#226 Nazi War Diggers - It’s our fault, not NatGeo’s

Nazi War Diggers is a new show from NatGeo (formerly the National Geographic Channel but hipsterized to gain a new audience). The premise is similar to recent shows in this country, except that it takes place in Europe. Stars of the show dig up World War II artifacts, and apparently human remains too. I’m not going to explain the show or critique it. I’m also not going to link to the show and increase their page rank.

What I am going to do is talk about the root of the problem by first talking about Wal-Mart and Starbucks.


Why is Wal-Mart in business? They are constantly the butt of liberal jokes because “everyone knows” what kind of person shops at Wal-Mart. Their treatment of employees, both in the U.S. and in factories overseas, is pretty much well know, and yet, they’re still in business. Not only are they in business, but, they are thriving. 

So, why is Wal-Mart thriving? Because the people that shop there want them to thrive. For whatever reason, Wal-Mart customers have decided that having a major retail outlet in their small town is preferable to having a number of smaller businesses run by their friends and family.

Cost. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People shop at Wal-Mart because it’s cheap. It’s cheap enough for customers to look past the decline in small businesses that inevitably happens when Wal-Mart comes to town. It’s cheap enough for customers to not concern themselves with the treatment Wal-Mart employees receive. 

So, Wal-Mart is a crapy company with questionable ethics, but, people shop there because it’s cheap. Let me restate that: customers make the choice to shop there.


In many respects, Starbuck’s is the complete opposite of Wal-Mart. They treat their employees well, the have environmental programs in place (whether they always work is another matter, but, they’re trying), and, they actively try to have a good relationship with coffee farmers and communities in areas where they get their supplies. They’re not perfect, and, I’m sure many people reading this have objections to what I’ve said. Do the research, though, and you’ll see that it’s mostly true.

One way in which Starbuck’s is similar to Wal-Mart is that they are a corporation that tends to put similar businesses out on the street when they move in. I have a difficult time sussing out why this is. Starbuck’s isn’t cheaper, and in fact, they are usually a lot more expensive than the local places. They are consistent, however. You can go to a Starbucks in New York City, and then one in San Francisco, and have the same experience. The store will look similar, the pastries will be similar, and the coffee will taste the same. 

When I’m on the road and just want a soy latte, I go to Starbuck’s. I know what it’s going to taste like and I’m never disappointed. I’ve been to hundreds of local coffee shops around the country and a soy latte at each one tastes just a little bit different. Some are good and some are bad. If I have time to live in the neighborhood and figure out what I like then I’ll do that. If I don’t have time, I’m going to Starbuck’s. 

So why does Starbuck’s put other shops out of business? The ultimate answer is that they have what consumers want. Whatever that is isn’t important, unless you own a coffee shop. What’s important is to note that Starbuck’s didn’t put the local coffee shop out of business. The businesses friends, family, and neighbors did. In a capitalist economy, the consumer is king.

Say what you will about big business and corporations. They fact remains that consumers dictate what businesses succeed and which ones don’t. When a corporation eliminates your options they call that a monopoly and it’s illegal. It’s not a perfect system, but, it mostly works.


What do Wal-Mart and Starbuck’s have to do with this show and NatGeo? They didn’t decide to put other stores out of business. They didn’t decide to become huge, evil, corporations. They simply decided to give customers what they wanted and what they wanted was a place that was convenient, sometimes cheap, but always consistent. As soon as that stops, business will slow down and stores will close. Look at Best Buy and Barnes and Noble. They are responding the the growing internet marketplace by closing stores. Eventually all books and electronics will be purchased online. They didn’t realize that soon enough and the consumers made them pay for it.

So why is NatGeo not to blame? Because they’re a business. They’re a business that is in the business of giving their customers what they want. NatGeo was pitched a show that was similar to a few other shows that have been very successful. We’d all like to think that networks are run by people with sound ethics and moral principles. Wake the eff up! NatGeo is run by a corporation that is beholden to their customers and their shareholders. They have a responsibility, not for ethical programing, but for profitable programming.

Everyone seems to be upset at NatGeo, but, the only way to stop NatGeo from airing shows like Nazi War Diggers is to stop watching Nazi War Diggers. Of course, just having us ivory tower, high-minded, NPR-listening, farmer’s market only-shopping archaeologists and environmentalists stop watching isn’t going to work. Our numbers aren’t big enough. What we need to do is tell others why they shouldn’t watch the show.

Your Assignment, Should You Choose To Accept It

Be vocal. That’s it. Pretty simple, really. Tell family and friends why they shouldn’t watch the show. Tell them to tell their family and friends. Eventually, word will spread. It’s a simple theory, but as Wal-Mart shows us, people are lazy and activism is hard.

Don’t blame NatGeo for bad programming. They’re doing what their customers want them to do. NatGeo has a potential to put on some really good shows. We just have to show them that good, ethical, shows about archaeology can be what people want. Maybe we should all get together and pitch them something. Maybe a reality show about CRM archaeologists. Talk about drama…

Thanks for reading and destroy me in the comments!

#204 Fine or Permit?

