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The ethics of digging

Article about: Seeing the variety of threads on battlefield digs makes me wonder about the ethics of such projects. While it is fascinating to see what is recovered, I wonder what history might be lost fro

  1. #11
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    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Quote by Pompa Mike View Post
    I think that the only real ethical question comes about when human remains are discovered.
    I agree. If you work your butt off digging and finding a WWII relic and save it from rusting away. It is yours.
    Bones get turned in, site given up for retrieval of remains. There are always other places to dig.

  2. #12

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Just for curiosity, I plugged "ethics of WWII archaeology" into Google and got a couple of interesting links:
    Ethics of Conflict Archaeology Session - World War II Forums

    and:
    The 2009 Conflict Archaeology Conference Past Horizons’ Weblog – World Archaeology

    The Journal of Conflict Archaeology
    http://brill.publisher.ingentaconnec...tent/brill/jca

    Has anyone here been involved in scholarly digs of WWI/WWII sites?

  3. #13
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    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    I dont think there is a major issue in recovering artefacts for preservation now. What gets me is that alot digs seem to be conducted fast and loose, with little or no context or record.
    Whether to dig now or dig later is apart of major discourse within archaeology. However, most archaeologists would agree that excavation under record is the more realistic option - else you risk the possibility of reducing the future interpretation of site.

    Nevertheless, we also have to look at the cultural aspect of it. Archaeological practice is more popular and thorough in Western EU Countries and America - naturally these are the countries that can afford to invest in archaeological practice and development. However, you look at the USSR and alot of the former Eastern Block countries, and you can really see how archaeological teaching is not quite as popular. I say not quite as popular because there are some VERY thorough archaeologists & courses from these countries....I would however suggest that they are a rarity. SO - if the cultural aspect neglects teaching archaeology as a scientific process, utilises out of date practice, or is simply not popular, you are bound to see this type of "look what I done found" archaeology; whereby people are taking it upon themselves to dig randomly or using metal detectors.

    Not to worry though, because the same sought of thing can happen over in the Western EU countries and America - with the promotion of Archaeology (time team etc), more metal detectorists have arisen. Of which I dont decry the hobby, but will openly say that there are those who are more responsable than others. I mean if it wasnt for detectorists, the staffordshire hoard would never have been found.....but then again there are those who appear to raid sites in the UK (both ww2 and much much earlier), without liaising with their local archaeology unit or the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) - thus stealing the future interpretation....

    So really its horses for courses. And really this debate is a huge can of worms which has existed for the better part of 40 years in archaeological discourse. A book I suggest you guys read (if your interested) is "archaeology under dictatorship" by Michael J Galaty & Charles Watkinson. Also read "Archaeological Theory" by Mathew Johnson.

    Tom.

  4. #14

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Quote by Digger View Post
    I dont think there is a major issue in recovering artefacts for preservation now. What gets me is that alot digs seem to be conducted fast and loose, with little or no context or record.
    Whether to dig now or dig later is apart of major discourse within archaeology. However, most archaeologists would agree that excavation under record is the more realistic option - else you risk the possibility of reducing the future interpretation of site.......


    ................but then again there are those who appear to raid sites in the UK (both ww2 and much much earlier), without liaising with their local archaeology unit or the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) - thus stealing the future interpretation....

    Tom.
    I agree with you Tom but many detectorists face an entirely different problem. I have, on numerous occasions, contacted my local archaeological department regarding my finds and have yet to receive any reply at all. I have sent e-mails, letters and have even rang them to speak to them directly. The people I needed were 'all out' so I checked the names and e-mail details of said people and discovered I had been sending the information to the RIGHT PEOPLE......they obviously just didn't care enough about it to reply. The final e-mail I sent detailed everything I found and gave them 4 weeks in which to reply to 'express an interest'. If I received no such reply I wouldn't bother them with this kind of thing again. I got no reply. I rang again to triple check the contact details and left the people a message to ring me back. Nobody rang.

    So now I don't bother reporting my finds.

    Apathy or bad practice is not just sitting at the detectorists door, but also at the archaeologists.

    Cheers

    Steve T

  5. #15

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Very good discussion.

    I want to point out one thing apart of this :

    would you like somebody go on a cementary and open your grandfathers grave?

    Especially many of activities in eastern Europe Russia/Ukraine/... that are not organized by organisations searching for missed war victims are illegal and only to make money with collectors buying ID tags, helmets ... and stuff like this.

    So think also about this when buying WWII relics !

    May be your missed grandfathers ID tag is sold to somebody and the bones are thrown away.

    Still people in second generation after WWII are searching for their family members.

    Feel free to have a look here regarding German war victims. If from other countries forum members could place also links would be perfect.

    http://www.volksbund.de/graebersuche/content_suche.asp

  6. #16

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    This is a very complicated subject, let me throw something out there.... ww2 is modern history, there are many survivors still with us today, there are many survivors who also witnessed horiffic atrocities by the invading troops, there children would been brought up with the storys in many cases of there own family members being murdered raped and not to mention the poor souls taken to the concentration camps and slave labour camps. Ethics is a wonderful concept to us looking in from a historic point of view, but many of these diggers in poland and russia etc may be from such familys and is why in my opinion, may not show quite the respect as we would except over here... In no way do i agree in the way many of these sites are dug, but maybe this could be the reasons why we see in pictures such disregard for the bones of the fallen......

