Friday, 5 February 2016

Flanders Battlefield Excavations; Methodological Questions from a Member of the Public

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public, Samantha Sutton
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Under one of the earlier posts on this blog ('Łubu-dubu ...) one of the people mentioned has exercised her right to reply and conducted some quite remarkable online correspondence referring to the comments made about "Nazi War Diggers"/"Battlefield Recovery" here and elsewhere. She says of herself: "I am a keen amateur, building up a knowledge through research and observation in an area in which I have an interest" and stresses that there is nothing at all atypical that "a woman can be interested in, or have knowledge of, this kind of thing". I am sure this highly articulate lady would be very welcome on any number of military history forums.

However she decided to address some specific questions to my blog. She does not seem very happy with the answers I gave, so I thought I'd place the original question and points made here, and maybe somebody else would like to give what she says some thought and maybe even answer her.
"Hi Paul Many thanks for quoting my tweets. I can assure you that I was initially concerned about the show following your comments, and those from other sources, but decided to form my own opinion by viewing the show. When I watched it, I could not see what the issues were that you and other archaeologists had with it. The production, as I saw it, recovered relics, gave the ones the museum wanted to the Latvian War Museum, and handed the remains of fallen soldiers to the correct authorities. I would value your opinion on how this show was different to the one I’ve linked below, (run by, and clearly stated as being an archaeological dig), as it seems to show all the same things that you and others have complained about, but I do not know if you, or other archaeologists, complained about this show as you have Battlefield Recovery?  Diggin Up The Trenches (second version here
11.13 For about 45 seconds. Handling live ammo.

12.24 Removing a relic without showing context.

25.01 Prying a relic up without loosening it first.

30.38 Handling a relic rifle. How do they know there isn't a live cartridge in the chamber? Is that a qualified EOD person? What qualifications has he got to enable him to handle it safely?

35.00 Handling live ammo that has been ‘adapted’ by the soldiers who intended to use it. This would make it unsafe to handle wouldn’t it? Where is the EOD operative?

47.20 Human remains on some kind of metal plate, no gloves, and all the bones piled up. They carry this towards bones spread out on a plastic sheet. How is this different to what Battlefield Recovery showed? If this doesn’t show disrespect, then why is it disrespectful in Battlefield Recovery?

53.36 A WW1 relic being screwed into the ground. Is this what all archaeologists do? This item is obviously rusty and fragile, so why treat a relic in this manner?

1:00:00 Using a digger with no Hi-Viz jackets or hard hats. Yet these are archaeologists are they not? Were complaints lodged regarding this?

1:22:54 A high explosive artillery shell. Where is the EOD guy? Who took it out of the ground, (as it has obviously been dug up)? A very dangerous thing to do, so I understand, removing an artillery shell from its resting place.

1:24:03 That is a live grenade he has in his hand. I am reliably informed that is an M15 Kugel grenade, of German manufacture. Keep an eye out as it is only 2 seconds of clip. Michael Ball, noted as a ‘Military Historian’. Is he EOD qualified? If not, why is he being allowed to pull at the fuse from this 100-year-old explosive device?

1:34:56 Two live stick grenades lying on a table with the general public all gathered round. Is this safe?

Lastly, at the end of the show, the relics are said to have been passed 'on to museums around the world'. Which museums? Where's the proof?

Your opinion on how the above differs from Battlefield Recovery would be most welcome, as I am at a loss at to why the above show differs".

The film, featuring Peter Barton, shows a rescue dig in Belgium (the excavated trenches were at Forward Cottage c. 50°52'53.80"N 2°54'31.05"E ) and the site is to be redeveloped and there are segments of the German and British lines being excavated concurrently. While there are clear differences between the excavations shown and the detectorists' hoik holes in the Latvian forest, Ms Sutton's sharp eyes have nevertheless spotted a number of issues with the 'Barton' film.  She compares the two and suggests that the 'Barton' film deserves the same scrutiny as archaeologists gave the film showing the amateur relic hunters. Fair point.  
Rather than the methodology and research aims of the two projects and the training and preparation of the participants - or the motivations for the dig (and filming) in the first place, Ms Sutton concentrates on the handling of explosives and human remains. She suggests that the 'Barton' film does not show the appropriate handling of explosives, just as battlefield diggers does not. She argues that the archaeologists treated human remains in a manner similar to battlefield diggers.

I merely noticed that the team of archaeologists in the show conducted the dig and handling of ordnance and human remains in a very similar way to Battlefield Recovery. I saw nothing wrong in the film, just as I saw nothing wrong in Battlefield Recovery, I saw the same.
Is there anyone who has better knowledge of what was involved in the Flanders dig and its filming who'd like to give Ms Sutton an answer? Any other archaeologists out there that would like to actually engage in some detailed questions from the public? Or maybe representatives of the archaeological authorities in Flanders under whose auspices the project took place? Comments here - below - on the 'Barton' film only please.

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