If you’ve ever dropped a possession into a river or waterway, you probably thought it would be gone forever. But one project in Amsterdam has rescued hundreds of thousands of weird and wonderful things from the depths of the city’s canals – and immortalised them in a new online exhibition.
It all started in 2003, when one of the canal riverbeds needed to be drained and excavated to make way for a new Metro line. During the digging, some 700,000 objects were discovered, spanning the 700-year history of the city – and now 20,000 of them are on display online, as part of the fascinating project called ‘Below the Surface’.
Some items from the 15-year dig are prehistoric, dating back as far as 4200-2000 BC. Shards of pottery and old coins from the Middle Ages, guns, jewellery, swords, books, smoking pipes and even false teeth were among the finds – as well as some from more recent years, like mobile phones.
Thanks to the inaccessibility of the sunken objects once they’d fallen into the water, and the fact Amsterdam’s waterways are sleepy canals rather than fast-flowing rivers, thousands of the items remain intact.
Several sections of the city’s waterways were excavated, and it was Damrak and Rokin on the Amstel, one of Amsterdam’s main canals, that yielded the richest deposits.
You can navigate all of the objects on the project’s interactive catalogue – the volume is pretty overwhelming but archaeologists have pinpointed the date of each one. Alternatively, you can buy the accompanying book, Stuff (by Jerzy Gawronski and Peter Kranendonk, €79,50), or watch the documentary.
There’s even an option to ‘create your own display’, where you can collate some of your favourite random pieces into a work of art, just for the fun of it.