Digging our Society into an even deeper hole

Science, the official (and highly respected) publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, picks up the controversy about Diggers, a new show on the National Geographic Channel.

Archaeologists are mounting a campaign against two new cable TV shows that they say encourage and glamorize looting of American archaeological sites.

On 20 March, Spike TV will premiere a new show called American Digger, while a show called Diggers on the National Geographic Channel made its debut 28 February. Both shows “promote and glorify the looting and destruction of archaeological sites,” Society for American Archaeology (SAA) President William F. Limp wrote in a message posted earlier this week to the SAA listserv.

… After viewing the first two episodes of Diggers, Iowa’s State archaeologist John Doershuk posted a review to the American Cultural Resources Association listserv, in which he lamented: “The most damaging thing, I think, about this show is that no effort was made to document where anything came from or discussion of associations—each discovered item was handled piece-meal.”

… The archaeological community is trying to make its views known. In addition to Facebook petitions, professional societies such as SAA have sent letters of condemnation to Spike TV and National Geographic. (Copies of the SAA letters are on its Web site.) Limp said Tuesday on the SAA listserv that Spike TV had not yet responded to its concerns. He wrote that National Geographic indicated that it would place a disclaimer into its show that affirms there are laws in place protecting archaeological and historic sites.

Despite the treasure-hunting theme of both shows, neither appears to be violating federal and state regulations against unlawful obtainment of antiquities. The on-air fortune seekers are not venturing into National Parks or other federal lands, but dig on private property. If property owners sign off, then it is legal–landowners can do whatever they choose with artifacts found on their land. That’s the argument Shana Tepper, spokesperson for Spike TV, made to ScienceInsider. “Our show is shot on private property,” she said. “They’re getting artifacts that are otherwise rotting in the ground.”

But archaeologists remain concerned. “These programs encourage looting,” University of Colorado, Boulder, archaeologist Steve Lekson wrote in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. National Geographic’s imprimatur also rankles some. “Its reputation as a credible scientific and educational institution” effectively “normalizes” the looting aspect of its show, says Washington State University archaeologist William Lipe. …

From the comments on the AAAS article:

Matthew Landt 
FYI: this post was copied from an archaeological forum  
“Nat Geo TV is a Fox station that purchased the rights to use the NGS name. Still, NGS has a “standards” board that reviews programs, and this one got by them – so they bear some responsibility. If you saw the show, the disclaimer that ran at the end was a result of the pressure that a number of us placed on Nat Geo (we asked that they pull the program). However, the disclaimer was disingenuous because the metal detecting at the Montana territorial prison (the show’s first segment) was, in fact, illegal – it’s Montana state property and they never had permission from the state to dig there. And the show was warned of this before it aired. The state of Montana’s Dept. of Corrections is now considering its options.”  

Read the whole thing here.


Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, is wreaking havoc with our Society's good name.

John Fahey National Geographic

  • Cdwidea

    give me a break, metal detecting in public places is absolutely legal and archaeologists don’t get to decide for america where people can metal detect. This whole thing is ridiculous.

    • It sounds like the first show was shot on public property (in Montana, per the comment, above). And it’s clear these two “diggers” are going after a lot more than coins people lost at the beach. 

      But to me, the question isn’t really whether Diggers is a good show or a bad one; it’s whether or not National Geographic has any control over what’s appearing on the Channel. NGS recently issued a press release about accusations made by Greenpeace re where the Society buys its paper. But I haven’t seen any public response to the Diggers controversy, even though some pretty high profile organizations are objecting to it. Why do you think NG is so silent?

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  • Wahela9
    • Wahela9 – 

      Thanks for your note. And yes, I’d heard rumblings on the web re: the illegality of “Diggers.” I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t really parse the details. But please keep me posted on the legal proceedings, if any. It’d be a nightmare to have the National Geographic Society dragged into court for something that really under the purview of the National Geographic Channel, which is majority owned (and controlled) by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. 

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