National Geographic Diggers at Montpelier: Some Reflections

Posted by on Jul 19, 2015 in Dirt, Research and Engagement | 3 Comments

This Monday, July 20th at 10:30 pm EST, National Geographic Channel’s Diggers will begin airing the 4th season of their program, beginning with a show they filmed at my place of work, The Montpelier Foundation. As many of you probably know, we run week long, in residence Metal Detecting Expedition Programs, where metal detector hobbiests work alongside our staff to conduct archaeological survey. This past November, KG and Ringy, the two stars of the show, attended one of these programs, which will be featured on the show. I wanted to talk a little bit about our participation in the show here, but also give a bit of a glimpse into what didn’t make the screen during the show.

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First, we had almost complete control over the program. We were able to dictate the emphasis of the show, making it about our Expedition Program. This is largely thanks to the work that SHA, SAA, and other organizations took to work with National Geographic to improve the show. We required KG and Ringy to participate in lectures, follow the same procedures as the rest of the participants, and generally be a part of the team. The Production team was wonderful, complied with our wishes, and completely encapsulated exactly what we had hoped for in a program. It was truly a wonderful week of public archaeology.

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Second, the participants on the Program were top-knotch. This program was actually an experiment of its own: not only did we have nine metal detectorists from across the country to participate, but we also had archaeologists from The Fairfield Foundation and the Ft. Drum Cultural Resources Department attend the program to learn about metal detector survey, and how to co-collaborate with members of the community. The entire group got along wonderfully, and surveyed over 3,600 square feet in one week.

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Third, our staff was incredible. This expedition is always all hands on deck: each detectorist is paired with a staff member, who is responsible for teaching, doing the paperwork, all while building relationships with their partner. At the beginning, we actually had groups of three: detectorist, staff member, and a visiting archaeologist. After a couple days training our visiting archaeologists, our staff turned things into high gear. In addition to supervising the survey and dodging cameras, our staff completed all the maps, bagged, tagged, and flagged artifacts, shot in hundreds samples with our total station, catalogued and data entered all of the hits, and had a completed map by the end of Friday, which displayed our results for the entire group. The entire survey was, by all intents and purposes, completed in one week.

The entire week was exhausting, but also exhilirating. We all knew that there was plenty riding on the week: the last thing we wanted was for the show to be something that didn’t resemble our program’s standards or our commitment to good archaeological research and public engagement. The individuals attending the program were similarly motivated: metal detectorists also have a stake in their hobby being represented positively. In all, I couldn’t be happier with the program: we located an important site on our landscape, we did so through the collaborative efforts of metal detectorists and archaeologists, and we have the opportunity through the Diggers show to share all of that hard work with a broader public across the world. I cannot think of a better possible outcome.

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  • Brian Kabat

    It was an honor and a privilege to participate in your program. Your staff members were gracious and generous hosts and took great care of the detectorists. It was fascinating learning about your tradecraft and this nascent intersection of the hobby and the science. To walk away from a terrific program with a dozen or so new friends made the week a very enriching experience. Keep up the great work!

    Brian Kabat

    • Thanks Brian! We hope you’ll come back and dig with us again soon!!