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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. #21

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Ok guys, here are my five cents, or pennies or Euro cents
    I have been digging since the last 70's and my dad, who retired from the RAF was an honorary archaeologist for the Roman-Germanic Museum, Xanten, in Germany. I believe digging in itself is not the problem. The problems arise when people find explosives and do not report them, but rather place them on hiking trails. Or when they dig huge, deep holes and not fill them back in. Another is the looting of human remains. I recover MIAs out of my own pocket and do it to help families find closure, but I have known cases where a pilot was tossed back in the hole just because the vultures were digging without permission and wanted to come back a few weeks later to finish of the dig. I also know of a case where two American MIAs were found only a few months back and looted. Only after a while did one of the guys grow a conscious and report the find. The only thing they returned with the remains were the dog tags and I had to use all my persuasive powers for them to do that!
    On the flip side, states like Schleswig Holstein have gone overboard with their intentions of protecting these sites. They claim anything in water or on land and older then 50 years belongs to their archaeological society. As an example, they banned removal of remains from a German sub sunk of the coast. When I asked them when they will salvage the sub, I was basically told I was daft as the state did not have the money or the desire to recover a rusty old sub. So my question then was, why not let people salvage parts from it. The answer was quite simple...if we cannot have it, then they cannot either. Another instance was a WW2 British bomber found by a research ship looking to lay fibreoptic cables. When I was approached by members of the British government to dive the site and establish an ID (human remains were recorded at the crash-site), I was told by the SH state that no one could dive there and the wreck was theirs. I believe a lot of countries/states do not even know who legally owns these wrecks/remains. Anyways, best stop now before my keyboard catches fire! Danny

  2. #22

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    I have been following along with this thread, and a few others that touch on the subject of ethics of “digging” for the relics of warfare.
    I have no problems with retrieving artifacts from the earth, or water or even space. It is all a collection of knowledge that we need to preserve together. Where we have been, will show us where we are heading, and instruct us how to progress.
    I would concur that preserving these artifacts for historical reasons regardless of the quantity of information that has been collected already on the subject, is, a worthy cause. Every single person has a unique story to tell for their time, however long, or cut short it may have been. The dead have no voice, and we all must be their sound.
    I have difficulty, like many others in this forum, when the ‘digger’ comes across human remains. You cannot muck around in a war torn area and not discover the horrors of conflict. What one does after the discovery is what determines the “ethics”.
    Ethics is not a theory, or just some dusty university class. Ethics is a practical discipline that falls before us every day. Ethics is a decision and never an easy one. How one decides is the ethical question. One has the opportunity to make ethical decisions that affect each self and go beyond ourselves. Albert Einstein said, “The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self. Man is here for the sake of other men.” In that respect, we are here for others…living or dead.
    How one respects others is the question. Where do you draw the line on respect?
    Or do you not draw one at all?

  3. #23

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Quote by RH1941 View Post
    I have a question for you. Have you ever dug before and if you did was it for yourself or someone else? If it was for yourself did you keep what you found?
    When I was a child, in the late sixties in Florida, it was very common for people to dig without much restraint or ethical considerations in "Indian Mounds". In one particular instance, we dug in a mound that was very shortly going to be covered by water from a dam project. My mother found 5 or 6 of the best large spear points I've ever seen in or out of a museum. They were saved from floodwaters in 1968, but almost suffered the same fate in 2008 when Hurricane Ike came through Galveston. Never came across any humain remains though. Would I do the same now...probably not..out of both ethical and historical/archeological considerations.

    Also, I spent 7 years in Europe and visited many battlefields. Never found anything on the surface despite diligent searching. Wasnt tempted to dig, though.

  4. #24
    Jan is offline

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    The digging of ww I&II relics, in itself, would be worth some research. Who are the diggers, whats the true scale of things, what happens to the items found etc. The digging Ive seen is not archaeology unless it constitutes documentation of the context. As a buyer of these artefacts I would actally demand some documented info on this to pass on..

    Rgds Jan

  5. #25

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    I agree with Pompa Mike's school of thought. If human remains are recovered then perhaps the ethics of relic hunting are questionable. It depends, however, on how the finder deals with finding the remains of a fallen soldier, do they report it to the authorities and leave the remains undisturbed (obviously the correct thing to do) or do they simply take any artefacts of interest such as insignia etc from the body and cover it back over? That is where issues of ethics of hunting relics arises.

    In regards to picking up the odd spent bullet or shell splinter turned up by the plow I would have to agree that there is little that such objects can tell us. I have collected a few bits and pieces from the 1st and 2nd WW battlefields over the years and I have written down where each peice was found, just in case they are of historical importance (I very much doubt it lol). This is an interesting debate that no doubt will continue.

  6. #26

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    i think that items should be dug up from ww1 and 2, as you said it may lose historical information, but what if it never dug up anyway it'll still be missing and no one will ever know, at least by digging such items you can preserve items and actually show evidence of the great wars to future generations rather than it just being a story in a text book. ethics, yes remains need to be treated with respect no atter who side they was on, as they were still people, and were possible reburied or reported. also another ethic issue i are you willing to risk yours and fellow diggers lives as there still tonnes of explosives out there, and i know there was atleast 25 people who died via digging up ww2 explosives.

  7. #27

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    You know what really bugs me? People on here posting up "excavation" in their thread. To excavate is to imply method and structure to what you are unearthing...not just metal detectoring the sh*t out of an area before you go randomly digging.....yeah its cool youve found an object, but dont try to add credence to what your doing by calling it excavation.

  8. #28

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Calm down digger !


    Steve T

  9. #29

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    So only a trained Archaeologist can use the word excavation and only a fully trained Archaeologist should be allowed to "Dig " on a Battlefield ?
    The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter" 26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke. 26th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers , ( 3rd Tyneside Irish )

    1st July 1916

    Thought shall be the harder , heart the keener,
    Courage the greater as our strength faileth.
    Here lies our leader ,in the dust of his greatness.
    Who leaves him now , be damned forever.
    We who are old now shall not leave this Battle,
    But lie at his feet , in the dust with our leader

    House Carles at the Battle of Hastings

  10. #30

    Default Re: The ethics of digging

    Hi Paul

    Youve got to understand that from an archaeological point of view - what is mostly occuring on this forum is not excavation or even archaeology, but simply random digging up of artefacts. Excavation has many meanings, and perhaps this is where people are getting mistaken - in what is described as a "battlefield archaeology" forum, one would expect to see the word "excavation" being used in archaeological process. I cant see any of that in 90% of what is posted up on here - and I think this part of the forum is actually working against archaeology - not promoting it. It's just paying credence to the lack of technique that COULD well be applied by people if they could be bothered. Im speaking more specifically for the UK based threads, however generally people here are neglecting a deeper understanding of artefacts and sites in order to simply dig-up objects - thinking their going to learn everything from an object out of context. I am calm about this, I just feel passionately, like most archaeologically trained minds, about the processes of archaeology, and the artefacts.
    It seems to me that people on this forum are either scared off or p*ssed off by archaeologists, who they interpret as spoiling all the fun. No one is saying dont do it, but if your going to do it, at least try to do it properly. Can you see where Im coming from? If this forum truly is about battlefield archaeology, and not simply about relic-hunting for hobby or profit, then you guys shouldnt have a problem with what Im saying.

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