Well it's been a few
months since my last blog post and many of you know the reason why. I became
the onscreen production archaeologist on the National Geographic show Diggers.
For those of you who read my blog you know that I was an outspoken critic of
the show specifically in the way that the digging… or um looting of artifacts to
some, was portrayed. I was approached by Michael Baker International an engineering/environmental firm out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the on
camera role and to keep all activity of the Diggers crew within Department of
Interior standards for archaeological survey and excavation. I want to stress,
and this is where my colleagues come in, the show has had an archaeological
firm behind it since Season 2. Bryan Cunning (Principal Investigator for Michael Baker International) has been providing consulting services as the Supervising Archaeologist since Season 2 and has ensured that all artifacts were recovered and recorded according to professional standards. Although Bryan only appeared a few times on-screen, Mike Durkin (Archaeologist with Michael Baker International) was the Production Archaeologist providing field recordation, on-camera assessments, and support. During Season 2, Diggers participated in excavations conducted by RISHPO, Charles Ewen (SHA President), and at Fort Adams (Rhode Island State Park). None of this would have been possible without the support of Michael Baker archaeologists, who remained mostly behind the scenes...it is, of course, a show about two other guys. I was merely coming in for the third season as a
full-time archaeologist who possessed a PhD and over 17 years of field experience
and several years teaching at a university level.
The production company
really didn’t want me. They feared I’d hold them to task and make shooting the
show difficult. I can tell you that staying within the standards is easier than
trying to skirt them. Half Yard (through the advice of Michael Baker) approached Trimble about
sponsoring a GPS handheld so that all artifacts could be marked at
sub-centimeter accuracy and plotted in GIS. After my field recordation and on-camera assessments, Bryan conducted all the artifact processing, analysis, report writing, and ensured the land owners received
Is this the perfect system
for showing archaeology on a reality TV series like Diggers? No. Can this
create a foundation where one community (archaeologists) and another community
(metal detectorists) can work together? Absolutely. Common ground is what we
seek, and have to seek. There are no laws protecting cultural resources on
private land. The show never went on any property that was not privately held and always
with landowner written consent. Archaeologists have to accept the fact there
are people with metal detectors. We cannot lament their existence or try to
stifle their use. Fathers take their sons or daughters out metal detecting,
people comb beaches with metal detectors, and looters raid sites with them. All
of them are passionate about history even the ones who feel they are entitled
to own it. It is then up to us, the archaeologist to guide the narrative. For
too long has organizations like the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) and SHA
(Society for Historical Archaeology) called for a public presence of
archaeologists to engage the public about the value of cultural resources. We
are to be activists leading the charge in the public’s eye as the holders of
the arcane knowledge of the past! That is a pervasive sentiment among our
profession. Who owns the past? The archaeologists? We feel we’re the most
qualified to interpret it. The metal detectorists? Many have a deep connection
to the land and feel as if history can be owned or commoditized.
The Diggers show has
introduced me to both camps now and everyone in between. I met hardened looters who
keep what they find and distrust archaeologists. I’ve met archaeologists who
keep what they find in white storage boxes in backrooms ready for their “analysis”.
Diggers places us in a unique position. For one, we as archaeologists should
have had shows like this a long time ago. Instead we attend conferences and
write papers waiting for the production companies to come to us and talk about
public engagement. Now there is a controversial show where we must be reactionary.
I disagree, this is the moment we need to seize. This is the moment we can help
metal detectorists and others in their community become stewards of the past like we
are. We can educate by creating programs like the one Matt Reeves established at Montpelier, Virginia, using metal detector enthusiasts to help interpret a site. Both communities can
work together to explore and preserve the past.
I'm a Rust Belt Industrial Archaeologist. I excavate in urban settings in the search to understand the people and the places they worked. I don't have sponsors or funding. Instead I lead a ragtag team of archaeologists, professionals, students, and volunteers on a mission to try and piece together the shattered remains of the past...
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Where have I been?
Posted by Archaeology Dude at 2:30 PM
Labels: Archaeology, artifacts, CRM, Diggers, Metal detector, Michael Baker International, National Geographic Diggers, SAA, SHA, TV archaeology
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Hi Marc, I like the perspective you present in this blog. I guess I’ve always stood somewhere in the middle in regard to the subject. On one hand, having an archaeological background, I’m of course in agreement with the sentiment expressed by the archaeological community. Archaeological sites are precious, non-renewable cultural resources, and should be protected and preserved whenever and wherever possible. At the same time, I am also okay with the idea of certain, common artifacts, (acquired from private property with the permission of the landowner, preferably from exposed areas, and not the looting of sites), being documented and preserved as necessary, and then held in private collections where they are admired and appreciated for what they are (instead of stored in a box in some backroom somewhere to be forgotten (and eventually lost), appreciated by no one, and doing no one any good. How to do this without encouraging the illicit sale of antiquities and the wholesale looting of archaeological sites is the issue for me. From reading your blog, and the SHA memo it seems that you and Bryan, and Keith with the cooperation of other professionals are addressing the issue well. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete