Dear National Geographic, what the f@#$?!?!

One of the enduring memories of my childhood was a stack of National Geographic magazines. My Mom bought them for me at a  flea market. My hunch is that she had a hunch that I was going to be a huge nerd.

For a kid with limited means and unlimited wanderlust, these magazines were a gold mine. I would spend hours flipping through them.

Needless to say, when people would mention “National Geographic,” it would immediately conjure up this image of a hallowed institution that sent people around the world with cameras to capture amazing things. As an adult and an archaeologist, I’ve participated in several projects that were funded by National Geographic, which I thought (in my own nerdy way) was pretty damned cool.

Well, I thought it was cool, until I saw this…

and most recently this…

To their credit, they posted these two pieces on their webpage to justify their shows…



There are a few things that I find striking here…

1) These people aren’t trained archaeologists. Would they be able to apply for grants to fund excavations through National Geographic? I doubt it.

2) If you read the “responsible metal detecting” link above, you see that these guys know the rules, which is why they’re going to Eastern Europe. Why? There are fewer laws prohibiting what we would call looting. I’m not an expert in European antiquities laws, but I can’t help but think if they tried their brand of “digging” in Western Europe, they’d be in some pretty hot water.

I can’t find the trailer for the Nazi War Diggers show, but this rundown has some clips from it…

3) If you watch the video above, you see them “digging” through a soldier’s grave with absolutely zero respect for the deceased. Their expert thought a femur was a humerus.

4) While they do have some quotes from a professional archaeologist on the Diggers page, I think one glaring, fundamental difference is glossed over. These “Diggers” are targeting locations not because they want to know anything about the past, but for material remains that are valuable commodities on the antiquities markets. They see artifacts as things to be bought and sold.

Think about this scenario – What if you found a hearth feature eroding out of a river bank, and then noticed that there was a channel flake and a prismatic blade sticking out of the hearth? What would you do? What would they do?

If it were me, I would be stoked about the charcoal. As a student of Southeastern Archaeology, I would know how few dated Paleoindian sites there are in the South. If there are additional artifacts, that would be great. However, the potential for a good radiocarbon date with a clear relationship to the artifacts in the feature is what would get me excited.

The Diggers? You can bet your ass they’d bust out that feature looking for a fluted point, which can go for hundreds of dollars on Ebay.

I could just keep enumerating issues here, but I’ll just say there are reasons why the SAA has a code of ethics. There are also criteria one has to meet to be a member of the RPA or to be certified by the Secretary of the Interior. It appears to me that the people in these shows don’t abide by the same code of ethics, nor could they meet the criteria in the links above.

This leads me to ask National Geographic one simple question: WHAT THE F@#$?!?!

People have written letters and submitted petitions to no avail. They do not care.

Why would they? Why listen to the complaints of the people who are also crawling to you for funding?

So, I pose these two questions to my fellow Southeastern archaeologists…

1) Does SEAC have a code of ethics? I’m assuming that a lot of members might not be members of the SAA or RPA. Is there anything that would prevent someone from joining SEAC and then appearing in one of these questionable “Diggers” shows in the event that Nat Geo decides to have a “Civil War Diggers” show? Do we have any way of saying, “Yo. This isn’t cool. Your membership is revoked” in the event that this happens?

2) Is it time to tell National Geographic to f@#$ off? Letters don’t work. Petitions don’t work. Angry blogs, tweets, and facebook groups don’t appear to be working, either. What if we, the professional archaeologists of North America, told National Geographic that we no longer want to be involved with their company as long as they keep producing ethically questionable shows. This includes no longer soliciting them for funding for projects.

I’m dead serious here. A line has to be drawn in the sand. Perhaps it’s time to cut ties.

Update I: Apparently, expressing our righteous anger does have an effect. Per Lewis’s post below, Nat Geo pulled the plug on the show. 

Update II: This just hit my inbox…

Dear Colleagues:

 This morning the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), and the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)  sent a joint letter to the National Geographic Society (NGS), the National Geographic Channels (NGC), and the National Geographic Channel International (NGCI) requesting that the TV show, Nazi War Diggers, be renamed and revised to meet the profession’s archaeological ethical principles and standards of research performance or that the show not be aired. Our letter can be found at:

 When I was first alerted to the promotional video and material for the show by the AAA, I contacted NGS and asked for an explanation. Charles Ewen, president of SHA, did the same with NGC. As we continued the dialogue with NGS and NGC, we reached out to other professional organizations in the U.S. and Europe and proposed a joint letter as the best means of conveying our concerns over the TV show. Within hours of finishing our letter, NGS informed me that NGCI had decided to pull the show from its schedule indefinitely. Their press release speaks to NGS and NGC’s commitment to engage viewers and produce shows to the highest standards. SAA appreciates the decision not to air the show. We also stand ready to assist NGS and NGC in meeting their stated goals.

 Jeff Altschul, President

Protecting Eastern Woodlands Archaeology – You Can, Too!

Let me preface this by saying it weirds me out to ask folks for money. In large part, this is because I get weirded out when I get asked for money. Real talk — we’re grad students. We tend to be the opposite of rolling in dough. BUT, on the off chance that any of our readers have a couple of bucks to burn, I want to draw some attention to a pretty incredible, time-sensitive initiative to save what is arguably one of the best preserved earthwork sites in the Eastern Woodlands: the Junction Group in Chillicothe, Ohio.

The Junction group, for sale at auction.

The Junction group, for sale at auction.

Ok, you’re right. On the surface, it’s your typical field. But dig a little deeper, as the saying goes, and you’ve got ditches, embankments, and mounds, oh my! And, unlike many (most?) other Hopewell sites in the southern Ohio, this one has not been torched by development. As such, Junction represents an amazing opportunity to preserve a relatively intact Hopewell site, not only as a font of potential archaeological knowledge, but also a place sacred to ancient Native American peoples.

Subsurface remains of Hopewell monuments at Junction

Subsurface remains of Hopewell monuments at Junction

Anyhow, the Arc of Appalachia and a handful of other non-profits are spearheading a fundraising campaign to purchase Junction off the auction block next week. Their long term plan is to turn the property over the the National Park Service, which administers several archaeological sites under the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. All around, an incredibly valiant effort, worthy of some publicity, and hopefully some monetary support. There you have it.

To help protect Junction, click on over to the Arc of Appalachia.

Certainly, there are bunches and bunches of other archaeological projects and sites worthy of attention, support, and preservation. However things pan out at Junction, I’d encourage any of our readers with an interest in protecting the past to keep their eyes peeled for other grassroots archaeological efforts. Depending on the situation, time, money, and energy provided by volunteers keep our projects going, ensure that our findings reach a wider audience, and hold us accountable to the many stakeholders invested in archaeological study of the past. Please call our attention to other noteworthy projects in the comments below. Eastern Woodlands archaeology by the people, for the people — let’s do this.

(All photos from the Arc of Appalachia.)