‘Diggers’ are to archaeology as pro-wrestling is to sports: fake

Looter pits in Georgia

“Professional” wrestler (former) Ric Savage now has a television show on Spike TV called “American Diggers.” They’re Americans and they dig. Anyone with a garden shovel can make this claim.

The problem is, they fancy themselves as “diggers” of artifacts and relics. And this is a problem because they really don’t know what they’re doing.

I’m not being “snobbish” or trying to appear aloof. I sympathize with why someone would want to dig up a yard or field for historical relics and artifacts. They’re valuable. They’re cool. They’re history. There’s a story behind every single bullet, belt buckle, button, and even thrown out pig bone that can be recovered.

But that story cannot be told if the contexts of the finds aren’t carefully and meticulously cataloged, diagramed, and documented. In addition, some artifacts need to be conserved with great care. A common misconception that those not trained in archaeology have is that removing it from the dirt starts the act of preservation. In fact, the opposite is probably true. A given artifact is now being exposed to variables it wasn’t previously: oxygen, water, wind, oily human hands, etc.

Ric Savage, the trained “professional” wrestler, was quoted as saying:

“Diggers are looked on as the trailer trash of the archaeology community and the archaeologists are thought of as the brains, but that’s not necessarily the truth,” Savage said. “The higher the education people get, the higher the snobbishness that goes along with it.”

I think Ric got it half right. Diggers are looked on as trailer trash. They’re not looked on as being a part of the archaeological community at all. That’s because they are not. To be a member of the archaeological community, you would first need to be trained as an archaeologist. Savage takes the low-road of ignorance when he attempts to berate those with educations as snobs, but such criticism only works with those that refuse to obtain an education.

Archaeologists are the brains of archaeology. That is an undeniable truth. It isn’t that their educations increase their “snobbishness” -rather it’s that their educations increase their knowledge. Like I said, I understand the motivations behind wanting to dig up relics and artifacts. But, my education has shown me why this is ethically wrong. “Digging” in this manner utterly destroys context. And context has far more value than the few dollars Savage gets from selling the metal bits he rapes from the ground since this is what we can use to understand the past. Where an artifact is in relation to other artifacts and features can tell us how it was used, by whom, when, how it was disposed or left in situ, etc. Context can tell us about trade, conflict, social hierarchy and stratification, and much more.

I realize there are probably many who consider themselves to be”amateur archaeologists” and take their roles seriously and care deeply about history and getting it right. But “diggers” aren’t amateur archaeologists. They negotiate with land owners to rape their lands for cultural artifacts with the promise that the land owner gets a cut (either in artifacts or money). They plunder the landscape with holes in roughshod manner and, in a few hours, can remove all the “valuable” artifacts from a site, leaving a scarred and raped patch of land that can more closely resemble the pockmarked surface of the moon than an archaeological site. Artifacts are quickly pulled from the ground without regard for their positions or placements and chunked in a bucket, sometimes a bag.

Contrast this with a true archaeological excavation that is meticulous and planned and can take days, even years to properly excavate as every layer is documented with diagrams and coordinates of artifacts and features as they are uncovered one centimeter at a time.  Artifacts are carefully extracted, sometimes preservation begins in situ as the artifact is carefully handled to prevent destruction or damage.

Diggers treat artifacts as commodities to be sold to the highest bidder on Ebay and Craig’s List.

Archaeologists treat artifacts as evidence of past cultures and civilizations that need to be carefully managed for further analysis or to be shared with the public through museums.

We cannot ever get back the contexts lost to looters (a.k.a. diggers). It would be better not to recover the artifacts at all if the choice is to remove them in the roughshod fashion of looters. Better to leave the remains of a long-lost culture buried until proper excavation by trained archaeologists is possible or feasible.

I say diggers are looters. Not because what they do is illegal (many times it is -but they will never admit to digging public or government lands), rather because what they’re doing is stealing from future generations. They’re stealing the possibility of understanding a culture or civilization. They’re going for the loot, and leaving the data behind in the piles of dirt they discard in heaps, forever lost as contexts to the past. There’s no question that private land owners have the right to do with their land what they please. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Join me in making a change. Click the link below and sign a petition at Change.org to have “American Diggers” removed from Spike.TV. The Petition is titled Stop Spike.TV from Looting Our Collective Past and it has, at the time of this writing, over 13,000 signatures. It could use yours.

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About Carl Feagans 340 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

31 Comments

  1. The outrage I see concerning this mere TV show would be better directed at how such artifacts–our heritage, our ancestor’s labor–is treated *after* it is removed from the ground, especially by “professionals.”

    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 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 against this series have not witnessed some of these disgraces in various museums. A few may be responsible for some of them.

