Archaeologists Protest Filming of Diggers Program In A Treasured State Park

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Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

In the first week of December, the archaeological community caught news that the National Geographic  Channel’s “Diggers” was slated to film an episode in southern Arizona, and they did not hesitate to use this opportunity to continue the protests against the show and others like it. By banding together, archaeologists on the local level made a direct impact on the filming of the show. In a wonderful display of community action, archaeologists, historians, museum curators, government officials, and other cultural resource stewards made phone calls and wrote letters in an attempt to prevent the Diggers program to continue the plans to film. Part of the filming was to be done at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, a site that has played a role from prehistoric activity, to Spanish contact and Mexican occupation, to the westward expansion of the United States. On Monday, December 9, Sophia Kelly – the Cultural Resource Manager for Arizona State Parks – issued the following statement, as seen on the NMAC List Serve community:

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Dear Arizona archaeologists,

Arizona State Parks is aware that the National Geographic channel’s TV show “Diggers” is filming in the Tubac area. Thank you to those archaeologists who have brought this to our attention.

I would like to inform the archaeological community that NO interviews or filming of the ‘Diggers’ show will take place at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Although the show contacted the park, the park staff have refused interviews and Arizona State Parks has not granted permission to film on park property.

“Arizona State Parks is a resource protection agency that is committed to preserving the natural and cultural heritage of our state. This mission is in direct conflict with the goals of the ‘Diggers’ show. ‘Diggers’ depicts the non-scientific removal of archaeological artifacts from their original context by untrained persons. These recreational excavations permanently damage nonrenewable archaeological resources and result in the loss of irreplaceable archaeological information. In addition to direct damage to archaeological sites, the show’s glorification of artifact hunting stands to harm additional resources by encouraging the public to engage in these activities.

Archaeological research is rooted in the scientific method and is guided by ethical imperatives. Thus, professional archaeologists undergo years of classroom, fieldwork, and laboratory training in preparation for archaeological work. Professional research does not begin or end with excavations— countless tasks precede and follow archaeological fieldwork, including the documentation and permanent curation of artifacts in secure facilities. Shows that provide misinformation to the public about the science of archaeology and the importance of archaeological resources are damaging to our profession, and worse yet, our ability to protect and learn about the past.

I thank our active professional community for their quick response and concern over this issue. I am grateful for your support of Arizona State Parks and the value that you place in the resources that the agency protects. Our State Parks represent special places that have been set aside for the enjoyment of all peoples and for the preservation of resources that belong to all of us. Threats to these shared resources will be met with swift and decisive action.

Sincerely,
Sophie Kelly

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Op-ed pieces were submitted to local news sources, like this one by Marc Severson to the Tucson Citizen. Bill Wade, a retired National Park Service employee wrote the following piece to the Arizona Daily Star, however it was not published:

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SHAMEFUL “DIGGERS” TV NOW PILLAGING IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA

Greed once again raises its ugly head on TV at the expense of the patrimonial estate of this country. Evidently starting several days ago and continuing into this week, crews from a TV show featuring “diggers” are filming in the Tubac area. And what they are filming are non-professional individuals – looters really – searching for archeological artifacts from previous occupants of the area. Granted, this pillaging takes place on private land, the owners of which have the right to do what they want. The sad thing is that often these owners are likely duped into giving permission for the digging by the TV producers, some of which can claim that none other than the often-revered National Geographic Society supports them. One of the shows, Diggers, does in fact appear regularly on the National Geographic Channel. The other two shows appear on Spike TV and the Travel Channel.

Currently the website for the Diggers show has a photo with the following caption: “Hobbyist metal detectorists “King George” Wyant and his buddy Tim “The Ringmaster” Saylor travel the country looking for lost relics of history. Their enthusiasm is contagious, their humor quirky, and their vocabulary… one of a kind. “KG” and “Ringy” are kids at heart, driven not by money, but the thrill of not knowing what their next dig will unearth.”

This caption summarizes much of what is wrong about this activity. Archeological sites, wherever they might be, are important for the information they contain, only part of which is from the artifacts and most of which is from the context that encases the artifacts. When hobbyists look for these “lost relics of history” driven by enthusiasm and the “thrill of not knowing what their next dig will unearth,” the result is often complete destruction of the context that someday could be of significant value to professional archeologists and historians.

Moreover, perhaps the biggest danger is what these “kids at heart” and the TV shows that feature them spawn. Copycats tend to proliferate from these kinds of “glorification” shows. And while there have even been some cases where even the TV producers failed to get proper permission for some of their activities, those even more amateurish opportunists who want to pursue the thrill are likely to be even less deterred by permits, digging on public lands and other legal constraints – amplifying the potential tragedy of their plundering.

Those of us who spent our careers in protecting public lands from these kinds of assaults are quite puzzled by the National Geographic Society’s apparent abandonment of its traditional ideals for the sake of dollarable television ratings. We encourage those of you who have concerns similar to ours to write John M. Fahey, CEO, National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20036.

Bill Wade grew up in Mesa Verde National Park – one of the richest archeological areas in the country. He retired in 1997 after 30 years with the National Park Service. He resides in Tucson. (published here with permission of author)

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In the summer 2012 issue of American Archaeology Magazine, we featured an article about archaeologists’ concerns over Diggers on National Geographic Channel and American Digger on Spike TV. Today, we wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the efforts that lead to the cancelation of filming on a renowned historical site in Arizona.

There is a petition housed on Change.org requesting that the National Geographic Channel, the Travel Channel, and Spike TV stop airing their respective “Digger” programs. At the time of this writing 2,424 signatures have been collected so far. Please help spread the word about the danger of these programs. Write letters, send tweets, sign the petition – anything you can think of to help stop these programs from continuing to butcher our cultural history. Also, please consider thankingArizona State Parks and the Arizona Archaeological Council for their efforts in preventing the filming of a “Diggers” episode at Tubac.

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