Boom, Baby!

Boom baby! Though many archaeologists cringe at its origins, how many times will we hear that catch phrase on our digs this summer? It’s catchy and the show that spawned it, American Diggers, is a hit for SpikeTV. Everything about the show is anathema to professional archaeologists: the destructive excavation methods, lack of concern for context and, especially, the sale of artifacts. But what can you expect from the network that brought you 1000 Ways to Die? So how do we explain National Geographic’s very similar show, Diggers?

National Geographic!?! Aren’t they on our side? They are an organization that has published the most recognizable popular scientific magazine in the world. They have covered and supported thousands of archaeological digs and have several archaeologists on their staff. What happened?

The response from the archaeological community has been immediate and passionate.  People Against National Geographic Channel’s Diggers and Spike’s American Diggers Facebook pages have surfaced with thousands “liking” the message to Stop the Looting.  Professional archaeologists have taken to the media as well with the SAA speaking against the shows to NPR and other professionals speaking out in the St. Augustine Record.  Have they listened? Maybe.

I recently attended a workshop convened by the National Geographic Society to discuss their new show. It seems they were genuinely surprised at the professional outcry over its airing. And, unlike SpikeTV, they were embarrassed and wanted to discuss what might be done. In attendance were professional archaeologists, avocational metal detectorists (AMD), and network and program executives. The discussion that followed was lively, though civil, and is summarized here.

The producers led off the meeting by declaring that the traditional documentary was dead. Only PBS could afford to broadcast an hour-long archaeology program. Commercial television requires more popular subject matter. So, how do you make a show that is both popular AND ethical? There were many suggestions made to make the show more palatable to the archaeologists. The main points were that a concern be shown for location and context, and that the artifacts not be monetarily valued or sold. It was suggested that the show’s AMDs work with real archaeologists, helping them out while abiding by their rules. It has worked elsewhere.  We’ll see what happens.

I think the biggest takeaway that I had from the meeting was how badly we as archaeologists have failed in getting our message out to the general public. Or at least in persuading them as to what our discipline is really all about. It’s more than just finding stuff. It’s the story the stuff has to tell. Our underwater colleagues have seen the public sympathies go out to the treasure salvors. Now it’s the terrestrial archaeologist’s turn to watch the viewing public tune-in to shows that portray archaeology as a lucrative scavenger hunt.

So, what do we do? Write off a large chunk of the population as beyond our reach? Buy an artifact price catalog and sell out to the next network that calls?  Surely there is some middle ground that gets our point across without boring the public to tears? It’s become apparent that these shows are not going away. Paul Mullins and I have both been contacted by producers pitching ideas similar to American Diggers. The calls are worrisome, but I worry more that they will quit calling and produce their shows with no input from us.

Read theTranscript from the meeting with the National Geographic Society.

Quebec City Award/Bourse de Québec

The Quebec City Award is granted to assist French-speaking students to attend the annual meeting and to promote their participation in Society activities. The cash prize is for the amount of interest accrued annually on the initial endowment, and not to exceed $750.

To be considered for the prize, candidates must be a standing member of the SHA, be registered in a French-language university and preparing a thesis or a dissertation in French and they must present a substantive or theoretical paper at the annual meeting.

To apply, submit a letter including a confidential letter of reference from your research director, a copy of your pre-registration at the annual meeting, a 500-word abstract of the proposed paper and a copy of your resume to the Quebec City Award Secretary by June 30. Further information is available from the Quebec City Award Secretary at the following address: William Moss, Archéologue principal, Hôtel de Ville, C.P. 700 Haute-Ville, Québec (Québec), Canada G1R 4S9. Telephone: 418.641.6411 ext, 2149; Fax 418.641.6455; email: Please visit the Society for Historical Archaeology web site for full information. 

Bourse de Québec

Le Bourse de Québec est accordée afin de promouvoir la participation d’étudiants de langue française au colloque annuel et aux activités de la Society for Historical Archaeology. La bourse correspond au montant des intérêts accumulés sur le capital initial dans le courant de l’année, le tout n’excédant pas $750.

Pour être éligible, le candidat doit être membre en règle de la SHA, être inscrit dans une université francophone et y préparer une thèse ou un mémoire en français. Enfin, il doit présenter, dans le cadre du colloque annuel de la SHA, une communication substantielle ou théorique.

