A grand ceremony was held on Monday 14th July at the British Museum to present the British Archaeological Awards for 2014. The occasion was compèred by Loyd Grossman who, following an audiovisual voiced by Julian Richards describing and illustrating the finalists, announced the Best Archaeological Book to be Interpreting the English Village by the late Mick Aston and Chris Gerrard, published by Oxbow Books in our Windgather series. The award was collected by our own Simone Drinkwater and Clare Litt on behalf of the authors as sadly Chris was unavailable and Mick’s partner Teresa Hall fell foul of problems on the trains (which kept a number of people away) and was unable to get to the ceremony. Of course it was extremely sad that Mick could not be there himself. The book epitomises his approach to field archaeology and community involvement and marked the culmination of over two decades of work. It is a fitting tribute to a fine archaeologist and, frankly, would have won in any year.
The judges said of the book:
‘This volume takes on the challenging task of turning a serious piece of historical research and archaeological fieldwork into an inclusive and entertaining account that will appeal to a general reader. The task is made all the more difficult in that this is an otherwise anonymous English village, and not an especially attractive one, and few of the readers will have been there – all this is acknowledged by the authors in the opening sentences. And yet as soon as you start reading you are hooked, by the text, which is a joy to read; it is fluently written in an easy-going style that is authoritative but very readable. And the text is well supported by the layout and design. The text boxes work particularly well, introducing some more technical and historic issues without breaking the flow of the narrative, and there are pictures on every page that are relevant and informative, not just there to decorate the page.
Best of all, the book is thoughtfully structured in a way that explains the techniques used – and in some cases pioneered – at Shapwick. This was a project that was carried out by the villagers themselves, guided by Mick Aston, and the impact is to make you, dear reader, want to get out and do something similar in your own bit of the world. This is the biography of a living village, from the Mesolithic through to today and it is every bit as gripping as that other everyday story of farming folk – more so because this is not a soap opera, this is the story of us all.’
A record number of entries for the award were whittled down to just three: the runners up were the excellent and superbly illustrated popular book Starr Carr: life in Britain after the Ice Age by Nicky Milner, Barry Taylor, Chantal Conneller and Tim Schadla-Hall, published by the CBA and our own book on the archaeological search to find the true site of the battle of Bosworth and a major reconsideration of the battle itself, Bosworth 1485 by Glenn Foard and Anne Curry. The judges said ‘You come away from this feeling as though you had a completely new understanding of an event that you perhaps learned about at school, or have seen rehearsed in countless films and plays.’ It was great to catch up with both authors at the ceremony.
The BAA awards are held every two years and this is the second win in a row for an Oxbow volume. Gathering Time, by Alasdair Whittle, Frances Healy and Alex Bayliss won the Best Book award in 2012. Rest assured that we are working hard on entries for the next awards!
The full results and photos of all the winners can be seen at www.archaeologicalawards.com
By Julie Gardiner
Interpreting the English Village: Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Somerset, Bosworth 1485: A Battlefield Rediscovered and Star Carr: life in Britain after the Ice Age are all available to buy from our website.
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