Excavating Atari

Where the Media was the Archaeology


  • Andrew Reinhard American Numismatic Society / Punk Archaeology Collective




Alamogordo, archaeogaming, archaeology, Atari documentary, E.T., excavation, garbology, Howard Scott Warshaw, methods


A team of archaeologists excavated Alamogordo, New Mexico’s famed “Atari Burial Ground” in 2014 to media fanfare and public speculation of what archaeology is. This salvage project was the first archaeological dig of an assemblage of video games, in this case thousands of Atari cartridges buried by the company in 1983, quickly becoming the stuff of urban legend. Filmed by documentarians for Microsoft’s Xbox Live, the dig marked a global confluence of science, spectacle, and social media, a literal archaeology of media.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Andrew Reinhard, American Numismatic Society / Punk Archaeology Collective

Andrew Reinhard is Director of Publications for the American Numismatic Society, and was formerly Director of Publications at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.


Huhtamo, E. 2010. “Natural Magic: A Short Cultural History of Moving Images.” In The Routledge Companion to Film History, edited by W. Guynn, 3–15. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

McQuiddy, M. 1983. “City to Atari: ‘E.T.’ Trash Go Home.” Alamogordo Daily News 27 September.

New York Times, 1983. “Atari Parts are Dumped.” 28 September. Available online: www.nytimes.com/1983/09/28/business/atari-parts-are-dumped.html

Orland, K. 2013. “Film Crew to Dig Up Atari Landfill Site, maybe Score 3.5 Million Copies of E.T.” Ars Technica, 1 June. Available online: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/06/01/film-crew-to-dig-up-atari-landfill-site-maybe-score-3-5-million-copies-of-e-t/

Purikka, J. 2010. “What is Media Archaeology? – Beta Definition 0.8.” Cartographies of Media Archaeology, 1 October. Available online: http://mediacartographies.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/what-is-media-archaeology-beta.html

Rathje, W. and C. Murphy. 2001. Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Reinhard, A. 2013. “What is Archaeogaming?” Archaeogaming 9 June. Available online: http://archaeogaming.com/2013/06/09/what-is-archaeogaming/




How to Cite

Reinhard, A. (2015). Excavating Atari: Where the Media was the Archaeology. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 2(1), 86–93. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.v2i1.27108