Monday, 31 March 2014

'Ground Dug' need not mean 'Battlefield dug'

Sam Hardy has been discussing Craig Gotlieb's selling 'ground dug' metal artefacts (so metal detected) in the context of the discussion of "Nazi War Diggers". I would add a note of caution that the selling of metal detected items, Nazi or whatever, need not always represent grave looting. 

First of all, not all the items are what they are advertised as. On the thread (Re: Another one to judge #294930 - 02/19/14 10:52 PM) where the "Stettin battlefield" ring was found is this comment, posted by member Gaspare of the Nazi Daggers forum, addressing Mr Gotlieb:
[...] Ground dug stories are great. But it is not a provenance. My wifes cousins were some of the first Ukrainian diggers in late 1990. I've met many diggers, been to digs and helped out a bit, etc. Stories are just that, stories. Some diggers blindly trust other diggers. They buy from each other, trade etc. When the ground stops giving up pieces weird things can sometimes happen. [...].
Secondly, some metal items fell off the uniforms, many insignia and medals in both German and Soviet armies were held on with a long pin which were not fastened. Many of them would be dislodged and lost crawling through bushes or long grass in the dark or heavy rainstorm, or things became detached from the backpacks.

Thirdly, after an army had moved on, local peasants would forage among what they'd left behind at camp sites or battle stations, dropped utensils or tools lost in the grass could be reused, boxes for ammunition were sturdy enough to find a use in the farm, fuel canisters likewise. Helmets from both sides were regularly used (liners removed) to put poultry feed in, some weapons may be hidden away 'just in case' and can still turn up in the rafters of barns.

Finally, once it was clear the War was lost, many people with Nazi insignia or objects around the house quickly got rid of it when they were surrounded by enemy Soviet soldiers, and any found by the latter was confiscated and dumped. There are (were) whole dumps of the stuff in many regions in central Europe and for example such things may turn up in ordinary domestic dumps (bottle dumps). In some areas of central Europe, and Russia, bodies lay unburied, in others they were collected up to allow the fields to be brought back into everyday use. I have seen a number of isolated graves in the edges of the fields in areas where I have worked (including those with rusted helmets still on them as markers), and there seems no reason why those graves cannot continue to hold the fallen (and despite what National Geographic says, those graves are not being looted).

In many cases, the Second World War battlefields which cover central Europe contain lots and lots of metal objects, but few human remains. A 1944 Red Army trench system I investigated a few years ago with the help of metal detectorists contained no military items at all, pots and pans and cutlery. The battlefields in which the bodies were left lying are those from the latter part of the War, in remote areas, away from settlement, and where the armies concerned were just passing through after decimating their opponents, the Kurland Pocket and forests around St Petersburg are extreme examples, but there are other areas like this, and here metal detectorists can find human remains as well as the lost relics of combat.

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