    Years ago, on the second-floor of the Cairo Museum, 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. How bloody many of these and other artifacts do museums think they need anyway? All of them? Every single, solitary one? 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 the size of Rhode Island. Will they eventually be seen as useless to the museum, deaccessioned and sold at auction? Maybe, it happens. Will the original finders (legitimate owners) see any money from such an auction? No. They can go suck an egg as far as museums are concerned.

    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. Even rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts meet this fate: There is a strong likelihood it will never be seen again. 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-organized. 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 properly examined or placed on display. They will go forever unseen and unloved, unlike the same or similar objects in the hands of private collectors.

    Returning to the major point: Does anyone REALLY believe these Spike people–being filmed for worldwide TV–will let a significant find go unreported? That they won’t allow the context to be properly documented? You’re delusional. Let me clue you in, pal: Nobody’s going to go to jail for a TV show. Get real. Get help, you need it.

    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.

  2. I feel bad that you wrote so much text and didn’t get the point I was trying to make, which is that it’s not the artifacts and their fate that is important, rather it’s the contexts that these artifacts are in, which are important.

    You wrote 791 words, which would have taken you between 15-30 minutes to write, and I apologize for not making my point more clear in the article above. Your points about post-excavation curation are probably valid observations for the most part. I’m not an expert in such curation, but I do know that it’s problematic worldwide.

    So, to be clear, I have no problem with the owners of private lands retaining rights to some or all of the material remains present on their property. And I don’t disagree that it is completely legal for an American landowner to dig on his property as he sees fit. I’m merely trying to enter the discourse on the ethics of such a venture in order to do two things: 1) point out the ethical considerations and, 2) encourage like-minded folk to make their thoughts known to Spike.TV.

    Your focus appears solely on the artifacts and their fates. Mine is on the contexts of those artifacts in situ. That is, where and how they are situated in the ground. Context itself can be considered a kind of “artifact” or “feature” of an archaeological site. Whether that site is a few months old or a few hundred years. Modern forensic anthropologists are meticulous about documenting even the most recent sites they investigate since they are trying to piece together the events of a crime scene. The scene and its context tells the narrative because the human participants cannot. The same is true with a site that is hundreds, even thousands of years old. The context tells the story. And things about that site might be utterly meaningless and completely overlooked by someone who isn’t trained in archaeology. How many former “professional” wrestlers turned “diggers” would think to carefully document the changes in soil color for each level? How many of these “diggers” are using theodolites to establish baselines from which each artifact and feature is measured and placed on the site map? How many are even doing site maps (surely some are)? How many of these “diggers” are floating the matrix for pollen so we can see what plants were growing during the level excavated? How many are collecting samples at various levels for radiocarbon dating?

    I could go on. The data that is being overlooked as unimportant by “diggers” is what someone who truly cares about telling a story of our ancestral past truly cares about. The material remains are important more in what they are and how they relate to each other than how much they might bring on eBay…

    If the site is properly excavated and documented, do with the material remains as you please. If the data is captured that shows the contexts and the materials are well photographed and measured, I don’t need them anymore. It would be nice to know that they are properly curated somewhere, and being shared with the public -particularly the people who have ancestral ties to the material remains- but the contextual narrative is what is more important.

  3. I have no academic opinion on this issue (I would probably embarrass myself). But I find it truly sad and quite ridiculous that this wrestler has the nerve to call extremely well educated Anthropologists and Archaeologists “Snobbish”. A person doesn’t study endlessly and pursue a passion to become a snob. AND even if any given Anthropologists or Archaeologists come across ‘snobbish’ I would go so far as to say that they have earned the right to do so through hard work and determination.

    Really enjoyed reading this. Will be back for more. (First Year Anthropology and Sociology student in Australia for interests sake)

    All the best in getting these matters addressed.

  4. Wow. Do you think you might be getting a bit too worked up about this? As an archaeologist, I believe that I have an ethical obligation to not do what the “Diggers” do, but I don’t know how as a professional community we can expect the non-degreed population to live up to the same code. Of course if laws are broken, then I would want prosecution to the full extent of the law.

    I have seen both shows. “Diggers” on the Nat Geo channel was really dumb, and very illegal. The Montana Territorial Prison was leased by Territorial Prison Museum, but is state owned land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. The director of the prison gave Diggers permission (God only knows why), but they never obtained a permit from the state (and never would have gotten one). “American Diggers” on Spike TV, I thought, provided decent historical background. They had maps showing the historic gold mine in relation to the areas they were digging. And in both shows, the antique shops that they sold the items to gave interesting insights to the artifacts and how they were used.

    And more to the point you were making, in both shows, the historic sites they were working on had questionable intact deposits. The artifacts were recovered a few inches below the surface, and in areas that appeared to be plowed or in creeks.

