contains such a dizzying breadth and depth of information that I’ve only been able to dip into it here and there, though I hope this is understood as the roundabout compliment it was intended to be!
Many of the lessons learned from Shapwick have caused me to reconsider or refine elements of my own similar – but in every way inferior – investigations in Puttenham parish. As it happens I have nearly finished writing a summary of my findings after less-than-constant research spread over a period of ten years – the same length of time as the Shapwick Project – which will be posted under the Puttenham tab as soon as the paint has dried. Of course, Prof. Aston had many research interests besides landscape archaeology and television as a means for promoting and propagating archaeology in Britain and beyond. Some of his greatest achievements were in the field of monastic archaeology – exemplified by his book Monasteries in the Landscape – and so in a way it’s fitting (if wholly coincidental) that the most recent addition to the Work tab is a short update to my ‘Mercian markets…’ piece in which I assess the applicability of Richard Hodges’ monastic cities model to the documented monasteries of late-eigthth and early-ninth century Surrey. Think I might treat myself to an ep or two of Time Team on 4OD in bed later when I’m done writing, perhaps from among the really early ones when you could get away with being a lot less “telegenic” and a lot more intellectual than is the norm these days. Cheers Mick.