updated 2:30 p.m. EST with two more links at the end of the post.

I was on campus until rather late last night and didn’t get a chance to update the list of articles critiquing and opposing the National Geographic Channel’s Nazi War Diggers, a proposed 4 part series which appeared to portray archaeology as treasure hunting and showed human remains being excavated in a grotesquely cavalier manner.

My previous link round-up posts are here: Nazi War Diggers: Part II and here: Nazi War Diggers: Part I.

There are some excellent articles that I’ll link to at the end of this post, but I’m going to start with the good news Tom Mashberg reported in the New York Times: “National Geographic Channel Pulls ‘Nazi War Diggers’ Series.”

It should be noted that the show does not appear to have officially been cancelled – it has been “postponed indefinitely,” which can mean a lot of things in the world of broadcast media and video on demand.

Still, it’s a positive sign and one that the National Geographic Channel should be given credit for, particularly in light of how firmly they seemed to be digging their heels in as recently as Friday.

I want to highlight a few sections of the article since it may be behind a paywall for some readers.

First, it’s important to note that the National Geographic Society did listen to the archaeologists affiliated with the society and acknowledged their concerns:

National Geographic Channel said Monday that it would “indefinitely” pull a planned television series on unearthing Nazi war graves after days of blistering criticism from archeologists and others who said the show handled the dead with macabre disrespect.

The channel said that after “consulting with colleagues” at the National Geographic Society, it would not broadcast the series, “Nazi War Diggers,” in May as scheduled “while questions raised in recent days regarding accusations about the program can be properly reviewed.” The show was to have been broadcast globally except in the United States.

Additionally, this section explaining that the Latvian War Museum opposed the show is important because inaccurate rumors about their involvement could have serious consequences for them in the future:

The channel said in its Friday statement that the Latvian government had approved the team’s work, which took place on Latvian and Polish soil. But the critics contacted the Latvian War Museum, which said in a statement that it had opposed the show.

National Geographic also said that none of the items dug up during filming would be sold but instead would be donated to war museums. The critics however found a posting on a military collectors’ online forum in which Mr. Gottlieb described locating a Latvian war helmet in June and preparing it for sale.

On to the links I intended to post yesterday, which raise many relevant questions and concerns and explain why NatGeo TV’s defensive arguments on Friday were so problematic.

I think these are vital reads regardless of the fate of the show because they get to a lot of larger issues that archaeologists, public historians, curators, and others face on a regular basis, particularly in the age of Infotainment and manufactured television “reality.”

Sam Hardy at Conflict Antiquities: ‘No trouble with customs.’ Perhaps trouble with repeatedly written confessions?

Alison Atkin at Deathsplanation: “On the Importance of Context.”

updates:
Andy Brockman at Heritage Daily: Springtime for Hitler and “Nazi War [Death Porn] Diggers”

Additionally, this letter from the Presidents of a number of major anthropological and archaeological professional organizations has been added to the American Anthropological Association site:

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) wish
to express our deep disappointment and grave concern about the upcoming National Geographic Channel
International’s (NGCI’s) show, Nazi War Diggers. Together, SAA, SHA, AIA, AAA, EAA, and EASA
represent more than 10,000 professional archaeologists and more than 600,000 individuals interested in
archaeology. Our members live and work in all parts of the world, including the areas ravaged by World
War II.

(read the rest of the letter here).

Yesterday, I posted about a new NatGeo TV show, Nazi War Diggers. The list of blog posts and open letters criticizing the show continues to grow.

Alison Atkin (Deathsplanation, doctoral researcher at The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology) “Dear National Geographic Channel UK.” This post also contains a pdf of the letter the National Geographic Channel has sent out in response to the outcry.

Dr. Donna Yates (research fellow on the University of Glasgow’s Trafficking Culture project): “Nazi War Diggers: Looting war graves on TV.”

Paul Mullens (Archaeology and Material Culture, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis): “The Peep Show of Death: Televising Human Remains.”

Even as the National Geographic Channel scrambles to argue that everything will be fine once we see the context of the clip, they fail to acknowledge a key issue. As Mullens writes:

Shows that tear bottles and bullets out of archaeological context violate archaeological ethics because they make no effort to systematically interpret the material record and they quite often recover things simply for commercial benefit. Reducing human bodies to the same status as bottles to be trafficked online has consequential methodological, ethical, and moral implications alike.

Tom Mashberg’s New York Times article, “TV Series is criticized in handling of deceased,” will hopefully reach an audience beyond the bio/archaeology community. The National Geographic Channel is quoted in the article:

“Part of it is our fault because we released a clip completely out of context that was not representative of the show,” he said. “But I hope people will withhold judgment until the show starts.”