    I agree that they are not amateur archaeologists. (In fact, a New York Times article about the shows erroneously labels them as that.) But I think that “raping the land” is a bit harsh.

  5. Let’s simmer down a bit, both metal detector users or relic hunters and Archaeologists are after the same thing. The Archaeologists point a finger at the hobbist and they try to convince the untrained that these so called amatures are stealing our history. They think no one has the knowledge and therfore the rights to excavate a site containing relics but them. But private land is just that and if the owner gives permission for someone to recover relics that’s his right.
    Let’s call a spade a spade….. Archaeologists use schools, museums and many other fronts to hunt sites containing relics. Many a Archaeologist has sold relics he has dug to help put himself through school, this I know for a fact. Ask yourself this…. why do the Archaeologists focus mainly on the Mississippian period and not much on the Woodland ? Because the Mississippian period has the pottery and other valuable relics. When a site is dug and relics recovered guess who cherry picks the relics they want to keep for their own personal collection ….. your correct the Archaeologists. Truth be known most have better collections than the schools or museums that sponsor them.
    As far as Archaeologists not destroying or raping history one need only to read the books and records of Archaeologist C.B. Moore. This man funded by big money from Northern private investors destroyed indian mounds by the hundreds on the Alabama rivers of, the Blackwarrior, Tombigbee, and Alabama. Proceeds from his digs went to his funders/investors ….now what does that say about the Archaeologists ? Being educated and having a sheep skin does not mean you have the right to do what you also acuse others of.

  6. W.J. you obviously didnt get the point of this article either.. the archaeologists would probably gladly give these artifacts away if they were able to properly excavate and gather the information they want. The artifacts themselves are cool, but it is the information that is invaluable. Most archaelogy is done without actually taking anything, the information is gathered, anything found is put back or left in place and that is the end of it.

  7. W.J. Steppe Said

    “Let’s simmer down a bit, both metal detector users or relic hunters and Archaeologists are after the same thing.”

    Nope. Not really. The average metal detectorist is after metallic things that have value. This is why metal detectors are built with “discriminator” circuits -to ignore pull-tabs and target things like coins. Relic hunters are after relics. Relics are most accurately defined as objects which survive from an earlier time and retain historical or sentimental interest. These two interests give the object a monetary value -as evidenced by browsing ads and articles in detectorist/digger magazines.

    Archaeologists, on the other hand, are after information. Often these “relics” (we call them artifacts) are among the many ways this information can be obtained. In nearly every single case, modern archaeologists relinquish their artifacts to whomever is legally entitled to the land -be it a private landowner or a local or federal government. And, more often than not, the artifacts we find, meticulously document, and catalog, are not wanted. We’re interested, you see, in sherds, broken glass, phytolyths, pollen, and a host of other things that looters and “diggers” pick over and discard without so much as a curious nod.

    “The Archaeologists point a finger at the hobbist and they try to convince the untrained that these so called amatures are stealing our history.”

    Close. A more accurate statement would be that archaeologists point their fingers at amateurs and hobbyists and try to convinced the untrained that they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. The bigger picture includes all the stuff they very often don’t even know how to spot: fire-cracked rock, debitage spreads, middens, soil discoloration, hearths, corprolites, human remains, animal remains, and many, many other archaeological features and artifact types that amateurs and hobbyists simply don’t think of. Its no coincidence that these features and artifacts have no monetary value AND they aren’t part of the “digger” retrieval target.

    “They think no one has the knowledge and therfore the rights to excavate a site containing relics but them. But private land is just that and if the owner gives permission for someone to recover relics that’s his right.”

    You clearly didn’t actually read my article. Or, if you did, you had difficulty comprehending it, for which I accept responsibility. I shall try to elucidate my position.

    No where did I say that “no one has the knowledge” nor did I say that “diggers” haven’t the right to excavate.

    However, I do acknowledge that most, if not nearly all, “diggers” lack sufficient knowledge to actually excavate. I also define “excavate” as the informed, careful, and meticulous removal of cultural artifacts and features for purposes of furthering scholarly knowledge of that culture.

    Given this definition, most, if not nearly all, “diggers” haven’t the right to excavate. They simply aren’t qualified. Nothing wrong with that. I haven’t the right to do root canals or remove gall bladders, regardless of how sharp I think my knife is or how keen my eye and steady my hand. I’m simply not informed.

    “Diggers” are not meticulous, careful, or informed. The best they can hope to do is dig up “relics” -leaving the majority of the site’s artifacts in the backfill (assuming they even back fill their holes), with the contexts completely lost -the levels they came from hopelessly jumbled in a pile of refuse.

