Discussion Ethics of "digging"

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
I hope that you relic hunters and history seekers get to see this show, its breath taking. These two guys have up until now held on to some of the most amazing relics ever known. They have everything from Celtic gold cups to WW2 German Gold bars, not to mention their incredible collection of Knights Templar artefacts.

Now there's some "real" treasure in the true sense of valuable relics.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
Back in 2009 a British metal detectorist found 4,000 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold in a farmers field, he did everything right, he informed his local museum and they sent out a team of archaeologists, he got a pretty good reward, he spilt the six million pound reward with the farmer.
I am a farmer and landowner and assume you meant to say that the farmer shared the reward with the finder.
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
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Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
I am a farmer and landowner and assume you meant to say that the farmer shared the reward with the finder.
Not really, you see in the UK the land may be owned by the farmer but under British law any large find would have to be investigated by the coroner and a finds liaison officer, a decision is then made to work out if the finds are treasure trove. If its deemed treasure trove then it belongs to English heritage and has to be handed over to them but they always pay out at a reasonable and fair price, the payment for any finds/artefacts would be spilt between the finder and farmer, of course an unscrupulous farmer could argue that all of the reward belongs to him because it was found on his land, that’s why metal detectorists nearly always make a point of reporting their finds before they notify the farmer, that way they have evidence that they were the ones that found it and not the farmer. It a system that seems to work.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
Not really, you see in the UK the land may be owned by the farmer but under British law any large find would have to be investigated by the coroner and a finds liaison officer, a decision is then made to work out if the finds are treasure trove. If its deemed treasure trove then it belongs to English heritage and has to be handed over to them but they always pay out at a reasonable and fair price, the payment for any finds/artefacts would be spilt between the finder and farmer, of course an unscrupulous farmer could argue that all of the reward belongs to him because it was found on his land, that’s why metal detectorists nearly always make a point of reporting their finds before they notify the farmer, that way they have evidence that they were the ones that found it and not the farmer. It a system that seems to work.
Thank God for the Revolution. If a finder approached me with a proposition to search for potentially valuable artifacts on my land, I would withhold permission to search, have my attorney draw up a contract protecting my property rights, including an agreement on how much of a finder's fee he would receive. Otherwise, permission would not granted.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
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Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
While I am a "digger" and I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with me, I feel NOT digging these items is doing a much larger disservice to the ones that fought there. How on earth is it doing ANY good to leave these relics in the ground to simply rot away? By exposing these items to the light of day, whether in a private collection or in a museum, they are at least being seen, honored and cherished by someone. tens of thousands are lost every single day to development, getting paved over and lost or destroyed forever.
Even in an extreme case such as digging in a national park like Vicksburg. Does a museum really want 10,00 3 ringers in its collection? They would never be put on display they would simply be put in a warehouse somewhere away from view. They certainly dont' do anyone any good in the ground. Yes I get its hallowed ground, but Im not advocating digging for profiteering, but rather to be viewed in awe of even in a personal relic collection that will be taken care of forever. Id rather see a minnie ball on every bookshelf in america than in the dirt somewhere.

We cant all be archaeologists and get paid to do something as awesome as that, believe me I wish I could. I am an extremely devoted historian and have spent thousands of hours over the last 30 years pouring over documents such as diaries and the official records to uncover the hidden sites Ive found and everything Ive dug came with the landowners permission.

I have a great deal of respect for archaeology and the researchers specializing in the field. I wish that more professional fieldwork could be done on Civil War sites, but my impression is that resources for that kind of work are very limited, which means that many promising sites would never be investigated without the involvement of knowledgeable relic hunters and site owners who have a passion for the history of the land they own.

Roy B.
 

KHyatt

Corporal
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
I appreciate all of the thoughtful replies to my original post. I've contemplated those questions more myself and have maybe one more thought to share. If one thinks of an artifact as data instead of an object, that begins to imply my feelings about removing stuff from the ground. When data are collected in a manner that they are not documented, no one benefits, and we can never know the implications of that loss for future generations, be they private collectors or professional archaeologists. So, bravo to those collectors who document their finds and share with others. But, does it occur often enough to mitigate the overall loss of the data? (That's a serious question - I would like to know.)
 

