River of time

The Compass - - Editorial -

Some­times, it’s good to take a break. That’s what va­ca­tions are all about, right? Well, this ed­i­to­rial is a bit of a va­ca­tion, too. In­stead of pol­i­tics, law or crime, this is an ed­i­to­rial about arche­ol­ogy, and about how 700,000 ar­ti­facts were col­lected when parts of a Dutch river were drained as part of the con­struc­tion of a new metro sys­tem.

“The Am­s­tel was once the vi­tal artery, the cen­tral axis, of the city. Along the banks of the Am­s­tel, at its mouth in the (North Sea), a small trad­ing port orig­i­nated about 800 years ago. At Dam­rak and Rokin in the city cen­tre, archaeologists had a chance to phys­i­cally ac­cess the riverbed, thanks to the ex­ca­va­tions for the mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture project of the North/ South metro line be­tween 2003 and 2012,” says the in­tro­duc­tion of the guide to the “Be­low the Sur­face” project. The re­searchers picked par­tic­u­lar sites on the river and ex­pected to find a bounty: “The ex­pec­ta­tions of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal po­ten­tial of the Am­s­tel were high, since it was a slow-flow­ing river with a soft bed of sand and a peat into which ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial could eas­ily sink with­out be­ing washed away.”

What they found and cat­a­logued is as­tound­ing.

Cell­phones. Iden­tity and credit cards. Hash pipes and false teeth. Keys and coins - lots of keys and coins. Pen knives, neck­laces and mar­bles. A three-gram minia­ture pink plas­tic hippo.

Out of the huge range of things that were found, 11,279 ob­jects were pho­tographed, and in­cluded in an on­line in­ven­tory here: https:// be­lowthesur­face.am­s­ter­dam/en/vond­sten

There are high-res­o­lu­tion pho­to­graphs of each item, and you can select and change pho­to­graphs to look at some of the items from dif­fer­ent an­gles.

Things Cana­dian make an ap­pear­ance in the river, too: a 1979 quar­ter. A nickel from 1970. A badly cor­roded 1986 penny. A 1968 sil­ver dol­lar.

Items are in chrono­log­i­cal or­der and date back to 119,000 BC. Each individual item has been re­searched and iden­ti­fied, its likely date of man­u­fac­ture cal­cu­lated.

The old­est, in a range some­where be­tween 124,000 BC and 114,000 BC, is a hand­ful of spi­ralled, dis­tinctly pointed snail shells of the species Bit­tium retic­u­la­tum. The new­est? A plas­tic Rocket Power Stunt Wheels spin top or a Frito/Lays metal Mega­man Flippo Disc. Both are dated from 2005.

You can only imag­ine how some things ended up un­der­wa­ter, like the Dutch po­lice plas­tic tear gas grenade. Who lost their Com­mu­nist Guard pin in the river, and how? What might have been on the nu­mer­ous rolls of film? Was the Brown­ing FN-5 pis­tol used in a crime be­fore be­ing tossed away? Who lost the gold ring with the chunky sap­phire?

What it im­presses on you the most? That ev­ery sin­gle thing, big or small, valu­able or near-worth­less, has a story.

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