Archaeologists vs. The National Geographic Channel


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I was surprised to find that the National Geographic channel decided to embark on reality programming to begin with. Don’t they already have a couple in their line-up? Who do they think the audience is, or who do they think they are going to attract? Sigh, another one bites the dust.


In a way I think it is inevitable: as more and more people abandon television for the internet, and as advertisers improve their understanding of which target demographics present the greatest ROI on marketing (via this one simple trick) eventually every show left on television will be rednecks screaming at each other.

I was disgusted when I learned that the new Cosmos was a Fox production, but that was less nauseating than seeing the Koch brothers have taken over science productions on PBS.


I have a theory that PBS is being slowly infected with people who used to work at the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.


So, from an archeological perspective, how does this compare with “Time Team”?

Let us not forget: the National Geographic Channel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fox news. What’s unbelievable is that an organization like the National Geographic Society would allow their good name to be sullied by selling it to the likes of Fox.


Unearth a grave for a man to loot and plunder, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to unearth graves for himself to loot and plunder, well…you know the rest.

There was a brief, shining moment in the history of television–ushered in by MTV, of all things–when boutique channels dedicated to unironic appreciation of a single topic could survive and thrive.

I really miss being able to turn on Discovery or the Food Network or the Sci-Fi Channel and seeing something really neat and unique, instead of an endless parade of shoehorned reality bullshit.


Time Team is actually really good about showing the process of archaeology, something that many of National Geographic’s archaeology reality shows do not do. The show is structured around answering questions (aka science) rather than just pulling stuff out of the ground. They frequently discuss tailoring methods to questions–an important aspect of archaeological problem solving–and even when they don’t find anything on time team, they talk about why that in itself is interesting.

I haven’t seen the show in question, but from what I can tell, it was nothing more than glorified grave-digging, complete with holding up skulls to the camera.


Two words: Rupert Murdoch

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Oh, that explains it now.

national geographic has other archeology reality shows? Do tell.

Time Team is about collecting and preserving information, not trinkets for eBay.

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If this sort of thing goes on, in 50 years we’ll have Investment Banker Diggers. With plenty of trinkets to find.


Can it collect enough information in three days with bulldozers and excavators to outweigh the destruction of information inherent in an archeological dig?

Those excavators were used to get down to the archaeology, usually a thin layer at a time. Usually through soil that’s been plowed for a thousand years. With an operator who was usually a trained archaeologist, with other archaeologists always right in front watching for anything uncovered. It might be a wall foundation, or it might be a discoloration in the soil indicating an ancient post hole or a grave below.

After that it was trowels and brushes.

And many times over, they make it clear that everything was fully recorded before being lifted out of a trench. The locations of the trenches themselves are documented for those who come later. Anything left behind is documented. The context is documented. It’s not about trinkets; it’s about information.

Watch a few shows; their discoveries speak for themselves.

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Let us not forget: the National Geographic Channel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fox news.

Nope. Fox News and National Geographic are separate entities owned by Fox Entertainment Group (the National Geographic channel is a joint venture between FEG and National Geographic).

This is a bit like saying Power Rangers was a Fox News show since it was a product of a partnership between Saban and Fox Kids Worldwide.

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I watched part–(life intervened) of an episode of the American series to see how the elements were translated to the demands of US television (albeit public tv). I had seen a dozen episodes or so of the Channel 4 production-- from many different seasons.

My first thought?

Oh yeah… Archeologists sift the soil through screens.

And yet somehow, I don’t recall seeing this sort of procedure on Time Team UK. What gives?

Shoveling the dirt into buckets and taking it away to sift through screens is indeed one way to do things. And Time Team does occasionally use screens.

But usually they use the other method: People on their hands and knees working with trowels and brushes - seeking the small finds in context - rather than in the screens.

And you can do that in three days? Wow.

Usually screens are used so that the archeologists don’t miss anything.