Being on Diggers: Advice and Reflections from Montpelier

By: Matthew Reeves and Terry Brock

On Monday, July 20th, the Montpelier Archaeology Department appeared on the National Geographic Channel’s Diggers television program. This program has been an issue of contention for archaeologists and metal detectorists alike, but efforts by SHA and other archaeological organizations to work with National Geographic and the National Geographic Channel have led to a show that melds archaeology and metal detecting together. As participants in these conversations, and as advocates for the collaboration of archaeology and metal detecting Montpelier decided to put ourselves forward as one of a handful of archaeological sites willing to have a show filmed at our site. In this blog, wanted to provide some tips and strategies we used to ensure the filming was successful (you can watch the entire episode below).

First and foremost, we found that the production team, from the exective producer down to the film crew, wanted to cooperate with the goals we had for filming. In terms of the actors, Ringy and KG are both very intelligent folks who are skilled metal detectorists with an earnest interest in material culture, sites, and bringing the joy of discovery to the public, all elements we have in common. And finally, the newly hired archaeologist, Dr. Marc Henshaw, is a fantastic guy with great experience who serves as an excellent liaison between the film team and the project. With this said, we found the following guidelines as essential for a successful production.

Establish and Maintain Ground Rules

Lecture

Ringy (blue sweatshirt) and KG (Green sweatshirt) attending one of the four lectures during the Expedition Program. Participating in all elements of the Expeditions was one of our caveats for participating in the show (Photo Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation).

Establish with the field film crew the ground rules. We had three areas we wanted to reinforce:

  1. that Ringy and KG would be shown as working within a larger team of archaeologists and metal detector participants–teamwork would be a tangible outome. We filmed this show during one of our Metal Detector Expedition Programs, and had the expectation that they would participate in the lectures, tours, and other elements of that program, including building relationships with our staff and participants. They did just that.
  2. that our crew would do their best to present the grid in a visible manner-in this case, we not only staked the grid with wooden stakes, but also pulled flagging tape between the stakes to have it prominently displayed.
  3. that Ringy and KG would only work in areas that we designated–no side trips anywhere outside the gridded area–we emphasized the only place we do metal detector survey is where we have a grid established–anywhere else is a strict break in protocol.

With these parameters clearly established, the film crew and the actors knew exactly what to expect—and this guided what the field producer looked for in terms of entertainment and improv from the guys–and in the end built methdology and teamwork into the shows storyline.

Prepare the Site

For preparation for the shoot, pick a site where you know you can get results in a short amount of time–that way you control the content of the project and the show. This is the reason we chose the stable–we knew we would recover artifacts related to tack material (horse shoes, nails, buckles, etc) and had a high chance of finding enough material culture to establish patterns. While the survey was real and the info we gained was new, we chose an area we had very high confidence in, and had poked around before.

Emphasize Context by Finishing

TotalStation

During the Expedition, staff used our total station to map all the samples taken during the Expedition, allowing us to have results by the end of the program. The total station was also set up directly behind KG during the entire show, ensuring its presence in most of the footage (Photo Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation).

Make sure that you can process the finds to the point to show the importance of provenience: in the field, we made sure we were able to complete an entire 60’ x 60’ survey block and had time to shoot the points in with the transit, data enter the field catalogue of items, and plot these on maps by the end of the week. This was of critical importance since the assessment needs to happen while the film crew is still on site, in our case, this happened the Saturday morning following the final day (Friday) in the field. Having a plot map with the patterns already established meant the assessment was more than just a glorified artifact display, but presented the data behind all the work carried out to record location.

StableSurveyResults

Preliminary results showed a void in the area surveyed, providing us with solid interpretations about the location of the stable by the end of the program, and allowing us to emphasize the importance of context and distributional data (Photo Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation).

Communicate and Be Flexible

The Digger’s production crew clearly wanted to capture the elements we discussed—they just needed to get the results while they were in the field. Also, what is shot in the field has to well thought out enough to make sense to the editors in the office—these are two different teams, and the only communication that occurs between the field and office is the executive producer—so capturing quality shots, quotes, and messages in the field that flow together into a larger story is absolutely essential. In the end, know that getting results from about 3–4 days in the field that are suitable for a prime-time reality TV show entails a lot of work and preparation. Once the film crew arrives you have to be on top of your game with very little margin for error. For the production shoot we held at Montpelier, the staging of the work and results would have been impossible without having a trained and dedicated archaeological staff to assist through the process.

