From his lab in Moon Township, archaeologist Bryan Cunning examines historical fragments, sent to him from the soil of America’s battlefields and settlements by colleague Marc Henshaw.
Experts from Michael Baker International engineering and consulting firm, the two work alongside the cast of National Geographic Channel’s “Diggers.” Wrapping up production in February, its fourth season is airing now through September 7 on Mondays at 10 and 10:30 p.m.
“We work as a foursome (with the show’s stars, archaeologists Tim “Ringy” Saylor and “King” George Wyant),” says Henshaw. “There are things that they have never seen before that they’ll pull out of the ground, and we’ll know exactly what it is.”
As the show’s production archaeologist, Henshaw is in the field at all times with the cast and crew, evaluating, cleaning and cataloging each item. In addition, he ensures that archaeological state standards are followed.
Here in town, Cunning, the show’s supervising archaeologist, pours through documentation and conducts exhaustive research online for each unearthed artifact. He provides the facts that are presented on the show by the exuberant Saylor and Wyant.
“For every hour of field work there could be five to six hours in a lab to evaluate,” he says.
The discovery of a Civil War era button from a Union general’s uniform in a recent episode about Grant’s Landing on the Tennessee River brought excited hoots and hollers from the show’s stars.
“They hype up what they find and speculate that it might even be one of Ulysses S. Grant’s because there is a ‘G’ on it. My job is to sort of bring them back to reality,” says Henshaw.
That same episode uncovered a circular pattern of musket balls that were “heavily chewed on” by soldiers undergoing pain killer-free medical procedures.
“We came to the conclusion that it was a triage site where they had pulled men back from the lines,” says Henshaw.
“Working with the team at Michael Baker ensured that the artifacts uncovered throughout the ‘Diggers’ production were handled, catalogued and historically noted with the care and respect they deserve,” says John Jones, executive producer at Half Yard Productions, the production company for the series.
History buffs both from Western Pennsylvania – Cunning is from Washington, and Henshaw is from Brownsville – in the show’s second season they were excited to discover ammunition used in potentially the last battle of the American Revolution at Rice’s Fort near Claysville, Pa.
Previous research and evidence from primary resources told them that during the siege of a small blockhouse, a German woman melted her own flatware to make “round balls” for ammunition. The goal was to find some of those pewter prizes, says Cunning.
“We weren’t at the site for 20 minutes and (Wyant) found a pure pewter round ball, and that was exciting. Now, through archaeology, we have verified that historic record,” says Cunning.
The great outcome of the story, Cunning says, is that the landowner agreed to have the artifacts donated to the Washington County Historical Society for future display.
“Given Michael Baker International’s legacy as a company that has helped to build and maintain this nation’s infrastructure, it is only fitting that we are part of finding and preserving pieces of American history, “says Kurt Bergman, CEO of Michael Baker International in a statement.
Currently, Cunning and Henshaw are waiting for the green light for the next season.
“I really do think that Michael Baker has created a unique opportunity with doing this type of work with productions like the Digger show. Hopefully we’ll be able to do more production work for media,” says Henshaw.