Ransacking. What does that mean?
go hurriedly through (a place) stealing things and causing damage.
I say that word aptly fits a caption for photo:
The photo was taken on November 14 of last year. The location is on the Brandy Station battlefield, at a site which I will not disclose. The site is owned by a preservation organization and is not open to relic hunting or other similar activity. The holes were left by a “digger” who felt the need to step onto posted, marked, and preserved land in order to “get a piece of history” to hold in their hand.
Coincidentally, on the same day at another place on the Brandy Station battlefield, I took this photo:
I normally try to “frame out” people when taking photos of Civil War battlefields, for functional reasons (as those make better illustrations for blog posts). But in this case, the subject was the individuals in the photo. These were participants in the Diggin’ In Virginia (DIV) XXXII, held on November 13-15, 2015. And as you can see in the foreground, the ground was giving up many long held secrets that day.
I cannot state for a fact that the individual who dug the preserved, posted area was involved with the DIV event. But the timing is far too coincidental for this to be random happenstance. Furthermore it is not the first time that myself or others have noticed this sort of coincidental occurrence. Since many of the DIV participants look for “bragging rights” about their finds, there is some desire to show some exciting items retrieved from the ground. So clearly there is motivation for some to go “off the reservation”, if I may, and loot areas that are not part of the event… not to mention legally off-limits. But the nature of the event and the hobby is that those offenses are covered up (… perhaps the ONLY thing these people are likely to leave buried, ironically…). Nobody wants to discuss the illegal aspects of the hobby. Just much shouting about “nectar” retrieved where the machine registers a beep.
Earlier this winter, I was contacted by an individual asking for a “provenance” assessment on some artifacts. The items included friction primers and a rifled projectile fragment of a particular type. The individual didn’t want to disclose the exact location. But the contact asked if I could confirm that a particular battery had a particular type of projectile at the battle of Brandy Station. The writer was very excited at “the prospect of having a piece of history that could tell the story of the battle!”
With measured words, I responded. Because of the nature of the removal, those artifacts ceased to be artifacts at the moment of removal. Period. No matter how great and wonderful the item might be, it is no longer an artifact when its archaeological context is disturbed. Only if surveyed, documented, and analyzed in-situ, does it remain an artifact. Anyone with a Archaeology 101 class behind them, or more than an hour watching “Oak Island” on the History Channel, knows this well. Thus the story, which might have been teased out of those items when they were artifacts, was forever lost. Irretrievably lost. Any value of the items was as scrap metal, unless the owner attempt to “snake oil” a prospective buyer.
The other aspect of this, which has impact beyond just the value of what is now essentially scrap metal, is that the site itself was injured due to the ransacking. The artifacts in the ground were components of the history that occurred on that ground. When those of us mindful of history go to those sites with a mind to designate and preserve, we use those artifacts as the source material which validates other research. All too often we are confronted with a conundrum… we know the site was important in an event such as a battle, but to prove such beyond doubt one needs to tie artifacts specifically to the event. Otherwise, one might well say the battle happened over at … say… that fence row… or maybe at the other one. Those sort of suppositions are best supported by documented archaeological surveys. Unfortunately, without the artifacts, there is no story. And without the benefit of supporting artifacts as sources, things such as National Register nominations, which would help secure matching grants for preservation, tend to go flat.
I bring all this up today for consideration for a reason. In a couple of weeks, another DIV event will be held on the Brandy Station battlefield. As before, the event is on private property (if you didn’t know, these events play on the margins in the legality of easements and such… but I’ll save that for another day). While I cannot speak strongly enough about the damage the DIV events have done to ransack the history of Culpeper County, I also have to say there’s little I can do about it but complain.
But I would call upon the organizers and the leaders of the hobby to do more to police their own. Scenes such as this should not occur:
That’s our shared history and heritage being ransacked (and in this particular case looting and trespassing to boot!). The “hobby” should identify the individuals who perpetrate acts such as this and make very public examples of them. But I’m not holding my breath… the is a hobby predicted on taking, no matter what the implications. All I can say to those who participate in such is, “then please go prove me wrong.” Name names. Demonstrate where some punitive action is taken. Or provide evidence that will lead to prosecution where a crime occurs.
Better still, why not help preservation of these sites instead of ransacking … and thus sabotaging efforts those of us who want the stories to be told.
(Photos courtesy of Clark “Bud” Hall.)