Monday, February 27, 2012

American Digger, American Looter

I'm not usually too big on promoting causes, but this is one that I believe some of you might care to sponsor...

The "Spike" television network is currently promoting a show, "American Digger," revolving around a group of metal detectors who uncover and sell artifacts. Metal detecting, in all but the most strictly controlled fashions, is looting. It's no better than the grave-robbing that stripped (and continues to strip) Egyptian tombs of untold cultural antiquities. Because it is done without regard for context (the relationships of an artifact to its environment and to other artifacts) it irreversibly destroys any information we might have gleaned about the past and leaves us with a dirty old object of no interpretive value. Moreover, the "crew" featured on "American Digger" will sell their finds on the market. Luckily, most of their discoveries will not be of substantial monetary value, and the company, "American Savage" does not operate on the same scale as the worst offenders, like, for instance, Odyssey Marine. But promoting this sort of behavior on television advocates for the wholesale destruction of sites for monetary gain.

The show may attract some viewers. If nothing else, we Americans love a good get-rich-quick story. It's part of the reason for the proliferation of cheap antiquing shows in recent years. But what the network is hoping its viewers forget is that artifacts are our collective cultural property. Yes, an American digger owns the objects he finds, but their story belongs to all of us. And when we encourage such incompetent and unscientific digging, we are encouraging people to steal from us. We are encouraging the rape of history.

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