Are They Really Concerned or Feeling Left Out?

I am a big fan of Allyson Cohen, and her “Detecting Diva” blog.  She’s an extremely knowledgeable detectorist,  as well as the Vice president and treasurer for the Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights.  Allyson’s latest blog post of March 25th, caught my attention, and I hope you all will take the time to read it, especially the PDF attachment from the Society for American Archaeology. The topic?  Metal detecting reality shows, and in particular “Diggers”.


I found the SAA’s view somewhat encouraging, but still lacking when it comes to how they view us and what it is we do.  Then again you surely know all about my unfettered and dying love for archaeologists.  Here’s my very biased take on their concerns and views….

Page 3 (From the President, Jeffrey H. Altschul)

First many archaeologists wanted to help NGS (National Geographic Society) because it has been an important part of American Archaeology. NGS awards about $15 million a year in research grants, a significant proportion of which go to anthropology and archaeology.”

Means we have to be very careful not to piss them off….

Then “Second, many archaeologists hated “Diggers”. To some it was no more than glorified looting; to others, the main characters made everyone associated with archaeology look silly; still others simply had visceral reaction of horror”

Means they really don’t like us….

Same paragraph….”Yet, they knew that without shows like “Diggers” NGS could not survive”

Means that if they actually did a reality show featuring archaeologists doing what they do, they would not have many viewers…

Same page, later…”Diggers is still a work in progress. We get frustrated with the producers and we have at times threatened to pull our support. But thus far we have persevered.”

Means the producers are not really listening to all we have to say, but because it’s the NGS, and because they give us money, we will play the straight man….

Jeffery Altschul goes on to say, “Why have I invested so much time in these TV shows? In my four decades as a professional archaeologist, there has been one recurrent theme: we need to communicate better with the public.”

Hmm, no kidding….

“If that is not enough, we have our own self-interest. Most of us, whether in academia or CRM, are supported either directly by public funding or by laws and regulations. Unless we communicate why what we do is in the public interest, we run the real risk of having these funds shut off and the regulations protecting archaeological resources lifted or eviscerated.”

Means if they ever find out just what it is we really do, we are up “shit creek” without a paddle…


Page 9 (Volunteer Profile, by Kirk French)

He states “Currently there is a lull in archaeology shows, but they come in waves, so be ready. More ridiculousness is on the horizon and in a few years, three or four more new shows will appear all at once on the major cable networks and we will once again have to make a stand.”

Hmm, suddenly they are “archaeology” shows… I must have missed something?  And, when they do reappear on the horizon they are going to call in General Custer and rally round the wagons…

Very next sentence….”The public absolutely adores archaeology. They love watching us discover the past. It’s just too bad that even our profession has been “Honey-boo-boo-afied” on television”.

Well damn, I give up.  First these show glorify looting, and the actors are silly.  Now they are archaeology shows, and what the hell does he mean when he says “they love watching US discover the past”?  Hmm, Mr. French I think the public adores watching Ringy and KG, not YOU or any of the archaeologists involved.  Sorry …just the way it is.


Page 10 (Reality Television, etc., by Sarah Herr

First off, Ms. Herr is more to my liking….

She states “Our second challenge and opportunity is to educate. Because the stars of these shows are successful metal detectorists (“diggers”), the characteristics of this community are central to our concern. What kinds of actions will result from watching these shows? While the NGS has followed appropriate legal guidelines, are the legal and ethical aspects of the work communicated clearly? Can we explain that public land is not a commons?”

Thank for you stating that there are indeed “successful” metal detectorists.  Also thanks for clarifying that the NGS has followed “appropriate” legal guidelines”, and please tell me the difference between public land the term commons?

She then goes on with “In the best case scenarios we might be able to work side by side with those detectorists who are skilled, with a relatively non-destructive exploratory tool.”

Means guess we might as well admit that these tekkies do know what they are doing, and maybe we have to bite the bullet to stay relevant…..

