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Why Archaeologists Are Fuming

By Keith Kloor
Mar 2, 2012 11:02 AMNov 19, 2019 10:49 PM


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Several years ago, a scholar wrote that the popular image of archaeology was characterized by three themes.

1) Archaeology is about searching and finding treasure underground; 2) Archaeological fieldwork involves making discoveries in tough conditions and in exotic locations; 3) Like a detective, the archaeologist tries to piece together what happened in the past.

In the United States, archaeologists have been unable to escape their own past. They can't seem to shake their early reputation as treasure hunters and grave robbers. As I write in this new article for Science Insider, "that perception dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when museums sponsored field expeditions to dig up Native American ruins." In recent decades, an adventurous but less exploitive image of archaeology has taken root in the public mind, reinforced by Hollywood stereotypes and popular TV shows. Archaeologists have pretty much made their peace with this cartoonish representation. But now two new gimmicky programs on cable TV have many archaeologists fuming. One of the shows is called "Diggers" and made its debut earlier this week on the National Geographic channel. The other is called American Digger and premieres later this month on Spike TV. You get the idea? In my Science piece, I report on the archaeological community's furious reaction to both programs. Regular readers of this blog may recall that I have periodically covered archaeology's pothunting legacy in the United States. The two new cable TV programs are a reminder that this treasure-seeking pastime endures in our popular culture.

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