Archaeologists and historians came out on top yesterday in a battle against The National Geographic Channel. The channel was promoting a new show — all about treasure hunters, metal detectors, and collectibles salesmen digging up World War II graves in Eastern Europe. Called, classily, Nazi War Diggers, the show appeared to violate some pretty key tenets of scientific archaeology. Video clips and press materials for the show featured body parts being yanked out of the ground (and misidentified), rather than carefully excavated. And, despite promises that the relics uncovered would go to museums, there's evidence that an American Nazi memorabilia dealer was selling some of things that were found. In general, the show seemed to involve a lot of behaviors that, while legal in Poland and Latvia where the filming was done, are viewed as horribly unethical by the folks who do this kind of work professionally.
Yesterday, The National Geographic Channel bowed to criticism and put the show on "indefinite" hiatus.
It's worth noting that The National Geographic Channel is a joint venture between The National Geographic Society and Fox Cable Networks. Some of the programming on that channel is created by the NGS, some is not, and Fox is generally in charge of the marketing and advertising. It's not clear to me from what information is available whether the Nazi War Diggers show was created by NGS. But, even if it wasn't, the show was trading partly on the Society's good name, which would have created problems for the legitimate archaeologists the Society works with and relies on.
There are a couple of good pieces to read that explain why archaeologists didn't want this program aired:
&bull: Springtime for Hitler and Nazi [Death Porn] Diggers by Andy Brockman at Heritage Daily explores the many problems with this show in detail.
• Urgent Ethical and Legal Questions for National Geographic by Sam Hardy at the Conflict Antiquities blog is a list, but it's a great bullet-point introduction to what archaeologists were worried about and what big questions were left unanswered.
• Finally, Tom Mashberg's piece in The New York Times summarizes the conflict and is the primary source for the news that the National Geographic Channel has pulled the show.