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The host of a new Spike TV show said he is happy about the finds his crew made while digging here in early February, including finding what he said is Spanish gold and Civil War relics.
Former pro wrestler and “American Digger” TV show host Ric Savage said his crew of relic hunters uncovered “a plethora of artifacts that spanned a pretty decent time range ... some related to the Spanish settlements back in the 1500s to 1600s” while filming the show on private property.
Savage and Spike TV declined to say where they were able to dig, other than that it was private property.
City of St. Augustine Archaeologist Carl Halbirt called the digging “almost like sacrilege, in a way.”
“There are sacred spaces in American history, and unless you give proper diligence to documenting what’s there, you are essentially going in and being like a thief of time,” he said.
“Diggers are looked on as the trailer trash of the archaeology community and the archaeologists are thought of as the brains, but that’s not necessarily the truth,” Savage said. “The higher the education people get, the higher the snobbishness that goes along with it.”
Spike TV describes the show, which premieres March 20, as an “unscripted series” that uncovers “hidden treasure found in the back yards of every day Americans.”
Spike TV spokeswoman Shana Tepper said no date has yet been set for the St. Augustine segment.
Savage said one of his bigger finds was a “splash of gold,” or a piece of gold that a Spaniard had cut off and melted into an imprint, and Spike TV shared a photo of the find.
But Halbirt is skeptical.
He said little gold from the Spanish period has been found here, and what has is usually a small pin, nothing large.
And what gold has been found over the last several decades has had a patina.
“A hunk of metal that must weight a quarter size of his fist, that’s quit a hunk of metal there,” Halbirt says. “It looks like gold paint on lead.”
‘Passion’ for digging
Savage said he takes a few moments to appreciate whatever is found, then sells it to local antique shops. The homeowners get a portion of the proceeds.
“It may only be worth $2 or $3 to a collector, but the last person to touch it was a solider, Union or Confederate, 150 years ago,” Savage said. “That’s as close to history (as) you can get. That’s the passion of it.”
But in a town as historic as St. Augustine, the practice raised more than a little outcry from archaeologists who protested that digging that way — as opposed to careful, recorded excavation — damages the historical record and could lead to a loss of information.
But amateur “diggers” and metal detector enthusiasts argue that they are adding to history with their finds, and don’t need a degree to do it.
Savage said he has been a digger for decades and that diggers such as himself are responsible for reference manuals to such artifacts.
Halbirt said he worries over the loss of other things besides relics that don’t get catalogued such as bones from a midden, ceramic fragments or shards from glass bottles.
“They’re looking for metal,” he said.
But the rest is valuable context that can tell stories about the occupation of a site. And it is easy to destroy.
“It does create a visceral type of response,” Halbirt said.
Savage said diggers are able to recover relics “that are rotting in the ground and (would) never be found” as archaeologists wait for grants or for construction to trigger an excavation.
Halbirt pooh-poohed that.
“If I don’t do it, it will never be found: That is a very self-absorbed type of mentality,” Halbirt said.
He said such shows set a bad example.
“People have an option here,” Halbirt said. “If you don’t watch it, they don’t get the ratings and it goes off the air.”
Savage is used to hearing such debate, though, and expects to get it from everyone — including from metal-detecting enthusiasts looking to dig themselves.
That’s because the show seeks to compensate homeowners for the right to dig on their land, leading to a precedent.
“We get it from both sides,” Savage said. “No matter what you do, no matter how wonderful you do it and how great it serves the world, there is always going to be someone throwing rocks at you because they are not doing it.”
Either way, Savage liked shooting here.
“It’s a beautiful city,” Savage said. “We enjoyed it; we enjoyed the fort, walking around and looking at all the beautiful architecture.
“It was pretty impressive. I didn’t realize how well the city had maintained the historical integrity.”
Courtesy St. Augustine Record
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“Treasure – If it’s out there, we’re going to find it!” (Tommy Vawter)
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