Pour poser votre candidature, faites parvenir une lettre au secrétaire du comité de la Bourse de Québec. Cette lettre doit être accompagnée des documents suivants : une lettre de recommandation confidentielle de votre directeur de recherche, une preuve d’inscription à l’université, une copie de votre inscription préliminaire au colloque annuel, un résumé de votre communication (maximum de 500 mots) et une copie de votre curriculum vitae. Pour de plus amples renseignements, veuillez contacter le secrétaire du comité de la Bourse de Québec à l’adresse suivante : William Moss, Archéologue principal, Hôtel de Ville, C.P. 700 Haute-Ville, Québec (Québec), Canada G1R 4S9. Téléphone: 418.641.6411, poste 2149; Télécopie 418.641.6455; courriel: De plus amples renseignements sont disponibles sur la page web de la Society for Historical Archaeology.

SHA 2013: More Calls for Papers

Globalization, immigration, transformation:

The Society for Historical Archaeology’s 46th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology

January 9-12, 2013 Leicester, Great Britain

If you would like to attract speakers to your proposed symposium by advertising on this blog, please get in touch. We highlighted three sessions last month, and four more can be found below. If you’re interested in participating in a session, please contact the individual session organisers.

Gendering Consumer Choices

Suzanne Spencer-Wood (Oakland University, Michigan;

Chapters in the 1987 edited volume Consumer Choice in Historical Archaeology related consumption to households, family size, composition, life cycle, and occupations and probate inventories of women as well as men. However, the consumer choice framework was not explicitly gendered. Consumer choice is gendered in many ways, such as who selects consumer goods for a household and who consumes goods. Many consumer goods were often manufactured specifically for one gender or another, such as clothing, cosmetics, perfume, jewelry, hats, shoes, watches, scissors, chairs, machines, etc. Papers in this symposium explicitly theorize and analyze a variety of relationships between gender and consumer choice.


Julie King (St Mary’s College of Maryland; and Philip Levy (University of South Florida;

Phil Levy & I are organizing a session for SHA Leicester focused on traveling; it’s open-ended at this time because the topic is so broad. If you are interested, let us know. Everyday travel, tourism past and present, migration, archaeologist as traveler, travel writing and the experience of place, war as travel… theorizing travel, case studies… any topic focused on the study of travel in some context that takes a material perspective is welcome. So far there are three or four of us. Send us an email if this is of interest and you will be at SHA.

Tearing Down Walls: The Architecture of Household Archaeology

James Nyman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Kevin Fogle (University of South Carolina)

We are organizing an household archaeology session entitled “Tearing Down Walls: The Architecture of Household Archaeology” for the 2013 Society for Historical Archaeology meeting in Leicester. The session seeks presenters who are using innovative household theory or methods. The following is a working abstract for the session:

Household archeology is a methodological and theoretical approach to domestic sites that can address various research interests from demography and socioeconomic relationships to the use of space and the landscape approach. The goal of this session will be to bring together multiple viewpoints regarding the household as a unit of archaeological analysis. We hope to highlight recent developments with household archaeology that improve upon the ways that we traditionally conceptualize how households are made meaningful through activity and as centers for social relationships in the past. We seek a diversity of examples that span temporal and geographic space, and seek to highlight how households are connected to, and influence, multiple processes at the global and local levels.

If this proposed session interests you, please send us an abstract by June 22 2012, or email prior to that date with ideas or questions.

Modern Technology, Past Culture: Emerging Effects of Information Technologies on Archaeological Practice

Edward Gonzalez-Tennant (Monmouth University, and Quentin Lewis (UMass Amherst,

Recent advances within information technologies present Historical Archaeologists with an array of novel and unique practices to add to our toolkit. Geographic Information Systems, archaeological visualization, and various web technologies offer the possibility of far-reaching, or even radical changes to the discipline. Rather than accept the inevitability of such practices and techniques as progress, we want to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of the applications of these technologies to historical archaeology. This session’s primary goal is to bring together a group of researchers examining the acquisition, processing, storage, and dissemination of digital archaeological information from a theoretically-focused standpoint. We are less concerned with specific technical procedures and more interested in papers addressing the material, historical, political, and cultural implications such technologies hold for the practice of historical archaeology. As such, we will consider papers for inclusion in our session from any region or time frame, but we ask that they address the following themes:

  • – The role of information technologies in transforming the ways archaeologists think about and visualize places, regions, and past cultural processes
  • – The ethical and political implications of incorporating information technologies into archaeological practice, both positive and negative.
  • – Issues of essentialism and representation which arise at the confluence of archaeology and emerging/emergent technologies.
  • – The possibilities or limits of using new information technologies to realize new public archaeologies.
  • – The potential of information technologies to construct “new” archaeological data.

Along with exploring new research that connects historical archaeology and information technologies, we hope to engender conversation(s) around the social implications of incorporating these technologies within the archaeological toolkit, as conceived both theoretically and methodologically. Please send your abstract to session organizers by June 15th. We will make our final selections no later than June 20th.

Image: “Muro Occidentale o del Pianto” (Western Wall or Wailing Wall) by Fabio Mauri (1993) CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr