The Archaeological Institute of America has joined the Society for American Archaeology and other organisations in writing to TV companies  deploring the pending  TV shows “Diggers” and “American Digger”. (See our view of how they would impact Britain here).

AIA letter to National Geographic
AIA letter to Spike TV

But it’s not just what the letters say about the shows that caught our eye, it’s some more general observations they make:
“Artifacts do not occur in isolation, but are part of an associated set of artifacts and features  that are in turn a part of a landscape. Removing an object from the ground without understanding or recording its context divorces the object from its meaning. Searching for objects with metal detectors or other remote sensing devices endangers all the other potentially significant objects in the vicinity of the target object. While remote-sensing techniques when used properly can guide scientific research and excavation, they can destroy sites when used irresponsibly.”
They also add, plain and simple: “We hope to ensure that our cultural heritage is not being destroyed for profit”

Ever heard anything like that from the archaeological Establishment of Britain? No. Britain has the PAS Scheme instead and partners the activity (or at least, that minority of detectorists that bothers to co-operate and thereby sustains the majority that don’t). Commercial grabfests involving tens of thousands of pounds? No problem, PAS will attend. Doesn’t sound like America is going to follow suit any time soon.

The AIA is the largest archaeological organisation in the world with over 240,000 members in many countries. They appear to agree with everything we have ever said – which takes the sting out of  the physical threats we’ve had from detectorists and the contempt with which our views are dismissed over here. Next time detectorists, archaeologists or PAS sneer about us (or Paul Barford) in public or behind our backs please bear in mind that actually it’s THEY who are the aberrant minority, not us and it is THEY that are not trying “to ensure our cultural heritage is not being destroyed for profit” not us! God Bless America and its huge number of enlightened archaeologists!

UPDATE 2/3/2012

On the other hand, the paid lobbyist of the US Coin dealers, Mr Peter Tompa, thinks the AIA letters were all wrong. He recommends that they work towards getting archaeologists involved in televised commercial grabfests just like happens in Britain!

A clearer illustration that the antiquities trade is knowingly and mightily dependant upon and supportive of an army of grabby oiks on both sides of the pond could hardly be found.

No, on balance, I think the 240,000 members of the AIA have probably got it right and don’t need to change a syllable of their letters.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting