urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers

National Geographic Channels International (NatGeoTV), ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers must answer a series of urgent ethical and legal questions. [Update: now, they must answer even more urgent legal questions about unabashed looting and smuggling.]

1. Which archaeologists are involved and how?

As Paul Barford observes (as I and many, many others do too), the released excavation video ‘does not look like any project with which any reputation-caring professionals would be involved'; the excavation ‘was not done professionally’.

2. Which ‘licensed preservation organisations‘ are involved and how? What are they licensed to do?

Update: ‘We most certainly are firmly in the ‘White Team’ camp [of volunteer human rights exhumers ("white diggers"), who really are racing to rescue and respectfully rebury fallen soldiers before they are disturbed by treasure-hunting, looting "black diggers"]. Indeed, we had the leaders of a highly respected group with us, who have been working with the German and Russian War Graves Commissions for many years and have recovered thousands of fallen soldiers. The remains are treated with the utmost respect and given over to the appropriate commission so they can receive a proper and decent burial.’ ‘All work is carried out with the involvement of the War Graves commissions for both Germany and Russia, and all remains are handed over so they can be buried with their comrades.’ Apparently, they have ‘Legenda team members in the background ensuring [they] do things right‘. So, by extension, do they have the approval of ‘the Latvian Army, War Museums, the Latvian Fraternal Cemeteries Commission, and the German and Russian ambassadors’?

Update: military historian Rob Schäfer has contacted Press Officer Fritz Kirchmeier and conveyed the opinion of the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK))… ‘The producers of the show worked in conjunction with a Latvian recovery group [Legenda] (that also operates for the Volksbund)'; so, they didn’t work with the Volksbund. ‘They found the mortal remains of one German and two Russian soldiers which have been reburied. The Volksbund is ‘not amused’ about the presentation, the (non-archaeologist) presenters, and the exclusion of the Volksbund’s partner Legenda from the video. ‘Other than that, they had nothing to do with it and do not want to be associated with it.’

3. Why was the filming of the series kept ‘secret… for nearly a year’ and from whom?

4. Do you have survey permits and excavation licences for all of the sites in all of the countries in which you work?

5. As an educational channel, will you put all of the relevant licences online?

6. As an educational channel, will you educate your audiences about the threat to historic preservation from unlicensed activity and untrained diggers?

7. Do the archaeologists design and supervise any and all surveys and digs?

8. How do you identify sites for exploration?

Update: ‘The only way that the vast majority of these men are found is through the use of [metal] detectors to pinpoint them [because they are missing in action (MIA)].’

9. Are all of your sites mapped upon identification?

10. Do you define your digs as human rights exhumations or archaeological excavations?

11. Do you recover the dead soldiers’ bodies respectfully?

12. Do you recover the dead soldiers’ bodies scientifically?

13. What measures do you take to ensure that ‘relics’ are ‘meticulously preserved’?

14. Which military organisations, veterans’ charities and/or museums are involved in this series and how?

15. How do you process the human remains and with whom do you deposit them?

Update: apparently, ‘[t]hey get buried in the proper war graves, along with their fellow soldiers’. ‘Sometimes, via their dog tags, the family is tracked down…. [and] the bones go back to the family.’

16. How do you process the material artefacts and with whom do you deposit them?

Update: ‘Nothing is kept by us. Nothing is sold. It all goes to the museums, or is buried with the bodies. There are people alongside us who are very, very strict about this.’

17. How do you process the soil and do you sample it?

18. Do your Nazi War Diggers gain possession of any of their finds and, if so, what do they do with them?

19. Do National Geographic, ClearStory and your Nazi War Diggers consider ‘selling things that are Nazi related… for lots of money‘ to be an ‘ethical’ way to ‘preserve history and the dignity of the people who made it’, when many of the producers of those Nazi materials were forced labourers or people who were exterminated through labour?

20. Do your partner military organisations, veterans’ charities and/or museums consider ‘selling things that are Nazi related… for lots of money’ to be an ‘ethical’ way to ‘preserve history and the dignity of the people who made it’, when many of the producers of those Nazi materials were forced labourers or people who were exterminated through labour?

As an aside, some metal detectorists’ asides are intriguing. Liam Nolan commented: ‘Human remains emerging that are part of that relic retrieval seem to say “Leave me alone!” I know we unearth ancient grave sites but that is so long, long ago’ (that it isn’t a problem if those human remains and archaeological sites are disturbed).

15 Responses to “urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers”

  1. Hi Sam – Great work. I’d also add – do they do any sort of planning? They say that they photograph, but are they recording strata and drawing finds and bodies together in context, or are they just photographing record shots and pulling the bones out, or even worse – do they think (like Time Team) that just filming the excavation is enough? Lisa

  2. Dr. Hardy- thank you for gathering facts on your blog. Could I recommend adding a question? “Why, if nothing is sold and the show’s stars have no profit motive, is one of the team experts a collector? Does this not inflame the existing market for looted or dug material, inexorably leading to more destruction of sites and graves, thus counter the show’s supposed preservation message?”

    • I completely agree with you and will try to highlight that more comprehensive follow-up work. (I just wanted all of these questions to be quite technical, without any opportunity for anyone to change the subject.)

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