Waterloo50

Major
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Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
I appreciate all of the thoughtful replies to my original post. I've contemplated those questions more myself and have maybe one more thought to share. If one thinks of an artifact as data instead of an object, that begins to imply my feelings about removing stuff from the ground. When data are collected in a manner that they are not documented, no one benefits, and we can never know the implications of that loss for future generations, be they private collectors or professional archaeologists. So, bravo to those collectors who document their finds and share with others. But, does it occur often enough to mitigate the overall loss of the data? (That's a serious question - I would like to know.)
I don’t see how you could ever get a definitive answer to your question. We really don’t know what significant finds are kept secretly in private collections. To be honest, even a small and unassuming find could be of some importance but as soon as it’s placed in a private collection the evidence is gone.

I follow a very well known treasure hunter on YouTube, he never reveals the location of his finds, I once watched him retrieve a hoard of civil war cannonballs, weapons and associated paraphernalia from a shallow river, he surmised that the finds had probably been lost during an attack on a number of wagons that were carrying supplies across that river.

My point being that the area was obviously of some historical significance but the location was not revealed, Ive no doubt that he’ll continue to clear the area of finds and maybe he will eventually report the artefacts along with the location but the damage has been done because the finds can not be professionally recorded in situ, the only thing that anyone will ever know is that something happened at the location but the all important clues have gone.

Here’s one of the people that I follow, he’s a responsible treasure hunter but just look at the history thats been removed.
 
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John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
I don’t see how you could ever get a definitive answer to your question. We really don’t know what significant finds are kept secretly in private collections. To be honest, even a small and unassuming find could be of some importance but as soon as it’s placed in a private collection the evidence is gone.

I follow a very well known treasure hunter on YouTube, he never reveals the location of his finds, I once watched him retrieve a hoard of civil war cannonballs, weapons and associated paraphernalia from a shallow river, he surmised that the finds had probably been lost during an attack on a number of wagons that were carrying supplies across that river.

My point being that the area was obviously of some historical significance but the location was not revealed, Ive no doubt that he’ll continue to clear the area of finds and maybe he will eventually report the artefacts along with the location but the damage has been done because the finds can not be professionally recorded in situ, the only thing that anyone will ever know is that something happened at the location but the all important clues have gone.

Here’s one of the people that I follow, he’s a responsible treasure hunter but just look at the history thats been removed.

Way back at the beginning of the thread I commented on the issue of the historic record. If something is significant is a bit difficult to say until it's looked at by somebody who studies such things. However, in most cases dug objects don't reveal anything new or of much significance. Arrowheads, as an example: who made them and when is almost always already known and can be fairly easily looked up in books. Taking one from private property doesn't have any effect on the record (but would be illegal on public lands).

I, too, watch that guy you show. I'd argue that knowing exactly where the alleged wagon(s) crossed is of no importance (unless maybe they contained all the lost Confederate gold). We already know about the wagons of the day and all the objects recovered. Wagons and soldiers crossed streams and rivers by the thousands. That one broke down or got hit just isn't of any importance and wouldn't increase our collective knowledge of the war or the era. Revealing where it is probably would just result in an attack of inconsiderate relic hunters.
 

Waterloo50

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England
Way back at the beginning of the thread I commented on the issue of the historic record. If something is significant is a bit difficult to say until it's looked at by somebody who studies such things. However, in most cases dug objects don't reveal anything new or of much significance. Arrowheads, as an example: who made them and when is almost always already known and can be fairly easily looked up in books. Taking one from private property doesn't have any effect on the record (but would be illegal on public lands).

I, too, watch that guy you show. I'd argue that knowing exactly where the alleged wagon(s) crossed is of no importance (unless maybe they contained all the lost Confederate gold). We already know about the wagons of the day and all the objects recovered. Wagons and soldiers crossed streams and rivers by the thousands. That one broke down or got hit just isn't of any importance and wouldn't increase our collective knowledge of the war or the era. Revealing where it is probably would just result in an attack of inconsiderate relic hunters.
Agreed but what if questions were being asked about a specific battle/skirmish where for example a unit was overrun because they lacked the necessary supplies/ammo to continue the fight, the answer to the question could be that their supply chain was attacked whilst crossing a nearby river but how would anyone know if that was the case if all of the evidence was removed. Just imagine if the finds discovered at Little Big Horn had been cleaned away by people using metal detectors, how hard would it have been to at least attempt to give an accurate account of the battle. The bullets and cartridge cases found at LBH at least give some overview of how the battle unfolded. I agree though that a lot is already known about certain objects but its not necessarily the objects themselves that are important but where they are found in relation to a certain event, objects are more than just objects when trying to place them into their historical context.
 

