Dig For History And You Might Find Trouble
April 7, 2014

Dig For History And You Might Find Trouble

There is an old saying about visiting historic sites – you should only take pictures and leave only footprints. Perhaps this is why the National Geographic Channel said on Monday that it would “indefinitely” pull the planned TV series Nazi War Diggers. The New York Times reported that the channel pulled the plug after “consulting with colleagues” at the National Geographic Society.

That series features a team of experts looking for the graves of German and Soviet Red Army soldiers in Latvia. It was reported that the Latvian government had approved the team’s work – yet the controversy erupted none-the-less.

This same week, a 91-year old man, Donald Miller, is now being investigated for a collection of artifacts that he reportedly acquired over at least eight decades. The collection reportedly includes artifacts from Native Americans, Russia, China and other nations.

Numerous stories noted that FBI Special Agent Robert Jones said, “culture value of these artifacts is immeasurable.” However, the FBI refused to disclose any details about any of the individual items. The stories also noted that Miller may have acquired some of the items “improperly,” but didn’t specify any details.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures – but when it comes to artifacts, the government has often acted first and explained later. It isn’t clear if this is the case with Mr. Miller.

What we are seeing, however, is that in order to preserve history and being sensitive to cultures, that a line is being drawn in the sand – just hope an archeologist or anthropologist isn’t around to complain about you contaminating a dig site!

It isn’t clear what – or more importantly if anything – Mr. Miller did wrong. The Advance Indiana blog noted, “Seriously, The FBI Devoted Massive Resources To Seize A 91-Year Old Man’s Private Collection Of Artifacts?”

The writer noted, “We have politicians and their cronies stealing hundreds of millions of our tax dollars in plain sight, and the only thing our local FBI office has time to do is badger a 91-year-old man who apparently devoted his life to collecting cultural artifacts. Is there a law against that?”

That is an excellent point on this matter. But it also now puts into question exactly what can be collected! While stamp collectors, comic book collectors and, of course, Beanie Baby collectors might not fear – should rock collectors, fossil collectors or those who have amassed collections of international artifacts be worried?

There are now laws in place that are meant to stop the pillaging of artifacts from other nations – but many times it is the locals in those distant lands who are looking to make a quick buck and sell something, knowing it was wrong. Perhaps Mr. Miller knew, but maybe he didn’t.

That doesn’t make him less guilty, but the problem is that the media has pretty much tried him in the court of public opinion already.

Then there is the case that even if you find something valuable on your land, you might not get to keep it. A couple in California found a rare coin but might have to hand it over the U.S. government!

And this takes us back to those digging for treasure. There have been numerous TV shows that had amateur treasure hunters pulling out the metal detectors – not to mention shows about pickers, auction hunters and even storage bin diggers – and now it seems if you find something culturally significant, you could be on the hook!

Now this is meant to preserve history and be sensitive to other cultures. That’s sort of funny, however, when these same rules and laws seldom apply to actual museums or institutions.

Just remember that if you go digging for history – whether in the ground or some exotic flea market –you could end up finding trouble instead of treasure.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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