Discussion Ethics of "digging"

Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
I agree here its mostly shallow, but thats why I disagree recovery is destructive.

I live in the Midwest, own a farm and live in rural area, so I tend to specialize In hunting field sites. Every single year a field is tilled, some artifact's are damaged, others destroyed, regardless all will be moved around from their orginal location. The longer a field is tilled the more the disruption will be from any orginal locations context, in many cases here the fields have already been farmed and disrupted for over 150 years. I have seen fields were they tilled right over Indian mounds and mounds are barely perceptible to the eye anymore. Dont see how recovery in these cases could be anymore destructive then non recovery...........And because everything is constantly being moved around every year, dont really have to dig, most Indian artifacts are surface finds, new ones brought to surface every year

Over 406 million acres in the US are in cropland production
Heres an example of surface finds, the etley in the lower right is 5 1/2 inches, hard to find them as the larger points are ussually so broken from farming, you generally find mabye 1/3 of it

20190902_111456.jpg
 

KHyatt

Corporal
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
In the past, when the "science' was young, it may have been true that "archaeologists" merely wanted to collect valuable stuff. I'm thinking, for example, of Heinrich Schliemann and the discovery and subsequent looting of Troy, and the looting of Egypt in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, I believe that it's unfair to suggest that archaeologists today want a monopoly on their "toys." In my experience that has never been the case. I've never known an archaeologist who simply wanted to collect stuff to place in a museum or storage somewhere. All I've known and worked with were genuinely interested in the scientific and cultural value of the work that they do and the opportunity to interpret their work for lay persons as well as other professionals.

I worked with one archaeologist who told me that he had taken an oath as a professional not to collect for his own use any archaeological find. I have never thought to ask other archaeologists I've known if that is expected of them such as the Hippocratic oath is for physicians. Anyone here know?

It would behoove collectors/diggers to familiarize themselves with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), which cover collecting on Federal lands, both digging (generally not allowed without a permit) and picking up resources on the surface. There is an interesting exception in ARPA to collecting arrowheads, but it isn't directly related to this thread, so I won't get into it. If anyone is interested, simply Google "arrowhead collecting" and you'll probably find plenty of information on the so-called "Carter loophole."

Those are indeed some nice stone points, BTW.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
In the past, when the "science' was young, it may have been true that "archaeologists" merely wanted to collect valuable stuff. I'm thinking, for example, of Heinrich Schliemann and the discovery and subsequent looting of Troy, and the looting of Egypt in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, I believe that it's unfair to suggest that archaeologists today want a monopoly on their "toys." In my experience that has never been the case. I've never known an archaeologist who simply wanted to collect stuff to place in a museum or storage somewhere. All I've known and worked with were genuinely interested in the scientific and cultural value of the work that they do and the opportunity to interpret their work for lay persons as well as other professionals.

I worked with one archaeologist who told me that he had taken an oath as a professional not to collect for his own use any archaeological find. I have never thought to ask other archaeologists I've known if that is expected of them such as the Hippocratic oath is for physicians. Anyone here know?

It would behoove collectors/diggers to familiarize themselves with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), which cover collecting on Federal lands, both digging (generally not allowed without a permit) and picking up resources on the surface. There is an interesting exception in ARPA to collecting arrowheads, but it isn't directly related to this thread, so I won't get into it. If anyone is interested, simply Google "arrowhead collecting" and you'll probably find plenty of information on the so-called "Carter loophole."

Those are indeed some nice stone points, BTW.
I agree.
In the archaeological association I'm a member of we have some of the top professionals in the state that are important members. We bring our finds for them to look at and comment on. They depend on the collecting community to share their finds (many times on social media). It helps them add to the "point distribution data" on specific point types.
 
Joined
May 12, 2018
I agree here its mostly shallow, but thats why I disagree recovery is destructive.

