Archaeological Destruction in the Name of Entertainment

Posted on March 30, 2012


Workers filming the TV series, “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (Magnificent Century) purportedly damaged the Yarımburgaz cave in Turkey and are potentially facing up to five years in prison.

The Yarımburgaz cave is the oldest evidence of human occupation in Turkey, dates to 15,000 BP, and is a first-degree archaeological site in the Turkish system.  Two archaeologists, Yiğit Ozar and Berkay Dinçer, were watching the popular show and observed that it appeared as if two episodes were filmed in the Yarımburgaz cave. They filed a complaint, and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum sent out professionals who concluded the site had been damaged.

Turkish Penal Code Law 2863 provides for incarceration of up to 5 years and fines of $5,000 per day for damage done to historical sites under protection, and some are calling for the television show workers be prosecuted.

This news comes in the wake of controversy about the new American television shows, “American Digger” and “Diggers.” The first purportedly aims to “scour target-rich areas such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history.”  The Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Protection has issued a statement lambasting these shows. They explain:

America’s cultural heritage is worth more to all of us than the few dollars that the “diggers” will pocket as a result of their exploits.  The activities highlighted by these shows destroy the archaeological record, and in many cases, cause damage to the historic site that remains. America’s battlefields and historic sites deserve more respect than they would if they were to serve as the personal hunting ground for treasure seekers and pothunters.

What’s more, by glamorizing this type of activity, these shows encourage similar behavior by individuals who may not understand that in many cases this type of “treasure hunting” is considered criminal behavior.  Digging on federal lands without an archaeological permit is against the law, and unauthorized digging on state-owned land is illegal in most jurisdictions.  Digging for artifacts on private land without permission is trespassing at best, and theft at worst.  Interstate transportation or sale of illegally-obtained artifacts may subject a “treasure seeker” to criminal prosecution under the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Read the full LCCHP statement here.

If you haven’t seen the trailer from Spike for “American Diggers,” it’s well worth the 30 seconds of your time. A bail bondsman looking fellow by the name of Ric Savage (sic) “excavates” with bulldozers and explosives, looking for treasure and yelling at viewers in a husky, menacing way.

Read the full article on the Turkish show: TV series in hot water over destruction of historical cave

Thanks to Kristina Bauer for her assistance with this post.