On the importance of context

Well, it looks like National Geographic have been busy reading ‘Introduction to Archaeology’, because they’ve finally clicked as to the importance of context – although I don’t quite think they’ve understood how it works yet.

For those swotting up on the subject, a few days ago National Geographic announced a new television programme ‘Nazi War Diggers’. I would suggest that I was not alone my initial reaction. Following on from this though, I did take the time to write a formal letter to National Geographic Channel International urging them to reconsider airing the show. There is a great deal of discussion happening across the internet regarding the many issues surrounding the content of this television programme (see round-ups here and here for some of the key blogposts – or get yourself on Twitter or Facebook).

The impetus for the initial condemnation of the show (amongst other things), was a video clip (now removed, although some parts of it can still be viewed at the previous link) on the programme’s website. For those who have not seen it, briefly, it showed the presenters digging up and handling the skeletal remains of an individual in a very unprofessional, unethical, and unacceptable manner (scraping around the bones with sharp tools, prying underneath the bones, pulling them with force from the ground, passing them around while making interpretations, etc). This was followed by a demonstration of their complete lack of knowledge of basic human skeletal anatomy by first posturing that one of the bones was a humerus (upper arm bone), only to discover it was in fact a femur (upper leg bone).

It was every kind of wrong.

Despite the fact that even without this video clip there are serious ethical and legal questions about the actions undertaken in the name of this programme, I want to address this in particular – because it has formed a significant aspect of the National Geographic’s defence of the programme.

In the offical statement released by National Geographic they state, the video excerpt from our show posted on our website did not provide important context about our team’s methodology.” (Please note: link will open a Word document file.)

This point is once again repeated in their statement to the media when they state, “Part of it [the public response] is our fault because we released a clip completely out of context that was not representative of the show.

Now, I’m sorry, but in what context are the actions filmed and shown in this clip ever acceptable?

Yeah, just to be clear, I’m not actually asking that question – it’s rhetorical.

Because the answer is never.

There is no situation ever where the actions filmed and shown in the clip released by National Geographic to promote ‘Nazi War Diggers’ would ever be acceptable.*

So, no, National Geographic. I won’t “withhold judgment until the show starts.


Oh, and all of that above? That’s without even mentioning archaeological context. Or the lack thereof.

*If you can, without a doubt, prove me wrong on this point I will send you a unicorn in the post.

3 responses to “On the importance of context

  1. Pingback: “Grave robbing” on TV? | Bodies and academia·

  2. Pingback: Cautious optimism about the postponement of Nazi War Diggers·

  3. Pingback: Revisiting ‘Nazi War Diggers': Editorial in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology | These Bones Of Mine·

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