Over Emphasize Your Message

title

Staff and Expedition Members were briefed on talking points. Here, one participant is taped talking about his work on the site (Photo Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation).

The final item to realize is that while the production team is allowing review of content during production, there it is almost impossible to shoot new material once the film crew is done with the shoot. As such, make sure your message is caught on film—both in anecdotal clips in the field and definitely in the assessment. Review this message with your staff, and make sure it is said over and over again, whenever anyone is on camera. We talked with our staff and Expedition members about what we wanted to message, so that they were prepared when the camera was in their face. In the case of the final assessment, it occurred to me during in the middle of shooting how to play Ringy and KG off one another to make the point regarding negative data. What this required was complete immersion in the final product—both in terms of us (as archaeologists) and the production team.

Prepare Yourself and Your Staff

OnCamera

Learning how to collaborate with metal detectorists is vital preparation for the TV show. Here, Frank Juarez, left, is partnered with Seth Van Dam, an archaeologist from Ft. Drum Army Base, who attended the program to learn about our survey techniques (Photo Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation).

This is critical. We could not have done all the work we did without having a sizeable staff that is well trained in metal detector survey, in addition to a full expedition program that included 9 additional metal detectorists and 6 visiting archaeologists. We have been working with metal detectorists for years through our public programs, and even employ two metal detector technicians on our staff. We had no concerns about using metal detecting as a survey tool, the efficacy of our methods, our ability to work with KG and Ringy once they arrived on site, or with how to excavate, record, bag, flag, tag, and catalogue objects: our methodology is tried and tested, and our staff executes it regularly. The only thing that was new to us were the TV cameras. We made sure to prepare our staff and expedition members for appropriate messaging, language, and other elements so that they were all ready to be on camera.

If you haven’t built relationships or worked with metal detectorists before, then the television program could be a lot of learning for you and your staff all at once. We’d strongly encourage you to attend one of our upcoming Metal Detector Expeditions to learn our methodology and also how to work with members of the metal detecting community, particularly if you are interested in doing the Diggers Program. We have designed these programs to provide a space for archaeologists and metal detector hobbiests to collaborate, and, more importantly, to learn how to collaborate. Having confidence in the methods and understanding the community you are working with will ensure that you can focus on getting your message through.

Working with the Diggers program was an incredibly rewarding experience, as have all our Expedition Programs. In truth, it has made our Expedition Programs better. For example, having results at the end of the week is not ever something we have done before: we believe the entire Expedition learned more about context by seeing the results of the survey at the end of the week then by us explaining what we would be using the data for in the future. From a larger perspective, it is our hope that participating in the Diggers show has allowed the public to also learn about what archaeology is, and what the collaboration between metal detectorists and archaeologists can look like when done through empathy, collaboration, and hard work.

5 Archaeological Things to See and Do in Washington D.C.

Remember, the last day to submit your #SHA2016 conference abstract is June 30th, 2015. See our previous blog post with the Call for Papers: http://www.sha.org/blog/index.php/2015/05/sha2016-call-for-papers/

As we have seen in the last several posts, Washington D.C. and it’s surrounding area is a thriving place for history and archaeology. Archaeologists are doing important work engaging the public and interpreting the past of the nation’s capital. When we all travel to D.C. for #SHA2016 there are plenty of places to explore that capture the essence of this area’s heritage. Below, are five places to visit:

The National Museum of the American Indian

A new exhibit entitled “Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World” opens at the Museum of the American Indian this September. What looks to be an incredible exhibit focuses on indigenous cosmologies, introducing the worldviews and cultural philosophies of eight communities all over the western hemisphere. This exhibit will run until October 2017 and along with the many other feature collections at the Museum, is a must see during our stay in Washington D.C.

