22 October 2015

William C. Davis on Relic Hunters

Excavated Confederate used or manufactured objects are considered rarities. Such items are hard evidence of what material was actually in use on the field. The location of such discoveries can often give real corroboration to documentary evidence of the issue of a specific type of weapon. While Federal laws prohibiting excavation on Federal property are understandable, the loss of historic objects to natural deterioration is not an acceptable solution. This group of objects [above] is an excellent example of the diversity of Confederate arms and equipment carefully documented and preserved by dedicated relic hunters and preservationists. ~ Professor William C. Davis from The Battlefields of the Civil War, page 250, image from page 134.
This is a follow up to my recent post regarding a Smithsonian curator's complimentary comments about relic hunters. With all the negative (and ignorant) comments I've seen on other Civil War blogs about relic hunting, these more thoughtful, objective and honest observations are quite refreshing; particularly since I'm an avid relic hunter and preservationist myself.

And, speaking of "Confederate objects", below is one of my more memorable recoveries - a block A Confederate artillerist button recovered here in the Shenandoah Valley, before I preserved it and after:

Before cleaning and restoration

After cleaning and restoration


Ralph Steel said...

Sadly many people see shows on TV like "Diggers" and think that is what relic hunters are like. What should be done on battlefields is actual archeology to recover items instead of just turning relic hunters loose on the grounds.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Sadly many people see shows on TV like "Diggers" and think that is what relic hunters are like."

You're right. 99% of those shows are hype and silliness. I don't care for those shows.

"What should be done on battlefields is actual archeology to recover items instead of just turning relic hunters loose on the grounds."

There are neither the funds nor the interest for that to take place. Archaeologists, for the most part, aren't interested in digging minie balls and buttons on most battlefields. Moreover, the ones most relic hunters are on have been plowed and disturbed for decades so the integrity of these sites are problematic for archaeologists. Moreover, a lot of these sites are on working farms. Farmers typically aren't keen about full scale archaeology digs on their properties, for obvious reasons.

What should be done, in my opinion, is to have lotteries for park battlefields, supervised by archaeologists, so these relics can be recovered before they're gone. The NPS would then have the option of purchasing the relics at market price or the relic hunter could keep the relic. The NPS could easily raise hundreds of thousand of dollars that could be used for maintenance, etc.

As noted by both the Smithsonian and Professor Davis, relic hunters should be thanked for their efforts in preservation. I serve on two museum boards and can vouch for that sentiment.

RightsideVA said...

Same thing with shipwrecks and other artifacts in the water. Mel Fisher who found the 1622 Spanish Galleon wreck "Atocha" understood that he needed a marine archaeologist on staff to correctly document the wreck and artifacts. This also increased the value of the artifact but without Fisher the Atocha would not have been found...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Oh, no doubt Steve. Same with Greg Stemm (Odyssey Marine) and John Chatterton and John Mattera (Pirate Hunters). These men are real life Indiana Jones's and their dedication, drive, guts, sacrifice, risk-taking and perseverance in seeking out these historical treasures is quite inspiring. The resistance they experience from academics and "professional" archaeologists is a story in and of itself. Thanks for the comment!