Dear National Geographic Channel (UK)

If you have visited my blog recently you will have heard about the recent rage-inducer that is ‘Nazi War Diggers’. I posted up a quick rant yesterday, which in the grand scheme is not very helpful (although it did feel brilliant).

[UPDATE: Betty Hudson (Executive Vice President, Communications National Geographic Society) has sent Donna Yates an official statement from National Geographic. You can read it here (Word Document file). I believe it is also available on the programme's website, but I am trying not to send more traffic there. I am pleased that an official statement regarding the legality of the programme's actions has been released (although I do not think all of the issues have been properly addressed yet). I echo Donna in saying please investigate the claims in the statement. That being said, I still stand by my opinion that their handling of human remains (as demonstrated in the previously available clip) was unethical. I will also be interested to see if any of the people I contacted at the National Geographic will be in touch in order to direct me to this statement.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: I have just been contacted by Kirsty Howell (a quick internet search tells me she is the head of PR for Fox International Channels UK) who sent me the same statement (above) that was released from the US media office. Howell also stated, "Next week in the UK we will be launching a microsite with further information about the programme and the practices used in the series." (I presume I am okay to share this information as there was nothing in the e-mail to indicate otherwise.)]

I did write a formal letter to Nat Geo yesterday, however the only e-mail address on the website is terribly generic (see here). I therefore decided, after hearing colleagues had received responses after e-mailing specific individuals at Nat Geo, to try and get in touch directly with individuals based at the UK office. I gathered names of individuals from this press release and then (as it is nigh on impossible to locate publicly listed e-mail addresses) I used to standard firstnamelastname@natgeotv.com and initiallastname@natgeotv.com and thus far I have not had any bouncebacks. I also cc:ed info@natgeotv.com and ngcdutylog@fox.com (as I had expanded on the letter I sent yesterday).

You can see read my letter below if you are interested.

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Alison Atkin and I am a doctoral researcher at The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology. I am a qualified osteoarchaeologist, a member of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, and have researched the identification of victims of mass mortality events, including those from human rights investigations.

I am writing to express my deep concerns about your advertised show “Nazi War Diggers”. I have previously sent an e-mail to ngcdutylog@fox.com, however I feel this issue needs to be addressed promptly and by the appropriate individuals concerned in your UK office.

The (now removed) clip from this television programme that was hosted on your website yesterday gives me great cause for concern. The actions of the individuals filmed demonstrate a severe lack of archaeological and osteological skills or expertise – their biographies on your website also present them as non-specialist enthusiasts and metal detectorists without professional training.

I have serious questions about the legality of the actions shown in this clip (and therefore the programme as a whole). I would request that you publicly provide evidence showing these excavations were undertaken legally and met all of the requirements by the necessary national and international bodies, especially those concerning the excavation and recovery of human remains. I would also like to request that you publicly provide evidence that all artefact finds were both reported to and deposited with the necessary authorities and that none were sold for profit by anyone involved with this programme.

Regardless of whether these actions undertaken in the name of this programme were legal, they certainly were not ethical. The recovery and repatriation of human remains, from any context, requires the presence of individuals trained archaeological and osteological techniques and methods. I will freely admit that I felt nauseous while watching the manner in which the human remains being excavated were treated – callously and without care. These are the remains of a human, who was a son, and possibly a brother, husband, father – who died during an unimaginably terrible war and horrific circumstances – and regardless of their nationality they deserve dignity in death. Anything less is completely inexcusable.

In addition, the actions represented (improper excavation methods, lack of context recording, mis-handling of human remains, and more) contravene various national and international guidance for standards of both scientific and ethical practises in archaeology and osteology. Any individual in good standing within the professional community would not have allowed the actions filmed in the clip shown to have occurred.

Finally, given the context of the human remains and artefacts being dug (I refuse to say excavated) for this programmme, I would also request that you publicly provide evidence that the individuals involved in this programme repatriated the human remains in the appropriate manner and were working with the permission of the various national bodies responsible for the recovery and repatriation of the war dead.

I strongly urge you to reconsider airing this series, as it serves only encourage unethical (and possibly illegal) actions – especially when it has been branded under the well-known and well-respected (although I suspect significantly less so now in the archaeological community) company that is the National Geographic.

In summary, I should not have to tell you how important the preservation of the past is to humanity and that the looting of war graves, even Nazi German war graves, for private profit is just wrong.*

If anything in my above assessment is incorrect, I look forward to clarifying information.

I will also be notifying media contacts about this.

Alison Atkin
BA (Hons.), MSc


Doctoral Researcher
Department of Archaeology
University of Sheffield
Northgate House
West Street
Sheffield
S1 4ET

Tel: [removed from blogpost]
Direct: [removed from blogpost]
E-mail: a.atkin@sheffield.ac.uk
Twitter: @alisonatkin

P.S. I apologise if you receive this e-mail multiple times, however it is quite difficult to locate publicly listed e-mail contacts for staff based in the UK office.

*Changed in blogpost, at suggestion of Rob Schäfer. I used this sentence (with permission) from Donna Yate’s letter above, in order send a consistent message and it was intended to allude to the title of the show.

10 responses to “Dear National Geographic Channel (UK)

  1. Pingback: Why nobody thinks ‘Nazi War Diggers’ is a good idea | Digs and Docs·

  2. Pingback: National Geographic ignores ethical considerations yet again | Sprouts·

  3. Pingback: Grave robbing on TV? | Bodies and academia·

  4. Pingback: On the importance of context | Deathsplanation·

  5. I was basically horrified when I watched the clip. This was much better than the (one paragraph) email I sent to the generic address. I figured if they received a mountain of single paragraphs…

  6. Pingback: Excavating the War Dead of WW2: The Eastern Front | These Bones Of Mine·

  7. Pingback: Nazi War Diggers, part II·

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