Article & Photography by Joshua Eller | Owl Staff
Imagine that you’re digging in your garden and you stumble upon an ancient shark tooth. Would you keep it? Maybe you would sell it to make some easy money?
These very questions are raising a lot of controversy by two shows: American Digger on Spike TV and Diggers on National Geographic Channel.
Both shows follow modern-day relic hunters as they search battlefields and historic sites in hopes of becoming rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of America’s history.
These programs have stirred up a lot of anger in both the archeological and preservation communities for this very reason. They declare that these shows glorify looting and actually degrade the historic context surrounding them artifact. Iowa’s State Archaeologist John Doershuk shares, “The shows make no effort to document where anything came from or make any associations between the artifacts that are found.”
According to Steve Lekson, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, “We can learn a great deal about pasts we would otherwise never know by studying sites themselves and artifacts (simple or spectacular) in their original contexts at sites. When treasure hunters loot sites, ripping artifacts out of the ground, we lose any chance of understanding context—what was with what, its date, how it was used, what it can tell us about history—all so somebody can have a trinket on their mantelpiece.”
While the procedures employed by both shows are frowned upon, their methods are considered legal because they receive permission to dig on private property; it is a felony to go relic hunting on federal property. Just because you have permission doesn’t always make it right.
Some critics have said that what the shows do is no different then what archeologists did to King Tut’s Tomb. It’s not the same; they didn’t go into the tomb like Vikings on shore leave, taking everything they could, and post it on eBay. They studied the tomb, and the items that were discovered are on display in museums where anyone can view them. The artifacts are not sitting in a collector’s house where only they and their friends can see them.
Ultimately, it is left up to the individuals to decide which is more important: money or understanding our past.