The world has an odd relationship with archaeology. Ask most people their opinions on the process and they’ll roll their eyes and tell you how boring it would be to be kneeling around in the dirt, trying to uncover something that will probably end up being a rusty baked-bean can. Ask them to envision an archaeologist in their minds, and they’ll probably conjurer up a stuffy old man who’s wearing a fashion-breaking combo of Panama hat, white socks and sandals, whilst pacing up and down a beach with a metal detector during the freezing winter. But, for all of these negative attitudes towards the practice, we have conversely romanticised and glorified the art of discovering history, making cultural icons out of fictional archaeologists such as Lara Croft, Nathan Drake and Indiana Jones. The truth it seems is that for all the apparently boring elements of archaeology, finding hidden treasure is something that speaks to our inner child. There would be undeniable joy in finding something that was hidden away for decades – possibly even centuries and discovered by your hand. Plus the fact that there is real money to be made, it is not a profession to be sniffed at. So then it is of little surprise that Diggers, a show based on metal detecting around America, has already managed to reach its fourth season, totalling over 50 episodes.
The show (which first premiered on National Geographic on 1st January 2013 and aired its last current episode on 15th October 2015) features two larger-than-life metal detecting buffs as they go around the country trying to uncover hidden artefacts, usually at sites where landowners, archaeologists or historians believe their may be significant historical finds that have managed to be overlooked. So, who exactly are the two treasure-hunting aficionados? There is “King George” Wyant, who was born to thrive on the outside, being a master at hunting, fishing, skiing, and of course metal detecting. Then there is Tim Saylor, who hails from Iowa and started metal detecting when he was still in school – finding coins in his own backyard. Saylor is otherwise known as “The Ringmaster” or “Ringy” for his uncanny ability to find rings. As yet, he hasn’t lost any of his hair or referred to any of his findings as ‘my precious’ so there’s no need to be concerned for his safety…yet.
#Diggers – whilst meant to be light-hearted entertainment – hasn’t been without its share of controversy. Shortly after the show aired, professional archaeologists raised concerns to National Geographic, explaining that it had been creating a culture of amateurs who were looting and causing damage to landmarks around the country. They requested that that the network pull the show from its line-up. Their request didn’t get carried out, but it didn’t fall on deaf ears either. When season 4 premiered in 2015, it’d had a makeover. Marc Henshaw – a respected archaeologist – was featured in all episodes, where he would talk to the hosts, using his experience to discuss strategies and significance of the finds. In addition, the value of the artefacts were no longer shown (to deter people from going out themselves to earn ‘easy money’), and instead there was information that explained how the show had permission to detect on private land, that the artefacts belonged to the landowner (again to deter amateur detecting) and that the locations are historical sites. Apparently this new direction for the show appeased the outraged archaeologists. Society for American Archaeology president of UC Santa Cruz Diane Gifford-Gonzalez even went as far to say that the new close relationship between the metal detector enthusiasts and archaeologists were “excellent examples of how collaborative work can use the complementary skills of the two communities to enhance understanding of events at a locality.” Charles Ewen, SAA president of East Carolina University echoed Gifford-Gonzalez’s points, adding that the changes hadn’t taken anything from the show, and it still retained its “charm” and “cult of personality.”
So @Diggers has had controversy, and its very subject matter will divide audiences, but the main question that needs to be asked is ‘how popular is the show, and what is the likelihood that it will return for a fifth season?’ Firstly, some concern could be drawn over the fact that the show has completely skipped this year, and there is as yet no official confirmation from National Geographic as to whether it will return next year. The numbers are fairly healthy, with over a million people tuning in for the first episode – although there is no data on subsequent seasons or feedback ratings in various age demographics, so its hard to say whether that popularity continued or declined (which would be most likely as most shows tend to have a drop-off in numbers over time). In terms of viewer feedback, it’s not great either. The show has a pretty abysmal rating of 5.0 out of 10 on IMDB, and fares only slightly better over on Amazon Instant Video, where it has 3.5 stars out of 5. However, it’s the numbers that networks mainly care about, so if #Diggers can hold onto its audience, there is at least a chance it might come back for a fifth outing next year.
There are currently no Blu-ray versions of @Diggers available to buy, but you can get all four current seasons on DVD via National Geographic’s own website for $19.99 per season. If you would prefer to watch the show online, you can do so via Amazon Instant Video either free with adverts $2.99 each episode or $43 for all eighteen episodes of each season, although you will need to have an Amazon account. You may also be able to catch reruns of the show on National Geographic itself, which is Sky: 526, Virgin: 266, BT: 317, or TalkTalk: 317.
Do you think that National Geographic will unearth Diggers for another season or do you think its better left buried with all of the other cancelled shows? Was there a dig that the guys did that you particularly enjoyed? Do you think people should be allowed to metal detect in public places and claim items they find as their own or not?
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