    Sure. Many, perhaps even most, are digging on private lands. But many are not. I’ve personally observed the destruction of “diggers” -several idiots with shovels and metal rods, who made a mess of a Native American burial ground on public lands. They took intact pottery, discarding, the broken bits (and clearly bits they broke in their clumsy “dig”). They even removed some of the human remains. Shows like “American Digger” unintentionally make this sort of practice okay in the eyes of the ignorant.

    Let’s call a spade a spade….. Archaeologists use schools, museums and many other fronts to hunt sites containing relics.

    Complete and utter bullshit. You understand nothing of archaeology if you think that. Schools may be central in coordinating digs, museums may fund research, and artifacts of note might end up in them, but they are done so under the auspices of education. Educating future archaeologists, and educating the public -making the public aware of cultural history. In the past, museums were unscrupulous and “art” from around the world was collected, but those days are all but behind us. You can search my blog for “Stolen and Looted” for more information. Modern archaeologists have less interest in “relics” (a term of the ignorant, rather than the educated) and more interest in the bigger picture (see above).

    Many a Archaeologist has sold relics he has dug to help put himself through school, this I know for a fact.

    Name them. What archaeologist has done this? This is a completely fabricated and ignorant statement and I’m calling you on it. I’ll be very surprised if you can name a single archaeologist who has done this -and you said “many.” If you refuse to answer this point, then you prove everything I’ve said so far about the “digger” mentality: it is ignorant, uninformed, and undereducated and it misses the big picture.

    Ask yourself this…. why do the Archaeologists focus mainly on the Mississippian period and not much on the Woodland ? Because the Mississippian period has the pottery and other valuable relics.

    I don’t know that either premise is the case. What are the facts that support that the Mississippian is more studied than the Woodland? And, if this can be shown to be true, what then are all the variables? Could it be that Native American cultures are notoriously difficult to study due to their tendency to use materials that do not survive in the archaeological record? Textiles, wooden building materials, reed and straw baskets, small animal remains, etc. all decompose and degrade relatively quickly compared to fired clay, stone, and copper. It then becomes a problem of identifying the culture through its remains.

    Again, this is where the difference between a real archaeologist and a “digger” comes in: the archaeologist looks at a pot sherd or, if she’s lucky, an intact vessel, and sees a wealth of information. The “digger looks at a pot sherd and tosses it aside until he (it’s almost always a “he,” though I have a female friend who is a “digger” so not always) finds a vessel that is intact, and then he sees dollar signs. You can deny it. You can say it’s about the history. But ultimately he will attach a monetary value to it. Just ask any “digger” with a collection of pots and “arrow heads” how much they’re worth. His answer will be immediate. The archaeologist will either say “priceless” or “I don’t know.”

    When a site is dug and relics recovered guess who cherry picks the relics they want to keep for their own personal collection ….. your correct the Archaeologists.

    Bullshit. I know a lot of archaeologists and the only “relics” they own are a few broken bits of pottery that are used for diagnostic and teaching purposes and a few lithics that were either made by themselves or another flintknapper or so common even the diggers discard them. And, again, they’re nearly always used for diagnostic and teaching purposes and not on display.

    Truth be known most have better collections than the schools or museums that sponsor them.

    Complete and utter bullshit.

    As far as Archaeologists not destroying or raping history one need only to read the books and records of [insert random 19th century “antiquarian” or early archaeologist]….now what does that say about the Archaeologists ?

    It tells you that archaeologists are not proud of their history but have learned from it. It tells you that we’ve reached a point in scholarship where we understand how to research and conserve a culture without exploiting it or selling out on our principles. It tells us that modern archaeologists have less in common with antiquarians like Moore than modern “diggers.” Thanks for pointing that out and further making my case.

    Being educated and having a sheep skin does not mean you have the right to do what you also acuse others of.

    I completely agree. Which is why I don’t. Nor do any of my colleagues. If you believe otherwise you’re misinformed.

    Please don’t ignore my insistence that you name the archaeologist(s) that comprise the “many” who sell artifacts to pay their way through college. Either you have first-hand knowledge of this and can name this “many” or you don’t -in which case you’re making it up.

  8. Carl,
    Looks like I rattled your cage but opinions are like assholes…… everybody has one. All I wanted to do was point out some things to the average Joe out there. Fact is the person using a metal detector is usally a average guy that coin shoots on beaches, school grounds, parks where it is allowed. Sure the people using metal detectors have their rotten apples like the crew on American Digger (but the hobbist metal detectors were the first to throw rocks at and put the spot light on their actions). The people doing the metal detecting on the average level are not desturbing very much at all….you said it. They are concerned with digging metal and metals came long after the Mississippian period and you have to fast forward up until contact was made then the indian had metals. But from contact to present the metals are far beyond the reach of the metal detector. So when these novice hunters dig on private property they are not hurting anything you as a archaeologist should be concerned with.
    I could name some students that have sold relics but I’m not about to throw their names out to the public.
    The archaeologists and metal detector users will get alone just fine…..Looks like the MDing boys can weed out their bad ones. Good Bye “American Diggers”
    I enjoyed our little chat …. but there is no winner in this discussion you opinion is yours and mine is mine. Happy artifact hunting.

