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Pro patria mori
March 28, 2014 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Who are the Nazi War Diggers?
Now four men – the War Diggers - are scouring Eastern Europe in a battered Soviet era jeep, armed with metal detectors, shovels and sheer grit. Their mission is to uncover these forgotten battlefields and the buried stories in them. This is a race against time to get the history from the ground before it’s lost forever.
Talent biographies are available here. Conflict Antiquities has a long list of unanswered "urgent ethical and legal questions". The Anonymous Swiss Collector has a response from National Geographic [opens as word document], but questions remain. Archaeologists, osteologists, anthropologists, and others have not been pleased: the #NaziWarDiggers hashtag has more responses.

Some helpful tips in case you find human remains.

Previously in archaeological television controversies: Spike TV's American Digger and why anthropologists and archaeologists oppose treasure-seeking.
posted by jetlagaddict (14 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a race against time to get the history from the ground before it’s lost forever.

Why, after 50+ years, is there an urgent need to get history from the ground before it is lost forever? Are Rust Monsters now roaming the Eastern plains of Europe?
posted by Shepherd at 1:46 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


This is a race to squeeze more money from all things nazi before nobody gives a fuck anymore.
posted by hat_eater at 1:47 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


The Conflict Antiquities page presents a quote selling things that are Nazi related… for lots of money that links to the biographies page but those phrases no longer appear in it.
posted by XMLicious at 1:53 PM on March 28


I was thinking rather of National Geographic calling II World War on the Eastern Front a "nazi war" than of these guys who seem to have a genuine interest in the topic.
posted by hat_eater at 1:58 PM on March 28


It's more the opportunistic looting than the rust. In Bulgaria, for example, archaeological looting is "a €30m-a-year industry for local gangs, putting it a close third behind drugs and prostitution"
"The Communist legacy is part of the reason why only a quarter of Bulgaria’s treasures are thought to have been discovered so far. Trapped behind the Iron Curtain for half a century, Bulgaria had few tourists, which meant minimal investment in archaeology and preservation. This was followed by a decade of political confusion and economic crisis after the fall of Communism, when organised crime groups had almost completely free rein. “In the Nineties, the police could stop only about 10 per cent of the stuff leaving the country,” estimates Prof Dimitrov. “Things have improved a lot. Now they get about 70 to 80 per cent. The police show up all the time with new hordes they have seized from shops in Sofia.” As if to prove the point, the professor cuts the meeting short to receive the deputy director of the police, who says he has 2,000 artefacts to hand over, discovered in the basement of a local antiques store."
I collect coins. One of the things coin stores have sometimes are displays of ancient coins, available to buy for not that much money. One of them I went to also had a box of arrowheads and a box of Civil War bullets that had obviously spent time in the ground somewhere. Until I saw an article about the scale of looting on the blog I linked, Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, I might have been tempted to get one. Now I just sadly notice that they're there, think the owners probably don't know anything about the provenance (but I wouldn't actually know because I've never asked), and go on looking through the junk silver or whatever.
posted by Small Dollar at 2:06 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


One of the things coin stores have sometimes are displays of ancient coins, available to buy for not that much money.

Ancient coin lots on Ebay break my heart-- they're often slush from looting tombs or other sites, having had the best of the lot gleaned from them already. Even worse, coin dealers often argue that coins aren't really like other artifacts and that somehow they have no context or use for understanding an area. I admit a serious bias, but dear readers, please don't buy ancient coins without a decent history.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:14 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


I guess the trailer for the show was taken down by National Geographic? Anyone have a working link?
posted by cosmologinaut at 5:20 PM on March 28


Well, here's some of it
posted by cosmologinaut at 5:27 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


This is a race against time to get the history from the ground before it’s lost forever.

Yeah, that's a bullshit justification. Standard practice in historic preservation is to preserve in place, if there's no immediate threat. Anything that's lasted this long is good for a while yet, and in the future we might have better technology so we can learn more if and when we finally get around to excavating. Not to mention the fact that excavation is by definition destruction of the site and potentially loss of important scientific/historical context.
posted by suelac at 10:56 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I recently listened to a BBC documentry called "Digging up the Dead in Russia" (Air date: 13 Feb 2014) [MP3] where volenteer diggers go around digging up some of the millions of bodies buried around Russia from WWII. They aren't professional archeologists, and don't have much training, yet I don't hear much outcry about it. Is it just because it isn't for-profit and is very respectful?

Also: What are archeologists hoping to learn from WWII? Don't we have a pretty good handle on what happened from records and survivors? What open research areas are there?
posted by Canageek at 12:25 PM on March 29


From a different set of (actual) archaeologists working to excavate Treblinka:
[B]ecause the Nazis razed Treblinka's death camp in 1943, little physical evidence of this genocide remained. What was known about Treblinka came from Nazi confessions and the eyewitness descriptions of very few survivors, most of whom were never allowed near the gas chambers. [Images: Missing Nazi Diary Resurfaces]

But as an archaeologist, Colls knew that "the landscape could never be sanitized in that way," she said.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:38 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


They aren't professional archeologists, and don't have much training, yet I don't hear much outcry about it. Is it just because it isn't for-profit and is very respectful?

The last two bits are probably pretty key, yes. There's a new Heritage Daily piece out by an archaeologist who talked to the producers before this aired, which includes this specific critique about the promo:
In particular human remains are shown being pulled from the ground and displayed for the camera in a way which would be completely unacceptable on any conventional archaeological site; would be forbidden by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and UK Ministry of Defence if they related to the remains of a British Serviceman and, worst of all, would destroy forensic evidence and the context of the burial making a positive identification of the individual soldier difficult, if not impossible and potentially denying him a named grave.


He also emphasizes the very good point that even if this team had proper training to deal with unexploded ordnance and even if they touch on it during the actual program, which the later statements allude to, audience members might not pick up on the safety issue around plucking things out of recent battlefields (let alone the ethical one.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:23 AM on March 31


ChuraChura: That is really interesting, thank you very much.

jetlagaddict: Yikes. That is a good point, considering some people got killed by a WWI munition recently.
posted by Canageek at 10:23 AM on March 31


National Geographic Channel Pulls ‘Nazi War Diggers’ Series
posted by homunculus at 11:21 AM on April 1


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