Sunday, July 8, 2018

Great links: Artifacts dredged from the river Amstel in Amsterdam

Dan Herman of the charitable crusade Pengins for Everyone tipped me off to Below the Surface — an amazing database documenting hundreds of thousands of items that were discovered from 2003 to 2012 while the river Amstel in Amsterdam was being dredged for a construction project.

Here is an excerpt from Below the Surface's introduction to its archaeological enterprise:
"Urban histories can be told in a thousand ways. The archaeological research project of the North/South metro line lends the River Amstel a voice in the historical portrayal of Amsterdam. The Amstel was once the vital artery, the central axis, of the city. Along the banks of the Amstel, at its mouth in the IJ, 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.

"Rivers in cities are unlikely archaeological sites. It is not often that a riverbed, let alone one in the middle of a city, is pumped dry and can be systematically examined. The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together. Damrak and Rokin proved to be extremely rich sites on account of the waste that had been dumped in the river for centuries and the objects accidentally lost in the water. The enormous quantity, great variety and everyday nature of these material remains make them rare sources of urban history. The richly assorted collection covers a vast stretch of time, from long before the emergence of the city right up to the present day."
You can see all of those found objects, in their roughly-chronological and ever-scrolling glory, at this link on Below the Surface. The site furthermore ranks, in general terms, the types of material that were discovered:

  • Ceramics (350,491 items)
  • Bone (126,367)
  • Metal (91,849)
  • Leather (58,597)
  • Pipe clay (26,225)
  • Glass (21,218)
  • Building ceramics (10,405)

You will probably get the most enjoyment from just scrolling through the finds yourself, but here is a tiny sampling of items I came across:


GAMING TOKEN (1686—1713)

INSIGNIA PIN (1400-1450)

ARROWHEAD (1000-1300)

BRASS KEY (1800-1950)



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