Last paragraph: “Reality television shows about archaeological topics have rocketed into our world and, as long as they remain financially viable, are unlikely to go away. How do we manage this interest in the stories of the past in ways that can serve us all?”

Just have to say sorry, these shows are popular because the topic is about metal detecting and treasure.  I know, words that are not in your vocabulary but let’s be honest…unless you are uncovering King Tut’s tomb, watching a typical archaeological dig would be like watching paint dry….


Page 26 (Beyond Nectar & Juice, by Jeffery Hanson

Mr. Hanson states “In the late summer of 2013 (and to some extent before this), people across the United States became concerned about the airing of reality digger programs, with their untrained, hyper-enthusiastic treasure hunters on a never-ending quest for relics.”

No Mr. Hanson, PEOPLE were not concerned. Only archaeologists…

Later Mr. Hanson, shares the following comment/letter from the past president of the CTA (Council of Texas Archaeologists)… “We realize that when private landowners give permission to dig up an archaeological site, your Diggers are not breaking any law. However, they are undermining the preservation ethics our discipline strives to promote for our nation’s heritage. We believe that the National Geographic brand should not participate in making celebrities of individuals who have little respect for history beyond making money from its material remains.”

First off Texas archaeologists are probably the worst group you could choose to comment on this topic.  Section 191.002 of the Texas Antiquity Code reads…  

DECLARATION OF PUBLIC POLICY.  It is the public policy and in the public interest of the State of Texas to locate, protect, and preserve all sites, objects, buildings, pre-twentieth century shipwrecks, and locations of historical, archeological, educational, or scientific interest, including but not limited to prehistoric and historical American Indian or aboriginal campsites, dwellings, and habitation sites, archeological sites of every character, treasure imbedded in the earth, sunken or abandoned ships and wrecks of the sea or any part of their contents, maps, records, documents, books, artifacts, and implements of culture in any way related to the inhabitants, pre-history, history, natural history, government, or culture in, on, or under any of the land in the State of Texas, including the tidelands, submerged land, and the bed of the sea within the jurisdiction of the State of Texas.


The CTA president chastises the National Geographic Society for making celebrities of Ringy and KG because in THEIR view, all they are interested in is making money.  First, I am sure the NGS was not responsible for making Ringy and KG celebrities. The viewers were, and come on, we all know why the finds were given a dollar amount.  It’s reality TV for crissakes.  As much as I hate it, It’s why people watch TV today, and is it really that much different from the long running and very popular Antiques Roadshow? Second, the finds from Diggers are donated to museums or historical societies.

Later David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel, responds to Mr. Hanson, offering various rebuttals, the last of which was:

“We try to make the program entertaining which is perhaps a departure from the science of archaeology. I hope they are not values at odds. I hope we can have entertainment, archaeology and popular appeal.”

Unfortunately archaeologists have trouble with words like entertainment, fun and appeal. And what really bugs them is they despise being one upped by detectorists.


Page 30 (Reality TV and Metal Detecting, by Givovanna Peebles)

Ms. Peebles has been chosen to chair a new Task Force on Metal Detecting of Archaeological Sites on Reality TV, which I guess you can refer to as the TFOMDOASOT. Her first paragraph is lengthy but I think it’s important….

“If every American archaeologist had a one hundred-dollar bill for every time someone remarked, “Oh! I always wanted to be an archaeologist” or “You’re an archaeologist?? That is so cool” we could readily fund our prized projects. We are the ultimately interesting people in the ultimately cool profession. We do interesting research in interesting places with interesting and often very fun colleagues, and we learn wonderfully interesting things. Many of us are colorful characters,and we may be the ultimate storytellers (just sit at any bar during Society for American Archaeology meetings). Millions of spellbound Americans could be watching us as we dig with passionate volunteers and other collaborators, discovering and piecing together ancient and more recent history. We can tell stories about amazing people we’ve known; elders and mentors who’ve taught us; discoveries on the last day of field season; wind storms that have destroyed our camps; sheep,cows, and snakes that have been trapped in our test units; love affairs; and all the extraordinary— or everyday— stories of humankind that we have experienced and knitted together using our extensive and ever-evolving toolkit. But millions of Americans are NOT watching us. Instead, they are watching some of the more than one thousand reality television programs now airing, and we’re not in them.”