  7. #17
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    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Quote by Steve T View Post
    I agree with you Tom but many detectorists face an entirely different problem. I have, on numerous occasions, contacted my local archaeological department regarding my finds and have yet to receive any reply at all. I have sent e-mails, letters and have even rang them to speak to them directly. The people I needed were 'all out' so I checked the names and e-mail details of said people and discovered I had been sending the information to the RIGHT PEOPLE......they obviously just didn't care enough about it to reply. The final e-mail I sent detailed everything I found and gave them 4 weeks in which to reply to 'express an interest'. If I received no such reply I wouldn't bother them with this kind of thing again. I got no reply. I rang again to triple check the contact details and left the people a message to ring me back. Nobody rang.

    So now I don't bother reporting my finds.

    Apathy or bad practice is not just sitting at the detectorists door, but also at the archaeologists.

    Cheers

    Steve T
    Hi Steve

    Its indeed a great shame that youve been treated so poorly by your local Archaeological Unit. What borough/council are they? Where I am, the Archaeological Service are always happy to help, although I must admit that more often than not they are more responsive when you turn up on their doorstep - to the point now where I just wonder into the office and find the person Im looking for....
    Have you contacted the PAS? Welcome to the Portable Antiquities Scheme
    These guys are especially adept at liaising with detectorists, and promote detecting under archaeological guidance. Their site also has alot of handy tips for being more responcible.


    In concerns to gibba and Murluzza's post's: Try to look at it from a cultural and economic view. If in the UK an archaeological unit is turning away a detectorist who is routinely finding considerable deposits....what chances do the few archaeological units out in Eastern Europe etc have? All of Eastern Europe was pretty much a battlefield....and sad as it is to say, there is just not the resources to be going round collecting up all of the fallen - especially those that arent recorded. Further, we in the west can afford to be archaeologically minded, and here we like to think that we've developed out of antiquarianism - but in truth, there are still many who like to "collect" items for their own "kunstkammer"...

    In Eastern Europe they have had to live with death and military waste on their doorstep for the better part of 70 years. So its no wonder these normal (lets face it we arent considered normal for being into this stuff) people are blazay about what they do with the items. And with a genuine lack of taught archaeology over there, its no wonder that un-bonified (excuse the pun) diggers are heading out there to fuel the "collectors" in the West etc.

    Ethics is subjective - if there wasnt a market in the West for this kit, these people wouldnt be digging up their local forest. On the other-hand, people like Dimas exist, who actually make the effort to go out there and repatriate the dead, or give them a propper burial. Their techniques are limited by funding, and the fact that they are volunteers. So you cant blame them for wanting to make a buck from selling bits of militaria such as helmets etc - its not as if museums are even interested in the kit over there....
    So yeah, when I first came on here, I was abit knocked back by it, but I think now Im starting to develop a further understanding of the reality of the situation.

    Tom.

  8. #18

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful responses to a complicated question. I wanted to respond to RH1941 who had made a point earlier in the thread about the accessibility of private collections as compared to those held by museums. I'm working on a Master's in Library/Information Science and Archives and I recently asked my professor about her thoughts regarding access of private collections vs. public (museum/archival) collections. Her response:
    "In my experience, personal collectors often collect without an eye towards original order and provenance. They want everything they can get on a single subject area. So, their collections often exist without any of the contextual information that you get from collections where original order and provenance are maintained.

    The critical difference I've seen, though, is in terms of access. Archives allow researchers -- from middle school kids to genealogists to historians and everyone else -- to come in and use their materials to learn. Archives create finding aids and other tools that are distributed online and to other repositories to advertise their holdings and bring in more researchers. Use is what drives the profession. For collectors, collecting and having all of something is what drives them".

  9. #19
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    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Tud
    I cant speak for the other members but when I go to the local and state museums they don't throw open the doors and say come on in and have a look.
    Also to most collectors provenance is the golden key. I have some large groupings that include the GI's draft notice to his death certificate. along with his uniforms,photos ,shaving kit, war souvenirs. All his items are placed in one area and will always stay together. She was right about one thing some collectors do specialize in one area, and if they do they dont just grab every thing they can get there hands on. To a great deal of us collectors its the story behind the items along with the item.I have a photo album that was given to me by a dear friend. In the album it starts out with her as a nurse in NY city and then her time in England. I have sat like meny other collectors and talked with her for hours (at a100 she still has a better memory then most people a third her age) thats something you dont get in most museums. I useally just see a short description of item and donated by Mr John Doe. But if I go to a Collectors house they will tell me who when and how of an item. Did you ask your professor if she had a collection? Gary

  10. #20

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Hi Gary,
    I'm going to visit the archives of my State Veteran's Museum tomorrow and all I had to do was call. They were more than happy to take the time to show me around behind the scenes. I've had equally good treatment regarding access from another major museum recently. It has been my experience that interest is the main key to gaining access to collections be they public or private. I don't think either approach is better than the other, just different. There are academics with amazing knowledge of the field and amateurs who are equally learned.
    I'll need to ask my prof if she is a collector...

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