Thursday, January 12, 2012

Television Vandals Planning to Dig Up St. Augustine Archaeology, Destroying Our History in Nation's Oldest City

A reality TV show set to film in St. Augustine soon is already raising some concern within the city limits.

A casting producer for a 13-episode series tentatively titled “The Recovery Project” is to fly here Sunday to find property on which to dig for clues to the past.

Desiree Mandelbaum says the digs are essentially treasure hunting, a search for objects like bullets or buttons that will tell a story of the past.

But City of St. Augustine Archaeologist Carl Halbirt said the premise is unethical because it “robs the city of its heritage” and could disrupt important archaeological sites.

Mandelbaum said it’s a fun way to learn something about history and that producers would make sure “not to disrupt anything that’s been put into place in St. Augustine.”

“We are definitely going to stay away from archaeological zones,” she said. “And the host of our show has been digging up artifacts for 20 years, so he’s not some random digger. I know they want to ... show that St. Augustine isn’t an area where you should just go dig.”

And that concerns Halbirt because such digs, especially if they’re not systematic, “might disrupt the resources that are in the ground” and the integrity of important sites.

“In my opinion, it sends the wrong message to the residents of St. Augustine,” Halbirt said. “As a resident, you are a steward to the city’s heritage. Digging for artifacts is not preserving the city’s heritage.”

He said the same concept applied outside the city limits.

“All the property owners I have dealt with have been interested in the archaeology and preserving the past and that’s what we’re trying to do with a systematic approach,” Halbirt said.

However, “they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” he said.

About the show

Mandelbaum said crews would go to 13 different cities, including Boston, Tombstone, Ariz., and Chicago.

“We want to go to St. Augustine because we know you guys have your 450th anniversary coming up and we think it will shed some light on the city,” she said.

Halbirt said he explained to producers that they couldn’t dig on government property, but beyond that, he can’t keep them off private land if the owners say it’s OK to excavate.

And some are already lined up to give their permission, Mandelbaum said.

“I’ve been getting emails from people,” she said by phone from New Orleans on Thursday. “If (the property) is a good fit, I’m going to go out there and meet them in person. Once I lock our locations that we’re going to dig, then we bring our crews out.”

She said the series would air on one of three major networks: The History Channel, Spike or the Discovery Channel.

She said she couldn’t say which because the producers planned to make a big push for the show after they shot all the episodes.

Mandelbaum’s other projects have included episodes of the reality TV shows “The Biggest Loser,” “Super Nanny,” and other TV series such as 2010’s “Parental Control” and 2009’s “Reality Hell,” according to the Internet Movie Database.

“I’ve worked on a lot of different shows,” she said. “It’s really, really fun.”

During the filming, hosts will dig into people’s yards, parking lots, basements — “anywhere objects might be buried,” she said.

Mandelbaum said the show is a chance to learn more about the country.

“There’s so much American history that we don’t know,” Mandelbaum said. “I had no idea St. Augustine was the first city in the U.S. Knowing that bit of information makes me want to go.”

Want to contact the casting producer?

Email or call 818-730-9125.

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