This post is in response to a great blog post over at Northwest Coast Archaeology entitled, “Controversy at Cherry Point site WA, 45WH1”. Go check it out.

The NCA post is regarding a Lummi Nation territory site in northern Washington State, near Bellingham. That’s close to the Canadian border. The part I want to talk about is where the developer for a major coal port decided to bulldoze the area and drill core-samples without authorization from anyone. Apparently they’d never thought to read the Army Corps’ Appendix C. Recently, the developer was taken to court and fined $1.6 million. My guess is, that’s nothing compared to the costs, and eventual profits, of the port itself.

Forgiveness or Permission?

Let me back up a bit before I continue. When I was in the Navy, I worked for a guy that “knew how to get things”. He didn’t steal, per se. He just “re-allocated”. As far as he was concerned, if another department, or squadron, had what he needed and couldn’t get, for one reason or another, he took it. The excuse was that it all belongs to the U.S. Navy and they’ll just get a new one. This was my first exposure to the phrase, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission”.

I’m hearing it a lot more lately, and not just from morally questionable people that “have been known to acquire things from time to time” (bonus points for naming that movie in the comments). It’s being said, by their practices, by engineering firms, development firms, and anyone that is frustrated by the regulatory process they have to go through prior to development.

Permits for Land with Sensitive Resources

The news article linked above, and in the NCA post, quotes one of the lawyers in the court case about the drilling at the Cherry Point site as saying, “that way if they get their permits someday, they’re ready to build right then” (emphasis added). There are so many things wrong with that statement. 

First, I’d like to think there was just a disconnect at the project management level and that the sub-contractor hired to bulldoze the site and drill core samples really thought they had permission to do that. Maybe they acted alone or maybe the project manager higher up gave them permission thinking it would come any day. Or, maybe they really just didn’t care and figured the fines would be less than the delays in waiting would cost. Maybe I’m living in a dreamland where every one is good and the world is just. (Comments about the last statement will be deleted! Just kidding. No, they will.)

In the quote, I emphasized “if”. That’s a crucial word. They might not have been given permission to put the port in there, although that’s not likely. They might have been required to do more work on the cultural resources first. Who knows? Now, it doesn’t matter. The site is partially, if not totally, destroyed. So, is the problem with greedy developers, a miss-understanding of the relevance of cultural history, or the regulatory process in general?

Greedy Developers

In a perfect world, everyone would be honorable and do the right thing. While some people might strive to that ideal in their personal lives, at work they often have impossible deadlines and unrealistic expectations to achieve. Everyone has a boss, even if it's just their company's investors. 

Many development projects run into the hundreds of millions, and billion, of dollars. Paying $1.6 million in fines is a drop in the bucket. They spend that in one hour. Fines might give injured parties some solace, but the cultural resource is still damaged, and, thanks to the arrow of time, and the absence of a working Tardis, can't be fixed. 

I do believe, though, that most people have good intentions on an individual level. When taken on the corporate level, though, not so much. In short, corporations can be bastards.

Relevance of Cultural History

Everyone likes watching the History Channel and Discovery, right? Well, everyone but archaeologists and historians. We know the story behind the drama. Corporations are staffed by people, though. It stands to reason they like the same things everyone else likes. So why don't they often see the cultural resources they are about to destroy, or already have, as historically important as Egyptian Tombs or any street corner in Rome? 

I think the reason is that we have failed to communicate the cultural significance of the small sites we see every day and take for granted. The reason many sites in the west are not talked about often comes down to confidentiality. Either the BLM, the client, or both often require a level of secrecy related to location and types of sites. This concept is past it's time. 

Most of the sites we find in the west are recorded in their entirety during the Phase 1 survey. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to talk about them in public settings. Of course, locations should remain a secret, but the general information about the area can be given. With agencies and clients, however, it's often an all or nothing policy. If CRM firms would start including outreach in their proposals, maybe the importance of these small sites would trickle down to the general public, and more importantly, the people at these corporations making all the decisions.

Regulatory Process

The regulatory process, from beginning to end, is complicated, confusing, and needs to be considerably updated. Tom King has made a career out of just trying to explain it to people and companies. I won't attempt to go into detail here, suffice it to say that the process encourages companies to take short cuts because the penalties for doing so are often cheaper than proceeding down the regulatory path.

Take Action!

What can we, as field technicians, crew chiefs, and project managers do to get the word out about these sites? For one thing, talk about your job. Start a blog. Write a book. Be excited to tell people you're an archaeologist. It's a great and fascinating job and people love hearing about it. Don't tell them about all the weeks of shovel testing where all you found was an old shoe. Don't tell them about the hours upon hours of driving to and from project areas. Emphasize that one great project, or that awesome artifact you found. We all have one. Get energized! Get fired up! Shout out your love for this field from the roof tops! Maybe then people will start to get the picture.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#88: Stop Spike TV from airing "American Diggers"

Looting in Georgia a couple of years ago. Form the SGA website.Spike TV is planning a show where a group of people, commanded by Randy Savage, I believe, go around to historics sites around the U.S., dig up artifacts, tell us how important they are to history, and then sell them.  This is reality TV taken to a new low.  I feel that most reality TV is pretty much a waste of time but this is a waste of our cultural resources and justifies the actions of thousands of looters already out there and probably would encourage others that looting is OK.