I live in the Midwest, own a farm and live in rural area, so I tend to specialize In hunting field sites. Every single year a field is tilled, some artifact's are damaged, others destroyed, regardless all will be moved around from their orginal location. The longer a field is tilled the more the disruption will be from any orginal locations context, in many cases here the fields have already been farmed and disrupted for over 150 years. I have seen fields were they tilled right over Indian mounds and mounds are barely perceptible to the eye anymore. Dont see how recovery in these cases could be anymore destructive then non recovery...........And because everything is constantly being moved around every year, dont really have to dig, most Indian artifacts are surface finds, new ones brought to surface every year

Over 406 million acres in the US are in cropland production

The issue is one of accidental and intentional destruction in my mind. Farmers don’t go out with an intent to dig up relics... much of the archeology of my midwestern town was found accidentally by farmers in the 19th century. It should be pointed out though that they turned their finds over to Dr Kirtland who was the nearest thing we then had to a professional archeologist and some even reported the location of their finds.

Certainly if a area is very disturbed by farming then that would be a pretty compelling case not to leave things in situe. But the work of retrieving any artifacts ought to be done to professional standards, at very least. Perhaps there could be some sort of state amateur archeology liscence which could be obtained from taking a class lead by a professional so that amateurs could be properly trained. There should also probably be more laws prohibiting development/agriculture on land with any sort of archeological importance. It seems like from the discussion here that would probably be more effective legislatively as it would wholesale destruction of important sites.

My point in mentioning the depth of stratification here in the US was that in terms of damages picking over the surface here as opposed to Europe is more detrimental and we ought to consider that when comparing our situation with theirs.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
The issue is one of accidental and intentional destruction in my mind. Farmers don’t go out with an intent to dig up relics... much of the archeology of my midwestern town was found accidentally by farmers in the 19th century. It should be pointed out though that they turned their finds over to Dr Kirtland who was the nearest thing we then had to a professional archeologist and some even reported the location of their finds.

Certainly if a area is very disturbed by farming then that would be a pretty compelling case not to leave things in situe. But the work of retrieving any artifacts ought to be done to professional standards, at very least. Perhaps there could be some sort of state amateur archeology liscence which could be obtained from taking a class lead by a professional so that amateurs could be properly trained. There should also probably be more laws prohibiting development/agriculture on land with any sort of archeological importance. It seems like from the discussion here that would probably be more effective legislatively as it would wholesale destruction of important sites.

My point in mentioning the depth of stratification here in the US was that in terms of damages picking over the surface here as opposed to Europe is more detrimental and we ought to consider that when comparing our situation with theirs.

perhaps we should to agree to disagree, as in my opinion the more laws or legislation thats pursued, it is going to simply dissuade farmers and amateur archeologists from sharing anything, as I doubt either the hobby or agriculture is going away, it would only effect the level of cooperation, by discouraging cooperation.....Farmers arnt going to abandon farming fields every time they find an arrowhead to have the field "evaluated" , they would simply not ever report finding the arrowhead...........

Farmers are concerned about running a business, and unless someone is going to either pay market value for the land, or compensate them for lost production.......actually keeping the land in production is justifiably so their priority......
 
Last edited:

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
Great post! When does trash and junk become "artifacts"? It is legal to pick up a rock and skip it across a river but if the rock is an arrowhead then you can't touch it.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
The issue is one of accidental and intentional destruction in my mind. Farmers don’t go out with an intent to dig up relics... much of the archeology of my midwestern town was found accidentally by farmers in the 19th century. It should be pointed out though that they turned their finds over to Dr Kirtland who was the nearest thing we then had to a professional archeologist and some even reported the location of their finds.

Certainly if a area is very disturbed by farming then that would be a pretty compelling case not to leave things in situe. But the work of retrieving any artifacts ought to be done to professional standards, at very least. Perhaps there could be some sort of state amateur archeology liscence which could be obtained from taking a class lead by a professional so that amateurs could be properly trained. There should also probably be more laws prohibiting development/agriculture on land with any sort of archeological importance. It seems like from the discussion here that would probably be more effective legislatively as it would wholesale destruction of important sites.