  9. W.J. Steppe Said Again:

    Fact is the person using a metal detector is usally a average guy that coin shoots on beaches, school grounds, parks where it is allowed.

    Metal detectorists really aren’t my focus, and I recognize that most are not harming archaeological sites. I was an avid metal detectorist when I was a teen and did exactly as you described: coin shooting in public parks, beaches, etc. These are not generally archaeologically significant sites. What “American Digger” (and “diggers” in general) do is pretend to excavate. They might start with metal detectors, but mostly they just start with a shovel at a place where surface finds have revealed “arrow heads” or broken pottery (to archaeologists, these are lithics and potsherds). They dig indiscriminately and hurriedly without regard for context or the truly important artifacts and features which I mentioned in my previous comment. They’re interested in the “relics” (as you call them) and not the data, information or truth about a culture that left them there.

    So when these novice hunters dig on private property they are not hurting anything you as a archaeologist should be concerned with.

    Not intentionally perhaps (though, in the case of historical sites, which archaeologists are definitely concerned with, they are), but there are many sites in which strata are very close together. Metal detectorists often look for civil war artifacts, which are historically valuable.

    I could name some students that have sold relics but I’m not about to throw their names out to the public.

    Then, I’m sorry to say, you’re part of the problem. You have an ethical duty to turn them in to the appropriate authorities. At the very least their Deans or the Provosts of their schools. They do not deserve to earn their degrees in archaeology if they are illegitimately removing artifacts, especially for personal gain. Even if they are on private lands. Ethical considerations for an archaeologist reach beyond the law and, while it might not be illegal, they’re betraying their own by doing so.

    On the other hand, I don’t think you really know anyone. I think it was an statement off the cuff. And, by the way, this is the only opinion I think I’ve made. The rest of my post and comments are based on fact and reality and I challenge you or anyone else to show it otherwise. I make this statement and disclaimer for “the average Joe” as you say.

    I enjoyed our little chat …. but there is no winner in this discussion you opinion is yours and mine is mine. Happy artifact hunting.

    I apologize if I seemed riled up. I do get a little passionate about this sort of thing, and I recognize the need to balance that passion with an effort to educate on why I disagree with the “digger” mentality. I mentioned earlier that I have a friend who considers herself a “digger” and this is something she came into via her family. I was able to get some insight into the “digger” culture, which is one that is efficient in finding artifacts that can be sold, and one that actually has large shows in convention centers and halls in much the same way gun shows are held. In this way, “relics” are bought and sold along with gear ranging from metal detectors to digging equipment.

    I may not have won you over to seeing it from my perspective, but I hope I’ve given you and others some things to think about.

  10. Ed Schneider Said

    Wow. Do you think you might be getting a bit too worked up about this?

    Yes. The question is, why aren’t you? 🙂

    As an archaeologist, I believe that I have an ethical obligation to not do what the “Diggers” do, but I don’t know how as a professional community we can expect the non-degreed population to live up to the same code. Of course if laws are broken, then I would want prosecution to the full extent of the law.

    We can educate, raise public awareness, draw attention to important issues (like “American Diggers” and “diggers” in general). We can write on blogs that get searched by Google. We can comment our opinions, support, and make factual statements on these blogs as well as news articles on state, local, and national news. We can start Change.org petitions. We can start Facebook groups. We can encourage our friends and family to not support shows like “American Diggers” and explain why. We can offer ourselves as speakers to Rotary clubs, schools, etc., explaining the importance of cultural artifacts and why it’s important to not remove them.

    These are sorts of things that raise awareness. The non-degreed public aren’t stupid. They just don’t see the reasoning. The non-degreed public can be turned into an informed public if we care enough to do it. I think the biologists, botanists, and climate scientists have done a remarkable job of this with regard to the green movement. One doesn’t need a degree in botany to get that destroying a species is bad for an ecosystem and, thus, the planet.

    And more to the point you were making, in both shows, the historic sites they were working on had questionable intact deposits. The artifacts were recovered a few inches below the surface, and in areas that appeared to be plowed or in creeks.

    That may be true, but how do you guarantee this to be the case? Or, if you can make that guarantee, how does one then ensure that the public gets that it’s okay to dig up artifacts and not worry about context as long as they’re shallow or plowed, etc. In addition, I’ve read some very good literature on the viability of sites in plowed fields. It turns out that there’s still much to gain even from this since plowing is a generally predictable variable.

