….The argument against these [reality] shows illustrates the divide between traditional archeology and amateur enthusiasts, and is the most common argument that I have seen from those who are neither professionals nor hobby diggers. The argument claims that relic hunting damages the integrity of historic sites, and such recoveries should only be performed by professional archeologists in every circumstance. It isn’t simply against these shows, but the very act of relic hunting….. This argument is unfortunately, in large part, misinformed and counterproductive to the stated goal of preservation of our history…
I do believe that not all sites should be available to relic hunting. The most basic example is undisturbed pre-historic sites. Since there is no written record of these human activities, the only information that we can gather is through painstaking archaeological excavation, and this should be left to the professionals…..
The argument of destruction of American cultural heritage falls apart, however, when applied to most sites which are searched by amateur relic hunters. There aren’t enough professional archeologists, time, or money in the entire United States budget to conduct a full archeological excavation at all of this nations modern-historical sites. Even if there were, very little new evidence would be gained by such an endeavor. The lifestyles of 18th and 19th century America are well documented. Civil War troop locations were well recorded (that’s how I’m able to find these sites in the first place!), and typical camp life is well understood.
….Many volumes of relic identification guides have been written by relic hunters based on their recoveries. To leave these relics in the ground would be to allow them to decay to nothing, and as another relic hunter put it so eloquently, this would be nothing short of “looting by neglect.” There is nothing more saddening to a relic hunter than excavating a Civil War era button and watching it crumble away to nothing (quite literally) upon recovery thanks to years of plow damage and heavy fertilizer use….
Don’t be satisfied by these excerpts. Go read the whole post. It’s great.
Postscript: I’ve softened my stance on the “looting by neglect” claim after learning more about site preservation at Montpelier, at least when it comes to preserved sites. Sites in the way of development, plowing and other perils may warrant a more rapid relic recovery.