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An infrastructure project for the expansion of the Amsterdam North/South metro line offered a rare archaeological opportunity to systematically study a drained riverbed where, since prehistory, humans have inhabited its shores. Now anyone can explore examples of the 700,000 recovered items through the interactive site, Below the Surface – The Archaeological Finds of the North/South Line.
The digital project was created by the Department of Archaeology, Monuments and Archaeology (MenA) and the City of Amsterdam with its Chief Technology Office (CTO). Physical artifacts are on view in the new Rokin metro station, with a book called Stuff and a video documentary (in Dutch, embedded at the bottom of this post) that helps to convey the scope of this archive of urban history.
Excavations took place from 2003 to 2012, the draining of the Damrak and the Rokin sections of the Amstel River revealing the centuries of detritus layered beneath the water. On the site, researchers note that while many deposits are “associated with shipping activities and vary from items that have fallen overboard to complete shipwrecks and parts of ships,” or are linked with an industry that worked on the banks, “by far the largest group of archaeological finds from streambeds can be attributed to universal human behaviour, namely, to the habit of dumping waste in water.”
The objects go right up to the 21st century, with chronological grids of cellphones, undeveloped film, glasses and false teeth, and plenty of finds that recall the commercial and societal importance of the waterway, such as the many boathooks and fishhooks. What makes Below the Surface such a joy is the beauty and accessibility of its design, where it’s easy to navigate between categories of use and material, and see on a map where in the canal an object was found. A feature also allows users to build their own collage-style collections and peruse those built by others. So even though the amount of items — with 27,000 photographed for the site — is incredible, it’s not overwhelming.
Viewing the trash of the past is very humanizing for history, whether a smushed rubber toy horse from the early 1900s, an 18th-century child’s shoe, a warped bit of stamped leather from a 16th-century book, a 1400–1550 religious figurine, or the multitude of the blue and white fragments of 18th-century Kangxi porcelain. These objects are often broken, extensively used until they were trash. Objects like an Egyptomania radiator hood cap from the 1920s–30s, inspired by the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, show moments of taste and culture. However others attest to a history of collective loss, the same types of items always slipping out of our grasps. There are delicate rings, from a 20th-century sapphire and gold ring to a simple, but elegant, 16th-century piece made with lead alloy. There are wayward keys, including a modern plastic keycard and an iron example from 1300-1450, detailed with a cross.
Trash can reveal a lot about a place, in what was deemed dispensable, and how these everyday objects can say more about a people than the treasures preserved in museums. And although there are precious finds — a gold 18th-century ring adorned with red carnelian stone, a regal 1556 hearthstone decorated with a terracotta crown and coat of arms — most of the Amsterdam artifacts are humble, filling those enduring human needs to communicate, to work, to move, to eat, and to play.
Below the Surface – The Archaeological Finds of the North/South Line is available to explore online.
Editor’s Note: This endorsement is part of a special edition that Hyperallergic published on the ongoing legal case to return the photos of Renty and Delia Taylor to their descendants. * * * Your Honour — On April 11, 2018, The New York Times published a report on the differential outcomes for maternal and infant…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…