This raised many an eyebrow on twitter. The clip, which shows a group of men cavalierly scraping dirt away from human remains and prying a broken femur out of the ground in a manner that no amount of context will make acceptable. The article concludes:

One of the two metal-detecting specialists on the show, Kris Rodgers, said on Twitter that he agreed the show had been promoted with “a very bad clip.” In response to the outcry, however, he added: “Trust me. It was done properly.”

No. It clearly wasn’t.

Additionally, Archaeosoup has a special episode about the show. Although NatGeo TV has taken down the clip, you can see it in this episode.


Oh! Bodies and Academia is also collecting up links about the show: “Grave Robbing” on TV?”

That title sounds like the lead-in to a post about craptacular SyFy movies. Or maybe a political post about the rhetoric around the NeoLiberal military-industrial complex. Sadly, it’s about neither of those things. Nazi War Diggers is an upcoming 4-part series on National Geographic International. TV Wise announced it will begin airing on May 13th.


Nazi War Diggers, National Geographic Channel
Photo posted on Nazi War Diggers show site

NatGeoTV, which is owned by FOX and promoted as a partnership with the National Geographic Society, already airs an ethically-challenged show called Diggers. Despite critiques by professional associations such as the Society for American Archaeology, the show continues to air and is now in its third season.

The clip posted yesterday on the Nazi War Diggers website showed these self-professed metal detector enthusiasts digging up human remains from an unmarked Latvian grave. The clip has since been removed but the page remains and the publicity photos were still online as of this afternoon.

I’ve been rounding up blog posts about the show.

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove (Powered by Osteons blog): “Who needs an osteologist, volume 11.”

John R. Roby (Digs and Docs): “We don’t need a TV show about looting Nazi battlefields.”

Archaeologist Paul Barford (Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues blog): “National Geographic use metal detectors, find new low.”

Conflict Antiquities: “urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers.”

Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation summed up my feelings with an animated gif: “Nazi War Diggers.”

Archaeologist and TV producer Annelise Baer (Archaeologist for Hire blog): “Let’s talk more about Nazi War Diggers.”

I’ll add posts as I run across them.

Added March 28, 2014: Nazi War Diggers, part II.

It’s not often you run across a blog post that includes references to Archaeologist Randall Mcguire AND unicorns. (Bonus: it’s well worth the read).

If you’ve got that nasty cold that’s going around, you’re excused if you saw the news stories from North Korea trumpeting the discovery of a unicorn lair and vowed to lay off the Nyquil. It wasn’t the drugs talking, the North Korean government really put out a news release trumpeting their discovery of a unicorn lair. Since this is the kind of internet treasure that’s prone to vanishing without a trace, I’m going to post the entire press release:

Lair of King Tongmyong’s Unicorn Reconfirmed in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 29 (KCNA) — Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).

The lair is located 200 meters from the Yongmyong Temple in Moran Hill in Pyongyang City. A rectangular rock carved with words “Unicorn Lair” stands in front of the lair. The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

Jo Hui Sung, director of the Institute, told KCNA:
“Korea’s history books deal with the unicorn, considered to be ridden by King Tongmyong, and its lair.

The Sogyong (Pyongyang) chapter of the old book ‘Koryo History’ (geographical book), said: Ulmil Pavilion is on the top of Mt. Kumsu, with Yongmyong Temple, one of Pyongyang’s eight scenic spots, beneath it. The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.
The old book ‘Sinjungdonggukyojisungnam’ (Revised Handbook of Korean Geography) complied in the 16th century wrote that there is a lair west of Pubyok Pavilion in Mt. Kumsu.

The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.”

Maclean’s had some fun with announcement:

To give North Korea a little credit, the news agency just says that they have reconfirmed the lair of the unicorn, and not the unicorn itself. Finding a unicorn would just be crazy, but finding its living quarters helps prove that North Korea’s version of history is factual.

Or maybe something got lost in translation.

But back to the (more) serious piece I mentioned at the start of this post…on his blog, Digs and Docs, Archaeologist John Roby posted this piece on the subject: “The North Korean ‘unicorn lair discovery’ actually says a lot about real-life, non-unicorn archaeology.”

One thing I stress to my students is to evaluate the analogies we use to classify different kinds of objects and sites. In other words, what leads us to refer to something as a ritual object vs. an ordinary tool, why do we say a particular building is a temple rather than a house, and so on. Or in this case, what makes a unicorn lair a unicorn lair? Fortunately for the North Korean archaeologists, they also found a stone with the inscription “Unicorn Lair” right outside. If only everything in this field were that simple.

But all snark aside, this story illustrates a very important point about archaeology, one that I think is crucial for anyone who wants to understand how this field works and why we study the times and sites we do.

Briefly: Archaeology is a social practice, not a quest for The Objective Truth.

Roby then expands on this point for a few more paragraphs and supplies links to more reading, if you’re so inclined.