    I agree that they are not amateur archaeologists. (In fact, a New York Times article about the shows erroneously labels them as that.) But I think that “raping the land” is a bit harsh.

    Perhaps. And I hope so. But I’ve been at sites where it was very accurate as a descriptor. My fear is that shows like this will exacerbate an already existing problem in the world, which is the trade of illicit cultural artifacts.

    Thanks for dropping by, Ed. I’m interested in more of what you have to say on the topic and hope you’ll visit again.

  11. Show is a fake ..come on!!! Relics with no rust 150 yrs old in creek bed??? I am a detectorist not a looter or thief i hunt private land with permission. I do not leave big craters as alot claim 3 to 5 inches is my normal depth i hunt ..alot of these relics will rust away in time in the ground ..i also hunt indian relics in plowed fields ..surface hunt only and if i did dig in field how am i disturbing the grounds if its been plowed for 50 yrs and if i didnt pick up that artifact would the next round of plows shatter it all to hell??? Archeolgist complain about private land that one they will never gain permission to be on ..two dont have enough state or federal funds to operate on federal or state land to find everything in the first place on that said land …leave private land and hobby alone and worry about all the other stuff you need to deal with ..not against archeology at all …lot of knowledge has and will come from it ..

  12. Archaeologist alway say its disturbing the ground ..yes i believe looters as i call them too, raiding indian burial mounds, going on federal and state protected sites and destroying documented ground and sites should be arrested …but back to the facts we get from archaeologist ..are they not same as doctors, mechanics, appraisers ect. Put 5 on same site and all will have a different theory …most of it is theory anyway and thats been proven …again all archeologist should not be considered bad nor should the relic hunters or detectorist……

    s, appraisers,ect.??? Put 5 on same job and all going to report different theorie s about. the
    site they sre on …and

  13. back to the facts we get from archaeologist ..are they not same as doctors, mechanics, appraisers ect. Put 5 on same site and all will have a different theory …most of it is theory anyway and thats been proven

    I don’t think you know the definition of theory as a scientist might use it. The lay-person will say “theory” when what they really mean is hypothesis or guess. For an archaeologist, theory is the conceptual framework by which he or she goes about obtaining data. In general, however, the data retrieved are not different -its the interpretations of these data which can differ. Marxists will interpret the data with a eye toward how societies develop modes of production; processualists will rely heavily on hypotheses and testing with an expectation of arriving at a close approximation of the truth as a result of the evidence; post-processualists treat data as though all hypothesis testing is automatically biased by the researcher/archaeologist; and so on.

    None are necessarily wrong or right and, indeed, there is much to be gained from an understanding of these and other theoretical frameworks. But the data are the data. My own interpretation is subject to peer review and, if I’ve reported all the data, anyone can apply a different theoretical framework and, perhaps, a different interpretation will result.

    But I’ve been at more than one archaeological site where there were more than 5 archaeologists on hand. And you know what? We didn’t disagree on the basic facts of the site. It’s hard to interpret most things differently when it comes to raw data. A discolored level of matrix (dirt) has a given Munsel value that can be agreed on. A potsherd has characteristics that can likewise be objectively established (shape, color, slip style, material, etc.). A hearth can be objectively placed in space and time using a total station and radiocarbon dating the level its found at. These are not things that are so theoretical that “5 [archaeologists] on the same site […] will have a different theory.”

    I’m very sorry to say it, but the average hobbyist and the average metal detectorist simply doesn’t have the expertise to do more than shoot coins and surface collect arrowheads. But I do not dispute that it is perfectly legal for them to do so on private lands where they have permission. Indeed, it is completely legal for them to scrape the land with a backhoe and sift it through a series of screens if they so choose if they’re on private lands with permission.

    What I am also saying, however, is that this legality doesn’t make it right or ethical. But I recognize that these are ethical considerations that I can’t expect the hobbyist or even many “diggers” to understand if they aren’t aware of all the angles. Part of me would like to see legislation in place that prohibits even private landowners from abusing cultural resources on their property. Except this would probably not be Constitutional. Instead, it might be preferable to raise the public consciousness on the issue of cultural heritage and how important it is to protect even the smallest sites for proper evaluation -an evaluation that may or may not include excavation.

    Entire cultures have probably been lost to us because of our inattention. We scrape the land away and install buildings and freeways. We inundate valleys with water by damming rivers. We put value on “relics” and the only thing left of a culture is on Ebay or a museum of “art” where provenance reads, “from the private collection of Mr. Big Donor.” Had we the opportunity to see the artifacts (not “relics,” but material remains -artifacts) in the place, position, and condition they were last deposited, we stand a better chance of piecing together the culture in much the same way forensic anthropologists do on shows like CSI.