My point in mentioning the depth of stratification here in the US was that in terms of damages picking over the surface here as opposed to Europe is more detrimental and we ought to consider that when comparing our situation with theirs.
More laws do scare landowners..a lot. Many important sites that I’m familiar with did have features below the plow line and archaeologists were allowed to dig after the row crop was harvested.
I think everyone who hunts Indian artifacts, especially, should have a general knowledge of projectile point types and knowledge of basic archaeology. But surface collecting in a plowed, at lots best, is a good way for amateurs to add to their states record of lithic distribution.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
More laws do scare landowners..a lot. Many important sites that I’m familiar with did have features below the plow line and archaeologists were allowed to dig after the row crop was harvested.
I think everyone who hunts Indian artifacts, especially, should have a general knowledge of projectile point types and knowledge of basic archaeology. But surface collecting in a plowed, at lots best, is a good way for amateurs to add to their states record of lithic distribution.

With over 406 million acres in crop production, can you imagine the wait times if every single incident of some artifact being found by a amateur or farmer had to be investigated to evaluate the site by the handful of college staff in most states?...........
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
With over 406 million acres in crop production, can you imagine the wait times if every single incident of some artifact being found by a amateur or farmer had to be investigated to evaluate the site by the handful of college staff in most states?...........
Well said.
There's too much land to check everything professionally.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Well said.
There's too much land to check everything professionally.

Its like construction crews are supposed to report evidence to have sites evaluated, I like to think if its evident they are on something of obvious significence they would, however i have no doubt they dont stop to report every single individual find
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Its like construction crews are supposed to report evidence to have sites evaluated, I like to think if its evident they are on something of obvious significence they would, however i have no doubt they dont stop to report every single individual find
I'm sure your right.
They wouldn't want to stop a construction project that is on a deadline. I'm sure too that many of the construction workers aren't trained to know what kind of "evidence" would constitute contacting an archaeologist either.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Hmmm ... the subject seems to have drifted into the ethics of private, amateur digging of ancient artifacts (e.g. American native) and that is a different question than the OP which was about the digging of American Civil War artifacts. These are different things. I simply don't see any reason to restrict the collection of nineteenth-century objects on private land and haven't seen yet a good reason articulated for restricting such. I have spoken.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Hmmm ... the subject seems to have drifted into the ethics of private, amateur digging of ancient artifacts (e.g. American native) and that is a different question than the OP which was about the digging of American Civil War artifacts. These are different things. I simply don't see any reason to restrict the collection of nineteenth-century objects on private land and haven't seen yet a good reason articulated for restricting such. I have spoken.
Well they are in effect the same thing, dont think anyone has suggested laws or a code that would restrict the recovery of historical artifacts to just a 4 year period of artifacts.

Oddly enough the one that involves the most "digging" hasnt been mentioned......but there are some who dig privies to recover mainly period bottles that were threw in them as trash
 

Ethan S.

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Location
Carter County Kentucky
My dad was friends with the owners of a bed and breakfast on Oak Ridge I think it was. They let him metal detect the yard outside the B&B, and he found a few bullets, a few shards of bottles from New York, and oddly enough, Artillery friction primers. For years, historians debated about where a certain piece of artillery was, and he found the location...right outside the window of the B&B. Those relics (excuse me, artifacts) now reside with the land owners, and they are displayed in a special case.
 

James Brenner

Corporal
Joined
Nov 10, 2016
Location
North Canton, Ohio
Here's a question for those of you who do metal detecting: what happens to your collection when you die? Will your kids parcel it out to friends and/relatives? Will any notes you've taken or made accompany the object? Will the stuff be scattered to the four winds or, if it's still in the family 50 years on, will they know what it is? If not, then the preservation/salvage argument only lasts as long as you do.

There's been mention of donating collections to museums and historical societies, but there's also been mention made of how much is enough? Does the Adams County (PA) Historical Society really need a hundred more musket balls? More importantly, do they have the resources to properly curate the items? Do they have the room to store the items? If it's a ferrous item, its preservation is costly just because it rusts. Chances are, they do not have the resources needed and will decline accepting the items.

