Archaeology is Rubbish
A Beginner's Guide

By Tony Robinson & Mick Aston
December 2002
Channel 4 Books / Macmillan
ISBN: 0-7522-6519-9
216 pages, Illustrated, 9 x 11 "
$39.50 Paper Original

Cast as the story of an imaginary dig in a suburban garden that expands to include the site of what is to be a new "Tesbury's" supermarket, Archaeology Is Rubbish takes readers through all the processes involved in a modern excavation and gives answers to some of the questions most frequently asked of archaeologists.

The fictional exploits of Indiana Jones and the lives of 19th century adventurers like Heinrich Schliemann, the man who dug up Troy and Mycenae, may give the impression that the archaeologist's life is one of glamour and excitement in faraway places. Tony Robinson and Mick Aston themselves, dashing hither and yon in a race against time in the Time Team TV series, may add to the sense that archaeology is one moment of high drama followed by another. In fact, as they know, and their book proclaims, archaeology is largely rubbish.

The material on which archaeologists work is usually the waste discarded by generation after generation, from Stone Age tool-makers and Roman housewives to Tudor carpenters and Victorian factory workers. This rubbish has its own stories to tell and Robinson and Aston's book is an engaging account of how archaeologists unearth those stories.

The authors manage to cover a lot of territory in a 200-page book--from the dating of finds and the use of geophysics to Anglo-Saxon jewellery and Roman mosaics--and they do so in a way that proves archaeology can not only be rubbish but also a lot of fun. --Nick Rennison


This is a manual for those who want to know how the task of archaeology is undertaken, but it's also a history of the subject. In addition it answers the questions archaeologists are most frequently asked. But above all, it's entertainment. The authors hope it will encourage those with an interest in digging, but equally it should amuise and engage those whose archaeological ambitions are limited to turning the pages of this book.

It is the story of a fantasy dig the readers undertake in their back garden. They begin by digging a small hole in their lawn. This gradually gets bigger until they are compelled to destroy their garden shed. Eventually they come down on the remains of a Roman villa. Their trench then extends into their neighbour's back garden, and ultimately over their back wall into the site of a proposed supermarket.

What began as a piece of keyhole archaeology is, by the end of the book, a massive site complete with mechanical diggers and dumper trucks. Intervening chapters highlight various aspects of the dig to tell the history of the discipline of archaeology from the earliest looters of pyramids to the present day. Later chapters explore modern archaeological techniques like geophysics, DNA testing, osteo-archaeology, tree-dating and environmental technology.

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