UND adds to its digital artifacts collection an ‘old’ Atari gaming system cartridge part of recent archaeology dig


David L. Dodds

Document Type

News Article

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Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


The University of North Dakota Department of Special Collections in the Chester Fritz Library got an unusual addition this week: an Atari game cartridge once buried in a New Mexico landfill.

Special Collections is best known for housing collections associated with important national figures like former North Dakota politicians William Langer and Byron Dorgan, and documents related to the history of the Red River Valley, North Dakota and the University. Special Collections also accepts documents related to faculty research.

The Atari cartridge, a Centipede game for the Atari 2600, was among the thousands excavated from the famous Atari Burial Ground in Alamogordo, N.M., in April 2014. Bill Caraher, UND associate professor of history; and Bret Weber, UND assistant professor of social work; participated in the excavation that was funded as part of a documentary film. Caraher purchased a game from the excavation, which was made available by the City of Alamogordo, and has donated it to the University.

"While I usually do not condone purchasing archaeological artifacts of any kind," Caraher said. "These artifacts are somewhat different because they represent our very recent past. When I saw that the Smithsonian had received a game and several other major cultural institutions as well, I had to acquire one for UND to commemorate the University's participation in this unusual excavation."

Curt Hanson, director of UND Special Collections, went on to say, "This is definitely the first artifact from a landfill in our collection, and also the first video game, although with UND's growing status as a university on the cutting edge of the digital innovation, we would not be surprised to see more digital artifacts coming into Special Collections.

"I grew up playing Atari and to see my childhood treated as an archaeological artifact and preserved in our collection, as well as places like the Smithsonian, is really exciting!"

The UND Working Group in Digital and New Media will host a showing of the documentary Atari: Game Over this spring and bring in the "punk archaeology" team who participated on the excavation for a round table conversation on archaeology, the media, and video games as artifacts of our times.

UND Special Collections also houses notebooks and documents related to Caraher's longstanding, and more conventional, field work projects on Cyprus.