I felt compelled to discuss a new show that the National Geographic Channel is going to be airing called "Nazi War Diggers". I enjoy io9 and thought that a post about battlefield archaeology and the role of educational television channels might be worth reading for some people.
The National Geographic channel has been airing a show called "Diggers" for a little while now. Like similar shows on other networks these shows feature amateur metal detector enthusiasts digging up historic artifacts on private lands (the only place they can legally do this). Despite purporting to be about "understanding the past" Diggers shows the monetary value of artifacts to collectors. Archaeologists everywhere have written letters detailing the myriad ethical and scientific problems with shows like this. The basic summary is this:
1. The goal of the "diggers" appears to be almost exclusively about the monetary value of the items they find. Putting a collector's price on the artifacts they find would not be necessary if these items were going to be curated at a museum for the public good.
2. Even assuming these enthusiasts have the best of intentions (which they obviously don't) they have no archaeological training. Simply recovering artifacts is meaningless; much of their value is bound to their context. Once an artifact has been removed that context is destroyed. If proper notes weren't taken, no one in the future will be able to understand the significance of an artifact fully.
So Diggers is awful, destructive, and actively harms the public good. National Geographic channel knows this. It's been explained quite clearly by archaeologists and anthropologists much better than I can. Now the channel has filmed a show called "Nazi War Diggers". Aside from the ridiculous name, we know only a little about the show. A clip of the show was posted to YouTube and swiftly taken down after the overwhelmingly negative response it received. Someone recorded a clip of the show which is available at the end of this video made by Archaeosoup discussing these problems.
What you see these guys doing is yanking a femur out of the ground and holding it up to their body to figure out what bone it is. As has been pointed out, nothing about what these guys are doing in that grave would meet any archaeological standards for anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that the cast of the show claims to be doing what they are doing with the permission of host governments and in cooperation with the Russian and German war graves commissions they do not appear to be doing proper site documentation, mapping, or excavation. In blunt terms, what they're doing is desecrating a grave. Even if this is the grave of a German soldier from World War II it is unacceptable for anyone to normalize the desecration of graves, much less a supposedly educational channel.
I understand that the National Geographic channel is a business. I understand that in order to maintain viewers and their revenue stream they have to entertain. I do not, however, understand how desecrating people's graves makes for compelling TV. I have already voiced my intention to boycott the National Geographic channel and other channels in the Fox family to the best of my ability if this show is broadcast.
Conservation of the past and proper treatment of the dead is an important topic for me. I've considered writing future posts about archaeology and forensic anthropology. Let me know in the comments if that's something that the O-deck would like to see.