    I didn’t get, however, your statement that “archaeologists are not the same as doctors, mechanics, appraisers, etc.” I’m not sure what you mean by that. Of course they aren’t. They’re archaeologists. Indeed these occupations are all very different from each other. But I suspect you had a different meaning.

  14. The only thing I can speak to being BS on this show are the ridiculous prices they show that they get a megaladon shark tooth that goes for 250 bucks anywhere on the web and a rusted barrel of a Kentucky rifle that is about 5 inches under ground goes for 3500 come on oh and while I am on un realistic things they hit a water line made of pvc about 6 inches deep in Detroit this show is just fake on too many levels

  15. Show is fake. I am a megladon collector. They had a show about digging in Virginia and found a poor tooth they valued at $2500. Value was max of $200. Totally made up!!!

  16. Carl – I’ve gotta say that you have an incredible amount of patience. Far more than I have. Thanks for trying to inform folks about what archaeology is…whether or not people get it.

    Far, far more patience than I have.

  17. my problem is that the show is FAKED.

    Finding a crusader cross from the 13th century inside of a chevrolet aircleaner housing convieniently underneath a concrete slab.. Oh, and random spanish pieces of eight and silver coins
    along with it, NONE of which would remotely be in the correct time frame or global region to end up inside a chevrolet air cleaner assembly on a factory site-
    This is complete nonsense..

    The show is SALTED. They are CLEARLY SALTING these finds in most cases and I would be interested in tracking down some of these “buyers” shown eagerly parting with 5 grand to possess some rocks pulled out of a creek. I doubt anyone is going to easily find a buyer for those alleged ‘artifacts’ without a LOT of effort, and the price range would be in the scale of 50 bucks, not thousands for a stone with a ground down center purported to be a corn grinding mortar.

    These fraudsters are clearly planting or bringing with them some ‘sweeteners’ to pad out their finds of a wrench, and a beat up old auto grill, and anyone who has done any metal detecting knows that there is a lot of days you find NOTHING of note and certainly nothing of value.

    Unless you are raiding historical sites with known payloads of artifacts, you are not going to be able to make a living doing this, and to suggest they are pulling in 15k each trip is nonsensical.

    They could not find enough, without the TV sponsorship, to pay for gas, hotels and their bills, using this method.
    My guess is, they are SALTING virtually all the more desireable finds, and then using the payments to homeowners of 2k or under as a cheap means to gain traction for the show to stay in production.

    Anyone who sees the show knows they are guaranteed 1200-2000 grand for letting their property be used in production, and this salting of a couple items and 2 grand to the homeowner is simply the cost of doing business for the shows producers..

  18. I agree that the show is a fake and an embarrassment. Then again the “profession” of archeology is also a fake. It is an “invented” profession for the purpose of making a salary.

  19. Invented? Really? I suppose it is “invented” though not through the origin you ignorantly claim. All professions are “inventions” in that they are social constructs designed by humans to achieve a social purpose of one sort or another. But if you think archaeology was invented so that someone could merely obtain a salary, you could not be further from reality. Certainly it would be nice to be paid to do what you enjoy, and there are many who earn their salaries, but many archaeologists (if not most!) retire in a position that is far from wealthy. Sure there are other professions one can go into that make more money (construction, real estate, computer repair/IT, … hell there are probably fry cooks that make more than some archaeologists!).

    Your comment is clearly one of hate and disrespect and not one of academic merit or discourse in reality. Congratulations. You made a fool of yourself.

  20. Carl I totally agree with everythingyou are saying. I install andrestore hardwood floors for a living and I think its ethically wrong for anyone but a certified hardwood floor dude to walk on a hardwood floor. Only we know what products to use in cleaning them, and refinishing them. I see idiots walking on old hardwood with dirty shoes all the time and its a shame to disturb part of history like this. Old growth can no longer be found so we must stop the madness. I feel your pain bro.

  21. I agree with CF. The way they are described, “Diggers” are not archaeologists but looters of the worst kind. Their activities should be stopped, before they encourage more to imitate them.
    A wedding ring found somewhere is only that – a ring.
    However, a ring is found in the finger of a female skeleton in a cemetery tells a different story than if it were found in the rubble of a burned log hut. It is another story if it is found in the finger of an Indian or a Caucasian skeleton and entirely another if found in a bag of other items next to a man.
    The diggers who pry these items from the ground preserve the item but trample on the story it has to tell, destroying it forever. Archaelogists are the forensic team of history. Like the police, they should be called whenever an artifact is found. No one should be allowed on a “history scene” before they have collected all the evidence.