Check it out: http://americanindian.si.edu/          Free of Charge

Alexandria Archaeology Museum

Located just a metro ride away, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum features exhibits highlighting their excavations of The Lee Street Site, the Green Furniture Factory, and the Ashby household. The museum also features hands-on-activities for adults and children alike, and the space also doubles as a public laboratory. You can also get information to walk the Alexandria Heritage Trail, which is a 23-mile walking and bike tour that takes you through 110 historical and archaeological sites representing the history of Alexandria.

Check it out: http://alexandriava.gov/Archaeology       Free of Charge

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress houses millions of artifacts and archives that, as archaeologists, we know are important resources. The Museum features exhibits commemorating the history of the Library, the architecture of the Thomas Jefferson building, and its celebrated holdings, including the Gutenberg Bible. You can join a one-hour walking tour of the historic building or enjoy a self-guided tour. Definitely take time to explore the reading rooms, and even take an extra day to use the research centers to examine the Library’s archival materials for your own research.

Check it out: https://www.loc.gov/          Free of Charge

 

The National Geographic Museum

If you decide to make a longer trip to Washington D.C., make sure to stop by the National Geographic Museum. Ending January 3rd, the “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology” exhibit juxtaposes real archaeological artifacts with a collection of film materials from the movie. How many of us get asked if archaeologists are like Indiana Jones, well this seems like an exhibit that explores the difference! If you can’t make this exhibit, the National Geographic Museum showcases their stunning photography from all over the world.

Check it out: http://events.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic-museum/Ticketed

Dumbarton Oaks

Located in Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks is a research institution with collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. The House collection showcases the historic interiors with Asian, European, and American artworks and interior furnishings donated by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss between 1940 and 1969. Docent-led tours take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 3:00 pm, but the Museum is open from 11:30 to 5:30 for self-guided tours.

Check it out: http://www.doaks.org/        Free of Charge

Throughout the summer we will be linking to more “archaeological” sightseeing opportunities in Washington D.C.

Archaeology in the Community: Stepping up and Reaching out

This week’s #SHA2016 blog post highlights Archaeology in the Community, a nonprofit, archaeological outreach program serving the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area!  Read below to learn more about AITC, and please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages!

We are Archaeology in the Community, and we LIVE to bring archaeology to the public!

In 2006, AITC founder Dr. Alexandra Jones noticed that many of the young students in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood had never heard of archaeology, let alone met an archaeologist. As a trained archaeologist and educator, Dr. Jones was inspired to engage young people within her community and teach them the importance of archaeology. The program she created, Archaeology in the Community (AITC), allowed students in her community the unique opportunity to learn about their families’ histories and their community’s past from an archaeologist who lived around the block.

Dr. Jones began creating several customizable educational programs to teach archaeology in alignment with school curricula. These programs gained momentum across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and, in 2009, AITC became a chartered 501(c)3 nonprofit that promotes and facilitates the study and public understanding of archaeological heritage.

AITC ‘s overall goal has been for “us”—the students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, community members, curators, artists, and activists—to step up and participate in the archaeological conversation. Our voices are crucial to the health of the field. As Jennifer McKinnon writes in her own SHA blog post, “It Takes A Village to Build a Trail”:

“…No amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible…No matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth.”

By consistently reminding our friends, our families, our community, that every artifact and site can help connect us to a particular day in history, a specific person, a local movement, a policy, and/or the global stage, we achieve our goal. Since 2009, AITC has helped increase community awareness of the benefits of archaeology and history through public events, enrichment programs, as well as provided professional development to college students interested in pursuing careers in archaeology.  At AITC, we create truly unique programs where the larger community and we can join into the conversation about archaeology through various mediums; art, food, music, written word and traditional archaeology.  All artifacts, no matter how seemingly trite, embody economic, social, political and spiritual stories. AITC has partnered with educational institutions, cultural establishments, and community organizations to bring this to fruition, and has since expanded our social media presence to reach the general public.

Students write questions for archaeologists.

Students learn the basics of excavation.

Day of Archaeology Festival 2014

Please visit our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and a look into some of our public events!

And, if you are in town July 18th, come join us for Day of Archaeology Festival, at Dumbarton Oaks!