Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Where have I been?

Hello Everyone!

          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 their artifacts.
            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.         

1 comment:

  1. 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.


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