One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

To dig or not to dig…

I was thinking today about how many individuals do not understand what archaeologists have to deal with on a daily basis with the public. The public, especially Americans, are enthralled with the idea of archeology and the digging up history, but they do not understand the ethics, and the work that goes into discovering and excavating a site.

The public is fascinated with artifacts and objects that are not from their life time, so it makes sense that this fascination has made its way into the popular culture of television shows and movies. The general public is interested in artifacts that could explain their cultural history, but what is neglected in popular televisions show is how an object is defined within the historical context. Shows like Diggers and American Diggers have turned the discipline of preserving history into making profit off of looting, and the archaeological community has the right to speak out and be upset against shows like these that discredit the discipline.

I have never watched an episode of either show until this assignment and decided to check it out and as a result I can see why the archaeological community has every right to be upset about television shows like these. It is a fact that there are many undiscovered historical sites in the United States and many of which will not be discovered because they are on private land. Quoted in the article The Ethics of Historical Archaeology, Rick Savage from the American Diggers claims that they are recovering the artifacts and protecting the past before it is gone. But how is it preserving the past and protecting when artifacts are being sold for profit? In the Principles of Archaeological Ethics: principle three discusses the buying and selling of artifacts contributes to destruction of historic context of the archaeological record, if exploited for profit it destroys archaeological sites and its historic value in the context of the archaeological record. Artifacts that are being sold for profit no longer hold the historic value that they once had when in the original archaeological context of site. How is it saving history when it is being sold and just kept away and forgotten about? As Kathleen Deagan put it in her article, an artifact without a context becomes just an aesthetic object, just another piece of artwork with a forgotten story.

These individuals who claim they are ‘treasure hunters’ or ‘diggers’ but they are just glorified looters who are sending a message to the public to encourage looting for one’s own profit.  Television shows and movies like Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, and National Treasure, have made the discipline sexy, adventurous, and unrealistic but it has opened opportunities to educate the public on the archaeological ethics and preservation laws if done correctly as stated in the article National Geographic’s Diggers Redux. With National Geographic, they responded in reaction to what would satisfy the public not thinking of the consequences of the reactions from the archaeological community in response to the television show, as a result they did pull their show and were willing to work with archaeologists to make it ethical. With this kind of willingness to find compromises and solutions to be ethical within the archaeological community, it is possible to have television shows that promote the ethics of archaeology and actually have individuals who are professionals on site. One of the many jobs an archaeologist has on a site is to talk to tourist about the background of artifacts and how findings relate to the site.

A site is a non-renewable source and there are limited similar sites and the destruction of these sites leads to the destruction of the historical record. Anyone can claim that they know the history of the site when Wikipedia is available to the general public, but to have the accreditation of a degree is when it can be taken seriously. There is a need to have a good balance between ethics and entertainment when it comes to shows involving archaeology principles and the preservation of artifacts.

American DiggersThis show is completely unethical and stupid, but we must remember that this is Spike TV and they are catering to a specific audience. But here is a sneak peak at an episode, and I will let you decide for yourself about the ethics of this show.


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