Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spike TV's new show, American Diggers, promotes commercial exploitation of historical sites

This spring, Spike TV intends to air a new show called American Diggers, which will follow a team "led by former professional wrestler-turned-modern-day relic hunter Ric Savage as they scour...battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history."

Let me break it down for you: THIS IS BAD because shows like this perpetuate the idea already put forth by pop culture icons like Indiana Jones that cultural property is "treasure": old things with great economic value. This is not responsible archaeology, and it needs to be shut down. Sign this petition on to urge Spike TV to cancel the show before they can continue to poison the minds of America with the idea that looting is fun and stuff.


  1. I agree, let the relics remain in the soil and rotten. We all are better that way. Less jealousy floating around, too.

  2. The best thing for the "relics" (aka artifacts) is to stay in the ground. If they are genuine antiquities then they have survived quite a long time. The best thing for them is to stay there until they are threatened by natural or cultural forces. Then, and only then, should qualified archaeologists who record what they find, curate their finds in a public institution, should excavate them. If they have not "rotten" already, they probably wont. Look, we aren't saying the public shouldn't be involved in archaeology. In fact just the opposite. Finding artifacts is fun. If you like it, then you can volunteer on legitimate digs. If you just want to see antiquities, then volunteer at a museum. If you really love it, go to school and get the proper qualifications to get a job in the field. If the public were more involved, then shows like this wouldn't happen and funding for archaeological projects would be more available.

  3. The previous two comments are off- to say the least. Let me break it down to y'all. The woman is concerned that unqualified, unethical 'Looters' are ruining archaeological deposits by extracting artifacts with a "high-grading" methodology. They are looking for "treasure." As a professional archaeologist I'm telling you- the 'crap' they discard as worthless are those things which order CONTEXT; without which, there is no archaeology. The systematic excavation of archaeological deposits following a well constructed methodology seek to test a theoretical concept or question based in a particular literature and/or archaeological record. SO- it's not as simple as it seems. Those assh--les are ruining archaeological sites for less than profit- they're doing it for television and pop culture. They should be arrested.

  4. As a metal detecting enthusiast and historian for the past 20 years I actually will admit that I am just as frustrated with these recent shows. I hope that there will be no alienation of the "good" folks in this matter. I would suggest reaching out to the relic hunting community for additional support. The major websites are already condemning the first show. I have thought for years that there has to be some middle ground for those of us who conduct ourselves with moral fiber and those who make an educational career out of it. Each year I do recover items, I do not sell them, my wife displays them in her classroom after they have been documented and preserved. Her students get to hold and feel history in a way most don’t. They receive a lector from me on the history and context of the items. Other items are donated to local museums that are struggling to collect items from local history.

    These shows are painful for me to see, as I know what the outcome holds – and increased level of people mimicking what they see on television and a public outcry for metal detecting reform. For years there have been large populations of people who are honest and carry themselves with integrity. Like anthropologists and archaeologists – we have bad apples. I hope you will find additional support from those like you and like me.

    However, as for the folks who claim I am an under-educated looter - I have three degrees, have been published, work at a University (Ivy-Public) and have items in local museums throughout the eastern U.S. I would say 1/3 of what I have found in 20 years would today be under homes, Wal-Marts, Interstates and such. There would be no rescue of items or their historical context at that point. I would hesitate to lump all of us into one group - there is a real opportunity here to seperate those who are doing it for the wrong reason and irresponsibly and partner with those who are the not.


  5. An artifact may survive, buried, for thousands of years: When removed from the ground and taken to a museum, it begins to die.

    For years I was involved with museums and object “conservation,” and am absolutely disgusted with the way an artifact may be treated once taken from the ground–or an attic–and subjected to the museum environment: Ridiculous atmospheric/environmental conditions; bright, hot, UV-emitting lights blazing directly on books, fabrics, dyes and other organic materials on display; objects placed on freshly-painted surfaces in new display cases with no barriers between the artifact and the paint–the paint and wood outgassing, subjecting the object to damaging vapors; objects in vaults covered with dust and soot; insect infestations which have devastated artifacts; previous pesticide mitigations which have contaminated objects with lead, arsenic, mercury and other toxins to the point one can’t go near them without a Haz-Mat suit; objects improperly stored, in some cases piled willy-nilly on top of each other; steam and plumbing pipes running across vault ceilings, in some few cases dripping with condensation or leaking outright; inept conservators; clueless curators–the list goes on-and-on. I have seen this in the US,the UK, even Germany.

    I would be hard-pressed to believe that many of the commentators of this thread have not witnessed some of these things in various museums.

    Years ago, on the second-floor of the Cairo Musuem, I went to the rear of the hall to see that Cairo’s 1-inch annual rainfall had, over the years, leaked through a window, into a showcase, destroyed much of the millennia-old organic material holding together some of Tutankhamen’s jewelry, and stained the lining on the bottom of the showcase. I have seen the same sort of disgrace in a museum in the Eastern US and even here in the Mid-West.

    A great many museums need to clean up their acts before they maintain they are the only appropriate places for artifacts. I wonder how many would be willing to let Spike–or any other TV team–inspect their vaults with cameras?

    But to the point of the breast-beating and gnashing-of-teeth concerning the series: There were tens of thousands of cannon and hundreds of thousands of muskets used during the Civil War–not to mention beer bottles, bullets and artillery shell fragments. The North American Continent is littered with arrowheads. Why? What will be done with them? Will they be all put on display? No. No, not by a very, very long shot.They would need a collective display space at least the size of Rhode Island. Will they eventually be seen as useless to the museum, deaccessioned and sold at auction? Maybe, it happens.

    In many, if not most cases, a typical artifact–one of many (maybe hundreds or thousands) of it’s type–will be placed to languish in the museum’s vaults: There is a likelyhood it will never be seen again for more than a few moments. Ever. Remember the humongous warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Yeah. Kinda like that. Only sometimes, not as clean and well-organised. Or big.

    While it is true that these objects may be available for inspection by researchers, (not always; ask the Vatican which has turned away some of the most eminent researchers in the world), the reality is the overwhelming majority will never be examined or placed on display. They will go unloved, unlike the same or similar objects in the hands of private collectors.

    If I find anything more intriguing than an arrowhead on my property, am I going to call an object-related-professional to have a look at it, and continue the dig? You bet! It may be something never seen before, perhaps of tremendous historic significance. If so, I will place it on permanent loan to an appropriate museum and monitor it’s care, because–unless you really believe Robin Hood deserved the death penalty for poaching the “King’s” Deer–it’s mine.