In this week’s lecture, we were introduced to 7 principles concerning the ethics that archaeologists must follow. The men in the National Geographic show “Diggers” followed approximately 0 out of the 7. The purpose of these men travelling around and digging is so much to entertain themselves and whoever enjoys watching the show, and nothing about it was meant for scholarship or adding to the archaeological record. Because the nature of their endeavors were so counter-intuitive, I don’t even think it should be called archaeology.
Throughout the episode “Bleeding Kansas”, the diggers constantly mused about the worth of the artifacts they found. Within the first minute, one of them said “just think how much this thing would be worth!” There was a little side bar that would pop up with their guessed potential value for the objects. There are two very major things wrong with this: first, they are violating the third principle concerning ethics, which says that commercialization of archaeological material is unethical. They are ruining the context of these artifacts by attempting to put a price on them. Secondly, the diggers did a lot of guessing: guessing the value of the artifacts, and even guessing the ages of the artifacts with no apparent education about dating whatsoever. One of them is even quoted saying ” this is super old, probably back in the stage coach days!” I’m sorry, but how old exactly is super old??
Another huge issue that set off the diggers from true archaeologists is how aimlessly they wandered around these sites. They just carried around metal detectors and dug into the ground as soon as they heard the beeping. There was no attempt to preserve the ground, they didn’t dig carefully so as not to damage the items they found. They also made no attempt to record where the artifacts were found, and no attempt to preserve the artifacts. I’m pretty sure they just shoved bullets and coins in their pockets. During a real excavation, archaeologists take great care to record where artifacts are found, it’s often possible to actually map out the site based on how the artifacts are spread out over the site. An ethical principle of archaeology is stewardship, which means that archaeologists recognize that the archaeological record is irreplaceable, and excavations re the only chance we have to get information from the past in this way. Therefore, it’s the archaeologists’ responsibilities to work on long term preservation of both the site and the artifacts. This principle is closely related to the sixth principle about records and preservation, which states that archaeologists should work actively for preservation of and long term access to archaeological collections, records, and reports. Needless to say, the diggers had no recognition of any of these ethics, and they were more looters or antiquarians than ethical archaeologists.
I think that the blatant transgression on the ethical code that the Diggers have made can be chalked up to inadequate education and training in archaeology. This is another principle of ethics, the last one mentioned in our lecture, and it states that archaeologists who are excavating must be qualified and given adequate training. Most archaeological investigations are already of a destructive nature despite careful procedures taken to preserve sites and artifacts, so any amateur who goes out looking for little treasures is doing immeasurable damage to the artifacts, the site, and the archaeological record itself.