So, how 'bout this? As you find and document these objects, why not take digital images of them? Include digital copies of your research notes, sketches, GPS coordinates, etc. Put it all on a thumb drive and give it to the local, county, state historical society or local museum. The information will be available for future researchers and it won't cost the institution time, money, or space. So if the g-g-grandkids don't know that the chunk of metal in a drawer came from one of Custer's cavalrymen and pitches it (not a great example, but you get the point), future researchers will still have access to the information and the digital model. And your collection survives.
 

alan polk

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 11, 2012
Here's a question for those of you who do metal detecting: what happens to your collection when you die? Will your kids parcel it out to friends and/relatives? Will any notes you've taken or made accompany the object? Will the stuff be scattered to the four winds or, if it's still in the family 50 years on, will they know what it is? If not, then the preservation/salvage argument only lasts as long as you do.

There's been mention of donating collections to museums and historical societies, but there's also been mention made of how much is enough? Does the Adams County (PA) Historical Society really need a hundred more musket balls? More importantly, do they have the resources to properly curate the items? Do they have the room to store the items? If it's a ferrous item, its preservation is costly just because it rusts. Chances are, they do not have the resources needed and will decline accepting the items.

So, how 'bout this? As you find and document these objects, why not take digital images of them? Include digital copies of your research notes, sketches, GPS coordinates, etc. Put it all on a thumb drive and give it to the local, county, state historical society or local museum. The information will be available for future researchers and it won't cost the institution time, money, or space. So if the g-g-grandkids don't know that the chunk of metal in a drawer came from one of Custer's cavalrymen and pitches it (not a great example, but you get the point), future researchers will still have access to the information and the digital model. And your collection survives.
I know that some “relic” hunters utilize a software called Relic Record which does just as you proposed. I think @Tom Hughes uploads his finds into that program or something similar.
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
Here's a question for those of you who do metal detecting: what happens to your collection when you die? Will your kids parcel it out to friends and/relatives? Will any notes you've taken or made accompany the object? Will the stuff be scattered to the four winds or, if it's still in the family 50 years on, will they know what it is? If not, then the preservation/salvage argument only lasts as long as you do.

There's been mention of donating collections to museums and historical societies, but there's also been mention made of how much is enough? Does the Adams County (PA) Historical Society really need a hundred more musket balls? More importantly, do they have the resources to properly curate the items? Do they have the room to store the items? If it's a ferrous item, its preservation is costly just because it rusts. Chances are, they do not have the resources needed and will decline accepting the items.

So, how 'bout this? As you find and document these objects, why not take digital images of them? Include digital copies of your research notes, sketches, GPS coordinates, etc. Put it all on a thumb drive and give it to the local, county, state historical society or local museum. The information will be available for future researchers and it won't cost the institution time, money, or space. So if the g-g-grandkids don't know that the chunk of metal in a drawer came from one of Custer's cavalrymen and pitches it (not a great example, but you get the point), future researchers will still have access to the information and the digital model. And your collection survives.

I already do that with 3 different museum here in Alabama. If fact I'm in the process of putting an exhibit in our museum here of all (mostly) artifacts I have recovered over the last 7 years from the CS camp here. When I dig the fire pits and hunts site they are all photoed and cataloged and the fire pit brick are labeled when I remove them. You need to keep in mind that I'm paying for the display cases, labeling and I had a friend that owns an electrical supply company here that is donating the lighting. This is after over 800 hours of research (which will be in the museum) and over 1200 hours of boots on the ground time and I really don't add up all the fuel, meals and other expenses that I have incurred over the years as its a labor of love. Let see a government agency do that. Oh did I mention the $1200 I spent on the 4 wheeler.

4 wheeler.jpg


buttons.jpg


fire pts.jpg


lead.jpg


pit.jpg


relics-1.jpg


texas star.jpg
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
I know that some “relic” hunters utilize a software called Relic Record which does just as you proposed. I think @Tom Hughes uploads his finds into that program or something similar.

I have it on my phone and Ipad and I love it as when I log the item in and take a picture I can tell what is what.
 
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