John Winn

Major
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Location
State of Jefferson
Agreed but what if questions were being asked about a specific battle/skirmish where for example a unit was overrun because they lacked the necessary supplies/ammo to continue the fight, the answer to the question could be that their supply chain was attacked whilst crossing a nearby river but how would anyone know if that was the case if all of the evidence was removed. Just imagine if the finds discovered at Little Big Horn had been cleaned away by people using metal detectors, how hard would it have been to at least attempt to give an accurate account of the battle. The bullets and cartridge cases found at LBH at least give some overview of how the battle unfolded. I agree though that a lot is already known about certain objects but its not necessarily the objects themselves that are important but where they are found in relation to a certain event, objects are more than just objects when trying to place them into their historical context.

I'll agree that one has to consider on a case-by-case basis. However, I think most finds don't have the value that, say, those at some place like LBH would. Also, consider that a lot of private land has been - and will be again - disturbed and might even get paved over. So, exact context has already been lost. Not recovering objects might very well just mean they're lost altogether.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
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Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Agreed but what if questions were being asked about a specific battle/skirmish where for example a unit was overrun because they lacked the necessary supplies/ammo to continue the fight, the answer to the question could be that their supply chain was attacked whilst crossing a nearby river but how would anyone know if that was the case if all of the evidence was removed. Just imagine if the finds discovered at Little Big Horn had been cleaned away by people using metal detectors, how hard would it have been to at least attempt to give an accurate account of the battle. The bullets and cartridge cases found at LBH at least give some overview of how the battle unfolded. I agree though that a lot is already known about certain objects but its not necessarily the objects themselves that are important but where they are found in relation to a certain event, objects are more than just objects when trying to place them into their historical context.

Yes, when I started reading your post here, Little Big Horn immediately came to mind. Then you actually mentioned it! As I recall, the archaeological investigation actually resulted in a new narrative about how and where the battle unfolded. This kind of emphasizes that an artifact is in a sense a data point. Analyzed in context, it can be useful for documenting events of the past. Unfortunately, as I think a number of us have already pointed out, resources for archaeological research are severely limited. Given the extent of the Civil War conflict over several years and a sizable geography, it seems unlikely that academic-style archaeology will be able to give attention to anything more than a small percentage of the potential sites. Meanwhile artifacts rot in the ground, and developers move in to raze the sites.

Roy B.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Yes, when I started reading your post here, Little Big Horn immediately came to mind. Then you actually mentioned it! As I recall, the archaeological investigation actually resulted in a new narrative about how and where the battle unfolded. This kind of emphasizes that an artifact is in a sense a data point. Analyzed in context, it can be useful for documenting events of the past. Unfortunately, as I think a number of us have already pointed out, resources for archaeological research are severely limited. Given the extent of the Civil War conflict over several years and a sizable geography, it seems unlikely that academic-style archaeology will be able to give attention to anything more than a small percentage of the potential sites. Meanwhile artifacts rot in the ground, and developers move in to raze the sites.

Roy B.

Exactly. And the overwhelming number of sites are not the LBH type place. It doesn't add anything to the record, really, if an otherwise unknown camp site is discovered. There were millions of camp sites. The LBH was a very local, significant event we already knew about. The argument that somehow all artifacts should be left where they are because they could somehow be the Rosetta stone is just statistically not supportable. Archaeologists commonly determine that sites aren't "significant" and development should be allowed to continue even though artifacts - or even human remains - might be present. Many cemeteries are now beneath an interstate.

It's not a black or white sort of thing. If a site is discovered and determined to likely be significant then we might well take some measures to restrict digging. But for the overwhelming number of places where some artifacts - particularly ones that are just rusting away - happen to still exist it's just not a loss to dig. Comparing some place like LBH to a camp site that's now under a plowed field is just not comparable.

If one were to get a museum or university to accept a dug artifact - which they generally won't do because such aren't remarkable - they'd just put such in storage and nobody'd ever see it again. When I was doing archaeological surveys I'd sometimes bring back something like a potsherd a it would just sit in the archaeologist's cabinet until he/she moved on and then it would get tossed. If dug on private land better to be salvaged and displayed.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
I can't edit for some reason so will just add here that many sites in the ancient world routinely get paved over or otherwise developed because they're just not that significant. Often what happens is that a university is allowed to harvest all the artifacts they can by some deadline and then it's over. Lots and lots of stone-age village sites. Ho hum.
 
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