America’s Heritage is Not for Sale

I wanted to create a post in order to draw more attention to two American television shows that are currently promoting the looting and destruction of archaeological and historical sites around the country. There is a growing movement among archaeologists, history buffs, and academics who are sickened by what they have seen and read.

The first show, airing on the Spike TV network, called “American Diggers” follows a former pro-wrestler turned relic-hunter as he and his crew pay-off landowners to hunt for treasure on their property. The goal of the show is to sell whatever artifacts the unsystematic digs turn up for a profit. As a trained archaeologist with two degrees in Anthropology, it hurts me to see our collective heritage defiled by none other than mercenaries. I first heard of this television series through Professor Lynne Goldstein (@LynneGoldstein on Twitter) of MSU who tweeted about it. A few dozen retweets and mentions later, Kristina Wyckoff (@kcelwyckoff) created a petition at called Stop SpikeTV From Looting Our Collective Past! which collected over 12,000 signatures in the first four days of its existence. Please consider adding your signature and/or writing to the producers of the show.

The second, which airs on [gasp] the National Geographic Channel (@NatGeoChannel), simply called “Diggers”, feels like a personal betrayal due to the Society’s departure from their normally ethical practices as stewards of American heritage. Promoting a show which encourages amateur looting of archaeological sites (very similar to the “American Digger” show) is a very reckless and irresponsible move by the National Geographic Society. This program was brought to my attention by archaeologist Sarah Miller (@semiller88); I have since witnessed a large number of professionals and archaeologists who have boycotted the show and are speaking out. A petition against the show (Stop Airing the Television Show Diggers!) was created by Jeffrey Baker and is quickly gathering signatures. If you feel as strongly as I do about this subject, please let National Geographic and the producers of the show know that you do not approve.

While the permits, grants, approvals, and bureaucratic red tape involved in processual archaeology may be a huge pain in the butt, these things are here for a reason. Once archaeological sites are dug-up, artifacts are removed, and natural provenience is destroyed, they are gone forever.

See also: The Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) statement on The Ethics of Historical Archaeology and the show “American Diggers”


4 thoughts on “America’s Heritage is Not for Sale

  1. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with how archaeology works (pay attention Spike TV execs), taking cultural artifacts out of the ground, removing them from their context, and selling them for profit is not only classified as looting, it is also disrespectful and damaging to the historical record. In fact doing it on Federal land, battlefields and historic sites is a very serious crime and will land you in prison for a great number of years . So why on earth would anyone consider putting that on television?

  2. 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.

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