This week’s material deals with ethics in the archaeological community and among the wider community. As part of the material we watched an episode of the show Diggers. In the episode two guys who enjoy the hobby of metal detecting, search for remnants of the period of Kansas history known as Bleeding Kansas. In their search for artifacts from this period they visit three locations looking for artifacts from people on the Underground Railroad, a blacksmith shop, and soldiers. The episode brings many ethical questions into focus as the two men dig for pieces of history. The first concern is that at the end of the episode, both men make unsupported claims to have found the first bullet fired in the Civil War. These claims can be very misleading to many people and does not promote good stewardship of the archaeological record. The second concern is that the men are hobbyists, and have no official training or proper facilities. This goes against principle number eight of the Society for American Archaeology’s code of ethics. Third, whenever an artifact was discovered on the show a description was provided along with an estimated value. The pricing of artifacts goes against principle number three, as they are trying to use the artifacts for profit and other personal gain.
All of these breaks with the code of ethics would cause the professional archaeology community some concern. The video also promotes this form of treasure hunting by making it look like an acceptable form of “archaeology”. The fact that the items found are given a value also encourages other people to go out and dig for artifacts in order to make a quick profit.
The amateur form of treasure hunting that these two men engage in differs quite drastically from professional archaeology. The two men use their metal detectors to search for artifacts and when they find one they immediately begin digging and dig until they uncover the artifact. Once they have uncovered the artifact they simply put it into their bag and move on. Professional archaeologist would take a more careful and scientific approach, excavating the area after a thorough study and a few test pits. Archaeology digs also tend to be larger than the holes the Diggers dug to find a nail or belt buckle. Professional archaeologists also spend more time on a dig and take more time to catalogue their discoveries than the guys on the show.