  22. . The Laws are what make it Bad and the laws are bad . I live in Ecuador more stuff here than all of the US . But here you have the same stupid laws That is if you find it it s not yours its the governments . So what does the poor native do that finds a big gold artifact. He melts it into a brick and its now legal.
    So the dumb belief that people will obey the law is just plain Dumb. If you made it all legal you would have more recovered and it would be done slowly even buy the armature because he does not have to hurry before someone fines him.
    This article shows a hole just left of course you think they are going to stay around smooth it all out and get caught you made what they do Illegal.
    My beef with it is the scholars and educated class think they are entitled to something everyone has a right to so change the laws and you will see people change. I know where there are many sites with much wealth . I won’t touch them and I sure as hell won’t tell the professionals where it is they are supposed to know. I do allot or research down here and i’m sure I know more about ancient peoples than anyone in this country.
    My understanding why there is so much secrecy about all this really is because the Government really does not want us to understand wht the Ancient societies were doing and understood. That’s all I say but from what I have learned here we are completely in the Dark and they want to keep it that way.

  23. This is, I think, typical of a strain of populist anti-intellectualism that runs deep in American culture and which rejects the value of education or experts as elitism, as if reality can be voted on. If Ric Savage develops a serious medical condition, would he forgo a hospital or professional physician and just ask his neighbor to treat him to save some money? Does he think teenagers should be allowed to drive without any training under the guidance of an experienced driver? If not, why then would the training behind a professional archaeologist be discounted? Savage is also, I suspect, confusing antiquarianism — the market for historic items — with archaeology which, as Carl points out, is about understanding the role artifacts played in people’s lives, and that requires understanding their context, the manner and environment in which they were found.

  24. As a student currently working towards my Ph.D in classical studies I’ve had the opportunity to research archeological methods and participate in a proper dig. Archeologists themselves wrestle with the fact that the science of what they do is destructive in nature and for that reason every step of the process is carefully planned and recorded in order to preserve the context of any artifact or feature found.

    This show glorifies treasure hunting. I fear that others who watch this show may wish to profit from the same activities without any concern for the damage they would be doing. I’m not familiar with the antiquity laws of the United States but I can comment that in many other countries preventative laws have been put into place to stem such barbaric actions. Though these laws can be frustrating (as they slow down the excavation process) they also make it far more difficult and illegal for amateurs to profit from such activities.

    This is not a job suited for thrill seekers with dollar signs obscuring their vision and judgement. Please leave this work to the professionals who really have a passion for piecing together the history of those how came before us.

  25. I can see the point to the argument and I agree about the importance of data collection but never at the cost of peoples rights. There are countless horrific act’s “In regard to archaeology” made ever day, wether it be private or social development it happens at a rate to fast for anyone to keep up. Singling out “diggers” is verry Hippocratic to me.

    There have always been treasure hunters and there always will be in various shapes. I love archaeology but I cannot give in to this argument cause I want be live my life freely but people who think they know better will always push for lobbys and laws that seem right at the time but have negativity effects on the human race as a whole.

    Red tape, we dont need more in this world.

    Please forgive my horrific spelling and punctuation, and all the best for stopping this show “cause it is staged /fake in the first place” but know support for encroaching on peoples freedoms.

  26. Sorry Carl but I agree with George. Yes, he is a annoying character but besides that I enjoy learning about the items he is pulling out of the ground, water etc… The Egyptian coins that have been pulled out of the ground seem to be holding up pretty good from centuries ago. Having sold antiques before I have seen several items going back to the 15th century that have stood the test of time. Universities across the Country have items in their own Campus Basements just sitting there like discarded trash. These items are doing NOBODY any good in the ground. A good piece will more than likely end up in a Private Collection where it is cared for anyway. Should we just shut down those who work and search for Precious Metals and Raw Gemstones also ? No ! With all the Garbage that is on TV ( Honey Boo Boo – Jersey Shore ) for examples, isn’t it good to have TV shows that encourage Hobbies such as Metal Detecting, Panning for Gold and Gem Mining while also learning about History at the same time ? Every child I have introduced into these hobbies have thorougly enjoyed them and can’t wait to go again. From what I have seen and heard, it’s just another thing the Government and it’s Agencies wants to shut down. Take away more Hobbies from kids ! See how that’s working ?

  27. I think that there is a place for anthropology and they do very good work,I am happy they do what they do.They help to save American history.What I don’t like is that they also think that they are the only ones who should.I am not an anthroploest,but I love looking for history as well,yes I like to keep one or two things that I fine and giving the rest to a museum if there is one.I also may keep all od it if there is not a museum and then I go to schools or town talks nights I like to talk about what I fine.You don’t have the right to tell me to move a side that you can do better,I might ask you to come along but I will be the one leading the dig.

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