I think this pretty much defines our differences…  I say this because over forty years of detecting I think I have come across maybe two or three archaeologists that I felt comfortable talking to and relating to. The rest were always trying to assure me that they knew best, and that anyone using a metal detector was a lesser person and by participating in the pastime, they were destroying the world.

The Task Force Ms. Peebles is chairing was asked to:

“Assess the current reality TV shows, which use metal detectors to find archaeological objects, against the SAA’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics. The task force will consider such topics as: (1)The use of metal detectors by non-professional archaeologists. (2) Proper ways for metal detector enthusiasts to engage with professional archaeologists, and (3) Ethical portrayals of such engagements on TV shows, The task force will prepare a one page statement for the board’s consideration that reflects SAA’s position on these reality TV shows.”

Love it when they have to use words like professional and non-professional.  To me it’s just another way to say we are second class participants, and why is that they are going to tell US how to engage with professional archaeologists? How about THEY find a way to engage with us? Hell we have been trying for years.

Later however Ms. Peebles does acknowledge this by saying:

“Leaders in metal detectorist organizations and individual metal detectorists are eager to work with archaeologists, although they are generally rebuffed.” and “Once we speak with, listen to, work with, and share a coffee with metal detectorists, we often learn that our values are not different.

She winds up her article with: “In the final analysis, the Task Force on Reality Television and Metal Detecting concurs with Ken Sassaman’s elegant editorial”…..

“We would do well to define our profession not by how many  degrees and publications we accumulate, but by how many citizens we recruit to ensure that future citizens can learn from and enjoy the past as much as we do today.”

I only wish he had added by how many citizens and how may detectorists we recruit….


I did not include all various articles, and there’s a lot more to the SAA’s newsletter. It’s definitely worth your time. Consider downloading the PDF or printing it out.  Finally, while it’s sad that it took a couple of reality TV shows to get their attention, at least they are stepping up to the table, recognizing us, and attempting to make changes. I am however not going to hold my breath….



“I have never been jealous. Not even when my dad finished fifth grade a year before I did”…Jeff Foxworthy



Filed under Metal Detecting

4 responses to “Are They Really Concerned or Feeling Left Out?

  1. I totally agree with Mr. Stouts assessments on these articles. Without metal detectorists finding and preserving historical artifacts, they will surely be lost to time. Remember ” Rust Never Sleeps”

  2. Joe, thank you. The response here was what I expected…. No one, and I mean no one, was ready to read all of this, and yet they wonder why we are being attacked. A sign of the times…

  3. wendell

    I realize there are differences in their vocation and our hobby, but all I can do is be an ethical detectorist and conduct myself so I will educate the public about our hobby, and I also know lots of people want to control what we can do on public and private property. If it wasn’t for us amateurs, I wonder how many sites would ever be discovered and excavated.

    I’m guilty of not reading every word of this article, but only have 2 hours at the public library once or twice a week, and have to do all my other email and research, but it’s not because I don’t care. I hope we can continue to educate the public, but a situation I ran into with permission on private property was someone saw me there and went after I left, dug about 50 holes and left a mess. I told the owner about it and she was very upset, and I haven’t been back, even tho I still have permission. People like this give the anti-metal detecting community ammo to use against our hobby. This same lady also has problems with people stealing Indian artifacts from her property. I always make sure I have written permission to detect private property in the state of Georgia especially if I’m near a state or federal area.

    • Wendell, thanks for taking the time to comment, and for always doing the right thing when it comes to our hobby. It’s too bad someone else ruined your situation, but it’s something I think we’ve all experienced at one time or another. There will always be that rotten apple out there, and all we an do is keep on doing things the right way and hope for the best.

      Thanks again, and don’t be a stranger here…

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