“Mudlarking” and “plogging” may threaten archeological sites

By Elizabeth Adams
Prince George’s County Office of Law

Mudlarking” is a hobby that finds its origins in “street urchins” that searched the banks of the Thames for coins or other valuables taken by the river and later returned to the land through the ebb and flow of the tides. “Plogging” is a more modern construct; it is a Swedish term coined circa 2016 by Erik Ahlström from “plocka upp” or “to pick up,” and is defined as a combination of jogging and picking up litter.

The commonality between mudlarking and plogging is the sometimes subjective decision as to what to carry away, whether deemed trash or treasure. And in both the cases of overzealous mudlarkers or ploggers, governments may find that undiscovered archaeological sites, or discovered sites that are not well secured, can suffer.

Mudlarking has its significant share of enthusiasts. A quick search on YouTube for the term “mudlarking” will render a host of daring duos that dig through heaps of dirt in search of memories abandoned to time.

Occasionally, the mudlarker will find a treasure, such as a gold coin, but usually finds vulcanite bottle stoppers, Codd marbles, sea glass, beads, broken bits of china, and the occasional poison bottle that reads “not to be taken.” Dump sites are closely guarded secrets and found treasures are often repurposed and sold worldwide on Etsy.

The problem is when mudlarkers find their way to archeological sites, either known or unknown. Unfortunately, if a site is loosely monitored, the governmental body may be wholly unaware of the mudlarking and the volume of the artifacts removed from the site. Means of monitoring remote sites to discourage unsanctioned mudlarking include video surveillance, physical monitoring, or signage that includes rules of conduct and contact information to report any unsanctioned mudlarking.

Similarly, ploggers in local parks stop during their hike or jog, pick up litter, and properly dispose of it. But the plogger may define abandoned property as “trash.”

A plogger in an archaeological site can harm it, either by degrading the location or removing historical artifacts the plogger thinks is trash. Unless the artifacts are returned to the agency, the historical value of those artifacts is likely forever lost.

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