The Ethics of Historical Archaeology
Virtually all historical archaeologists are fascinated by seemingly prosaic things like ceramics, bones, and buttons…
Yes, the King and Ringy, that duo you love to hate will be kicking off the third season of Diggers, July 20th on The National Geographic Channel. What? They’re still in business!? All the other such shows – Savage Family Diggers,Dig Fellas, and Dig Wars, have all gone by the wayside. Curiously, Diggers has actually been a hit for the NGC. Even with that ratings success, things will be a bit different this season.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the National Geographic Society wants to win back its brand and they have turned to professional archaeologists for help. In cooperation with Half Yard Productions, the producers ofDiggers, both the SHA and the SAA assembled panels to review the rough cuts of each of the episodes for season 3. These panels made comments, on what they saw and these were often incorporated into the final episodes. They also compensated the panels for their time and effort. The SHA panel put this money ($3000) into the student travel fund.
So, what has changed? First, they have eliminated the dollar value assessments of the artifacts that are recovered. This has been one of the main objections from the archaeological community and we told the production company that it was a deal breaker if it stayed. Still, this was a huge concession on their part since valuation of the finds is the “payoff” on popular shows such as Pawn Stars, Antiques Roadshow, and Storage Wars. We will see how much it is missed by the non-professional audience.
Second, they have hired a new on-screen archaeologist, Marc Henshaw. Marc has a PhD in Industrial Archeology and Heritage from Michigan Tech. He owns his own archaeological consulting firm, Nemacolin Archaeological Services and writes an archaeological blog www.archaeologydude.com where he shares his insights into the everyday life and mind of a professional archaeologist. Accordingly, he subscribes to a holistic stakeholder approach to archaeology. His blog proclaims “that if you can’t make the archaeological sites important to the community, they will never be worth anything to that community either from a heritage standpoint or a preservation standpoint.” Seems like the right guy for the show and there is a chemistry developing between he and metal detectorists.
Third, archaeology is becoming a bigger part of each episode. Marc gets a respectable amount of airtime serving as the straight man to the antics the diggers. He is often shown discussing the research strategy, recording provenience and relating the significance of the finds at the end of each program. There are frequent text reminders that they have permission to search on private property and it is made explicit that the artifacts remain with the landowners or local museum/historical society.
Finally, they have sought out real archaeologists to partner with when possible. This has proven to be no small feat as most archaeologists were understandably reluctant to have them or the disruption of their cameras, on their sites. Still they managed to work with a few archaeologists this season and these proved to be the best episodes. In fact, the season begins with the boys volunteering at Montpelier and being shown the cooperative ropes by our own Matt Reeves (who has shared about his public metal detecting programs here before). It is worth watching.
Is it a good show now? That depends upon what you want. It is entertaining, the backstories and graphics are good, and they visit some interesting places. The boys are still over-the-top silly, but apparently that is part of their charm. And honestly, many of the shows on PBS have bought into the cult of personality (e.g. History Detectives, This Old House, Secrets of the Dead). Diggers may not be your favorite show, but at least I don’t think you will hate it now. If you do, there’s always CSPAN.