So, sign the petition and let's see if we can get the word out.

Go to the website here:

Stop Spike TV from looting our collective past!

Here is the text of the petition:

Cancel the scheduled show "American Diggers."


I just signed the following petition addressed to: Spike TV.

Cancel the scheduled show "American Diggers."

This show, as advertised by Spike TV (, will follow a team "led by former professional wrestler-turned-modern- day relic hunter Ric Savage as they scour ... battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history."

"American Diggers," as described, encourages and glorifies looting and the antiquities trade at the expense of American history. Although the items pilfered by the team are acknowledged to have "great historical and cultural significance," these items are sold for individual profit. 

Simply plucking valuable historical items from the ground removes these items from their context. If excavated systematically by a team of trained archaeologists these sites could prove invaluable to our cultural history. The team and Spike TV are clearly more interested in turning a quick profit than in history and education, but by glorifying these irresposible actions they are encouraging the public to follow suit.


[Your name]


Here is an article by Tom Gresham on the Society for Georgia Archaeology website about fines for looting handed down a few years ago:

"Stiff fines handed down for site looting in Burke County"

Sign the petition!


#67 Archaeological Vandalism Linked to Ignorance

"Archeological sites threatened by vandalism" -- The Rebel Yell, November 17, 2011

Nevada's historic cultural areas endangered by uninformed, expanding population

Since I started this blog I've discussed the need to inform the public about archaeological sites in their region.  This article is a good example as to why they need to understand what an archaeological site is and why it's important to protect and value it as a rich part of the heritage of this land.  On to the article. Cultural Site Stewardship Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is an archaeological watchdog group that works under the Public Lands Institute and struggles against the ongoing vandalism against Nevada's cultural resources.

Native American and prehistoric sites are damaged almost on a weekly basis.  Habitation areas, such as rock shelters and Indian houses, known as wickiups, are the only remnants of past civilizations and lost cities found throughout the valley.

Project Manager George Phillips states that a lack of education within the general population causes the problem, as people don't understand what they are looking at when they see an archaeological site -- something the program is looking to combat with educational lectures held on a regular basis. [emphasis added]

A total of 122 incidents of significant impacts to cultural sites were recorded in a year.  There are 7,000 square miles in Clark County (Las Vegas) and several millions of acres in Nevada.  The Cultural Site Stewardship Program has a difficult time defending all of the known sites, not to mention all of the unknown sites.

"There are not enough rangers who can cover and protect these areas as law officials.  So we step in with volunteers who are trained and go out and monitor these sites and see what changes occur from one time to another," Phillips said. "The stewards are trained to know what their site is and what to watch for and changes are reported.  The Bureau of Land Management decides what action to take at that point."

There are groups that assist the program by looking for abandon mines and groups that are trained in surveying to record the locations of sites.


The work this group is doing is needed throughout the state.  Literally thousands of sites are recorded across the state in a single field season.  Many of those sites are not what the state considers "significant" and would be nearly impossible to protect.  That being said, there is still a great deal to learn from these insignificant sites.  I've recorded sites before that were littered with flakes and some bifaces but contained no formal tools.  These sites were looted in the sense that the formal tools were removed.  However, the "looters" were likely ranchers and hunters that didn't know that leaving the tool where it was found was more important than putting it into a jar with others on the mantle at home.

Maybe education is what we really need.  Although, at times it seems hopeless.  Some people just don't think it's wrong to pick up or damage artifacts.  While walking around the desert it would seem absurd to not disturb a pile of rusty cans or a single projectile point if you didn't know how much there was to learn from them.  It's developing a respect for "other people's things", just like our parents were supposed to teach us, that people need to learn.  I don't know how to teach that to grown adults.  Education should start with people as young as possible and continue throughout their lifetimes.  A tall order indeed.

#48 The Reno Coalition of Reason Billboard Campaign

The Reno Coalition of Reason issued a press release today annoucing the erection of two billboards in the Reno, Nevada area.

Thanks to Ben for getting the photo up so quickly!

The press release was sent out to all of the major news outlets in the area and as of this writting, only one interview has been conducted.  None of the major news outlets have reported on the billboards and the interview has not appeared on KRNV website.  The interview was conducted prior to the afternoon news broadcast but was apparently not important enough to make it on air.  Our hope is that it makes it to the evening news cast.

We hope that the news media in Reno don't decide to brush this ad campaign under the rug.  The billboards are in well-traveled areas so a lot of people should see them.  Also, the Reno Coalition of Reason is marching in the Nevada Day Parade on Saturday. So, at least a few thousand people will hear of us at that time.

We're hoping to gain new members and to step up our activism with these two events.  We aren't looking to disparage anyone's religion or make anyone upset.  We just want people to know that we are here and that if they think the way we do, there are others like them.  You don't have to believe in a god to be a good person.

PLEASE comment if you have an opinion.

Written in Sparks, NV.