Archaeology dig it - Council for British Archaeology

Archaeology Matters

Humane excavations

In 2014, we published a piece on the sensitivities of searching for and recovering remains from war graves in British Archaeology magazine.  Archaeology can help personal and political healing and add detail to the course of sketchily recorded events.  However, such work must be undertaken with professional archaeologists with experience of military archaeology and exhumation.  Most importantly it must be undertaken sensitively, in the constant knowledge that these are human remains, not just artefacts.

British Archaeology issue 137 spoilheap (134.2K, .PDF)
Our article on the sensitive treatment of war graves.

In the same article we used a television show being produced at the time called “Nazi War Diggers” to illustrate how not to go about such activity. The National Geographic planned to broadcast the show in 2014. They later pulled the show following criticism from the archaeology community, including the CBA.  However, since then, the show has been cosmetically rebranded under the title 'Battlefield Recovery' and looks set to be aired in the UK.  The CBA is appalled and outraged at the apparent irresponsible glorification of the looting of war graves that this programme portrays.

The Society for American Archaeology SAA are amazed that following a successful campaign to remove the show from the air in America, it is still to be shown in the UK.  They have approached the production company behind the show and received a carefully worded response.  You can see their comments and the response here.

Originally due to air in Australia and New Zealand at a similar time to the UK, The History Channel have since bowed to pressure from archaeologists and released this statement on Twitter: “Due to feedback from our community, we have decided to drop Battlefield Recovery from our schedule. Thank you for sharing your views.”

So far, Channel 5 has only released a generic response to campaigner’s approaches, and show no sign of bowing to calls to remove the show from their schedule which is still due to broadcast this Saturday.  We will – and we encourage our members to – keep pressure on Channel 5 to cancel the broadcast. 

However, if the show does air, we have a responsibility as archaeologists to demonstrate to society that this isn’t how good archaeology is done, nor how responsible human beings behave. 

To quote our editor:

“There can be no defence for digging up unknown bodies for profit or amusement.”

You can see the full story, as it develops here.

Floor mosaic in the National Gallery by Boris Anrep, showing Russian poet Anna Akhmatova surrounded by the horrors of war

Letter to Channel 5 (69.3K, .PDF)
Our formal approach to Channel 5 about the programme.

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