There is a great debate taking place between
Archaeologists and the Bottle Diggers. Please go to http://www.bottlediggers.com
and click on the guestbook to view some of the entries that are being
On the Difference Between Archaeologists and
A Half Serious Analysis
Their real objection is you are destroying archaeological sitesÖ.
(not my sites or your sites, but their sites)
Archaeologists are not very happy with bottle diggers. The rift between bottle digger (read as treasure hunter) and archaeologist is an old one. Despite protections designed by the architects, the ancient Egyptian pyramids were plundered by treasure hunters much to the dismay of those who built the tombs and those who wished to plunder them in more modern times in the name of science. No small glory attached to finding Tut - huh Howard Carter?
"Preservation" is the position of archeologists. "Leave it in the ground." They want to leave it in the ground for some reason. The reasoning - future archaeologists will get to dig it up. They argue advances in science will result in greater amounts of information. If we dig up all the sites, they wonít have any to dig they complain. They donít really want to leave it in the ground. They want us to leave it in the ground for them.
One might think the difference between the two is in the information gained and where the artifacts end up. Neither assumption may be true. Museums and libraries are not always safeguards for the future.
In Alexandria, the pupils of Aristotle, in particular, Theophrastus, set up a new kind of institution, which they called a museum (for the Muses). It was quite unlike anything that had existed. In one wing were the works of the poets and the painters and in the other all the scientific writings that had ever been written in ancient Egypt. The fate of the library was that it was partially burned and the remainder of the contents left to ruin. (How do we know this about ancient Egypt?) Actually someone stole one of the library books. They were afraid to return it (because of the fine) and it survived into medieval times where it was laboriously copied by lonely monks in a mountain monastery and found by a now famous archaeologist.
On a more serious note, consider the losses during World War II to many historical sites and treasures. Consider the more modern wars in Asia and their effects on the treasures such as the sculptures of Ankor in Cambodia. Consider too, that grave goods and skeletons on display for decades in museums all over the country have been taken down and returned to the "owners" or put back to the ground. (Iíll just bet they get dug up again in a few hundred years when the din dies down.)
What about where the artifacts archaeologists dig up end up? Can you say "Museum deaccession". Well that is curator talk for "dumping the goods." Just where do those artifacts end up? Most end up in basements of museums where no one ever sees them or on the auction block. How many of you have been invited into the vaults or behind the scenes? Only a small percentage of the artifacts found are ever displayed. One exception, in Greenfield Village, Michigan you can find Thomas Edisonís laboratory dump in a glass case. Frankly, I think the reason the archaeologists want to leave the bottles in the ground is they just donít have room to store all that stuff.
What about all that information that is lost when we take the artifacts out of context? Take any common old bottle, say Dr. Kilmerís Swamproot Kidney Liver and Bladder Cure. Now suppose we gathered all the data of all the privies and dumps into which these bottle were tossed. Furthermore, we recorded the position, the depth, the context (the context is the other stuff we threw into the bucket without looking at it: the seeds, parasites, the bone toothbrushes, the china, the redware shards, the cinders, the ashes, etc.) Iíd say we would have a lot of information. In fact, we could spend a lifetime gathering this information. We could write books on this information. Weíd have Dr. Kilmer and his clients down pat. Weíd know every place he sold his Swamproot, every person who tried a bottle and every disease his dupes died of. I guess thatís what they mean by the information explosion!
Just how are these archaeologists gonna store all this information? These days on acid free paper and magnetic disks (we all know the reliability of those). Hey one nuclear explosion and all bets are off. Iíll bet the books and information kept in those impenetrable vaults maintained by the Armed Forces to be used by those who survive the nuclear holocaust will be Archaeological Reports.
Whatís all this about us digging up all the sites anyway. Iíd say given the fact that there are more people alive today than have ever lived, archaeologists will be up to their elbows in garbage to dig in the future. Why in fact, some archaeologists are already digging into the landfills that are only a few decades old, after they were covered over and "returned to their natural state." I am doing all I can by being an avid consumer who doesn't recycle. If they dug into my black plastic garbage bag from the 1960s, I'd hate to wonder would they expose my long buried bad habits at some future archaeological meeting?
Are we just bottle diggers who dig for profit and are motivated by greed? Iíd say that is a bit unfair and inaccurate. Such motivation would be shorted lived given the amount work one must put into digging out a 25 foot deep privy and find only broken ABM bottles. Some are motivated by greed but most by a sense of adventure and natural curiosity and just like you archaeologists, a thirst for knowledge. The truth is, archaeologists just want to "play" with this stuff just like the diggers. It taps the same emotions and parts of us. Only your artifacts are not accessible to the rest of us who might be interested. They are locked away in vaults for want of time and money to do a complete analysis. Even after the analysis how many of us will ever get a chance (unless we know one of you personally) to ever see what was found? Our styles are different. We share our finds in articles and books and clubs just like you do. How many of you archaeologists have added significantly to the body of knowledge from a privy dig? How many famous archaeologists can you name? Noel Ivor Hume. Okay, Iíll give you that one. His books and knowledge fascinated me.
Powerless to do much about the tremendous number of sites lost daily to construction and growth, you archeologists go after us little guys. Many sites dug by bottle diggers would have been destroyed by construction and growth with nothing learned. Archaeologists are not able to investigate even a fraction of the prehistoric and historic sites being destroyed daily worldwide. Why? Lack of money. Why? Because we tax payers have not judged it of such importance. It costs a lot of money to do a thorough archaeological study of a site. Who has that kind of money? Who were the archaeologists of the past? Iíll give you a hint, they werenít the people crapping in the privies we dig. They had indoor plumbing or maids. Who are the archaeologists today. Hmmm, letís see middle to upper class college educated yuppies or dinks. How many poor inner city archaeologists can you name? How about you guys going into the inner cities like we do? Why not organize an archaeology club in the slums of Baltimore? You are losing information here.
Archaeologically interesting information is lost daily. I have news for you, so are huge numbers of plant and animal species - and I think everyone would agree the present takes precedence over the past. Losing information, as the archaeologists put it, could be framed by others as the natural course of eventsÖHey, we could even call such changeÖ.history. Imagine geologists telling us, "Donít move those rocks from their context we are losing information." Didnít we bring moon rocks back to the earth to study?
Arguably, most historic period sites have no real historical significance and the huge numbers of them make a thorough analysis impossible. With respect to historic artifacts, the information (such as distribution of products, health practices, diet) for 19th century artifacts (those in question) is often available in other media. There is collaborative evidence in the form of print media (e.g. newspapers, company records, directories, handbills, diaries, letters, ad nauseam) that exists that the archaeological community has never collected, catalogued, organized and distributed. Such dirtless digging isnít as much fun or as glorious, so it has never been done with the same scientific rigor applied to your artifact bins..
Now the two of us are intrinsically intertwined. One creates the interest to support the other. Science investigations might be very scientific but of very little interest or significance to anyone but the investigator. You archaeologists would be wise to encourage all the collecting you can. It is we collectors who come to your museums. We are the passionate ones. We understand your fascination. How about granting us some equal measure of understanding?
The archaeologists have some good points
Something is lost when we diggers remove bottles from their context.
Bottles Diggers Should
Give back in the form of information for what you take out.
Write books and articles, share your finds - broken or whole.
Collect information about local bottles for the historical society.
Show consideration for historic sites or others of potential historical significance (e.g. battlefields, homes of historic figures, public lands etc.)
Dig by permission
Show respect for the environment and property
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