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UND Atari tomb raiders talk about project

Two UND professors along with other members of an archaeological team that dug up the fabled Atari burial grounds in New Mexico have written about their experience for Atlantic magazine’s website.

William Caraher, a faculty member in the university’s history department, and Bret Weber, a member of the social work department, spent three days in April at a municipal landfill in Alamogordo.

That’s where Atari buried thousands of unsold game cartridges in 1983. Most prominent among the games was “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” a financial failure that helped push the gaming giant, then at its peak, toward collapse the following year.

Caraher, Weber and their three teammates said looking for proof that the E.T. cartridges was actually buried in the landfill was not their main goal, though it was the goal of Microsoft filmmakers who funded  and documented the project.

For Caraher, the Atlantic article said, the excavation is a critique of “our culture of discard” where objects of desire can quickly turn to garbage with changing tastes. Now, with the passing of time, they are once more desired as pieces of history.

Weber, a Grand Forks City Council member, noted the way the city of Alamogordo embraced the excavation. He wondered if the city would attempt to brand and market the trash. “Economic development is always a tricky puzzle for small cities in sparsely populated areas, and Alamogordo lacks the artsy aura and mountain mystique of Santa Fe,” the article said.

The Alamogordo Daily News reported in May that the city was trying to figure out who would get the 1,377 game cartridges, including 171 copies of “E.T.,” and Atari consoles. If they are sold, the city had to figure out how much they would be sold for.

Other games found included “Centipedes,” “Defenders,” “Missile Command” and “Asteroids.

Offers were already coming in.

“So far, the craziest offer was $750 for a copy of ‘E.T.,’” Matt McNeile, the assistant city manager, told the L.A. Times. “It is ironic so many want a game once considered so bad.”

On eBay, “E.T.” cartridges that weren’t found in landfills are selling for as little as 99 cents.

More On the Web: The Atlantic article is at