By Nigel Swift

Over in the States a 13 part TV series called American Digger is about to be aired. Former professional wrestler Ric Savage and his team of relic hunters “scour target-rich areas, such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history”. As the publicity guff says, there are millions of historical relics  waiting to be turned into profit and American Digger hopes to claim “a piece of that pie”.They’ll pinpoint “historical locations such as Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields” and use “state-of-the-art metal detectors and heavy-duty excavation equipment” and sell the finds “for a substantial profit” which they’ll share with the property owners.”

Pretty crude. Lots about artefacts and money, nothing about context or knowledge loss or archaeological vandalism. Do Americans have the term oik? Dunno. But how could American Diggers impact negatively on us here in Britain?

Well, hundreds of them come over here on organised “detecting holidays” each year so with a TV show about to claim historical relics can be turned into big profits it seems probable there’ll be a spike in the British detecting holiday industry with the current hundreds of customers perhaps becoming thousands. In addition, if the format works well over there it’s surely a fair bet it will happen here in due course – “British Diggers” – why wouldn’t it, it’s legal innit?! So in my view, apart from expressing a snooty distain for America’s trash TV the British should be very concerned how the programme might affect us here.

Oh, but finally……
We British can forget the snooty distain. Hundreds of mass detecting rallies take place over here and a lot of the loot is secretly not reported or openly flogged. So what’s different? Well, we do it worse. Here,  archaeologists ATTEND such events and  don’t openly admit they oppose them. That doesn’t happen in the States. And as for TV programmes, we’re way ahead of the Yanks. Years ago we televised a mass detecting rally on a Roman site at Water Newton. On several occasions. Nationally.  Live.  At peak time.  And archaeologists were present, lending it a false veneer of respectability, and it reeked of heroic triumphalism and  the local archaeologists who bitterly opposed it weren’t put in front of the cameras. Whereas none of those things are happening in America. They’re merely crass over there. 

So it seems to me – and I’ll be happy to be shown how I’m wrong – that far from looking down on them we need to regard their crassness as  something we British can only aspire to. God Bless America, where an entrepreneurial or vandalistic spade is called just that, where people dig destructively for money or self and make no bones about it, where archaeologists object to them doing so and make no bones about it and where detector manufacturer Minelab has just donated $41,000 to fight attempts to prevent the destruction and makes no bones about it.

How much less morally repugnant that is than the public hypocrisy that blights Britain – where detectorists all claim they report all their finds even though most of them don’t, where archaeologists pretend to believe them despite knowing the statistics show it’s not true and where not Minelab but you the taxpayer pays not $41,000 but £1,500,000 a year to sustain the activity in it’s current unacceptable form. And to employ a battalion of archaeologists who, whenever the subject arises, tell your hapless fellow citizens it’s just fine to let absolutely anyone (including ex-professional wrestler Rick Savage – why not?) onto their fields so long as they say they’re “responsible“!


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting