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Below the Surface – Finds from an archaeological project in the River Amstel (belowthesurface.amsterdam)
522 points by Osiris30 on July 2, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 104 comments

Is there a word for "time vertigo"?

So many lifetimes and stories associated with each one of those little shards of object; these are just the ones discarded and found in this one small place.

The magnitude of all the human lifetimes and endeavors that are now all but non-existent makes my head spin. The depth of history is staggering.

If you're into this kind of work, I suggest spending an hour or so reading/looking through "Here" by Richard McGuire. It's a fascinating conceptual graphic novel that really gave me a new way of thinking about time. Even now, years after reading it, I find myself appreciating the history of physical spaces, even spending time to research buildings and different places I visit each day.


What the. I thought I recognized that book instantly upon seeing that preview of it and skimming the article, but the fact that it had been released only a few years ago made no sense to me--I was sure I'd seen previews of it something like 15 years ago, and then I suddenly remembered, vividly, how eerie it had seemed at the time, and I remembered being in this same house I'm in right now, looking at it online and feeling weirded out. But just now, after more reading, I found out the book is based on some earlier and similar black and white pages he'd drawn back in 1989 for Raw magazine, which must've been what I saw online 15 years ago.

So basically the last 10 minutes of my life have been super weird and totally appropriate in the context of that dude's work. Gaaah. Thanks for the link, and the bizarre meta experience I just had.

For another temporally interesting work, check out Meanwhile: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/meanwhile-interactive-comic/...

Not quite the same thing, but scratches a similar itch to "Here", I think.

Your comment reminded me of this quote:

"The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far back into the abyss of time; and whilst we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much further reason may sometimes go than imagination may venture to follow"

This was Thomas Playfair commenting on the works of his friend James Hutton. Of course they were talking about deep geological time rather than human history, but the same sense of wonder is there.

NB I actually became interested in geology pretty much because it is history at an epic scale.

I get that vertigo personally when going thru any large city. Rows and rows of large habitations with thousands, hundreds of thousands of individuals makes me feel very humble at how difficult it is to grasp that degree of complexity when we just refer to it as "society".

I found the xkcd comic today especially fitting


That comic made me lightheaded.

There's probably not a day I don't think about certain objects or aspects of life in the way depicted in the comment. E.g. I'm using a hammer which was once my great grandfather's, I suddenly think about the people who crafted the hammer, how probably all traces of them have completely vanised of the earth except a never-visited grave maybe or a picture in a drawer of which nobody knows who is on it. Or I'll think about the materials the hammer was made fro, once dug out of the earth and a tree cut down and how eventually it'll turn to the earth again, or maybe the steel gets recycled in the meantime, still, at one point all traces of it will be gone. Together with the rest of our lives. Doesn't get me lightheaded, but can be tiring at times and it's easy to slip into the 'life is utterly pointless' line of thought.

If that's the case, this one will make you faint: https://xkcd.com/505/

I think this is what 'sonder' is supposed to mean, but the purpose of that word is pretty much wholly to appear in Buzzfeed lists.

Not really, sonder is the realization that every other person alive today is living a life "as complex as one's own". The gp is about the number of lives in one spot through time.

They're sort of vertical slices vs. horizontal slices of the same concept.

The one that has hit me the hardest is imagining the Beringia tribes that moved to the americas in 15,000-11,000 BC. Living thousands of years in relative isolation from the world while living the same pattern of life from generation to generation.

I forget where I saw the story, but I once heard of a native tribe whose members made some money by making baskets to sell to tourists. The tourists would buy the baskets with the belief that this basket represented how the people of the tribe had lived thousands of years ago, the same pattern of living continuing over the whole time.

But the person who told the story talked to the basket makers, who were all trying to create new and distinct patterns of basket weaving, different and better than their teachers and their contemporaries.

The "same pattern of life" can be distinctly different, depending on the scale at which you look.

If that amount of time doesn't bedazzle you, then imagine that each person in the past could have taken different actions, leading to a tree of different possible realities. A huge tree.


For those who may not find it like I did initially: The whole thing has faceted navigation and filtering when clicking on the search icon in the lower left. You can then filter by time range, material, and use.

This zoomable interface shows all items at once: https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/rokin/

This interface are hi-res pictures of the displays that are built in the new subway station Rokin. The new line will open on July 21 in Amsterdam.

It's fascinating how you can see hints of the city's history through these items. E.g. from the "golden age" (16-1700s) there are tons of items from the bustling cloth and textile trade. It's also interesting to see how the apparent quality of items has gone down over the centuries - even though there's probably some survivorship bias, most recent items are just paper and plastic, and probably wouldn't have lasted very long.

anyone who thinks this is fascinating should take a look at magnet fishing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnet_fishing - it's a pretty cool hobby.

there is a very interesting subreddit [0] for that, I remember people finding rifles and stuff.

[0] - https://www.reddit.com/r/magnetfishing/

ok that sounds like fun, how do you start with that. get a magnet... and then find a spot?

Yeah it's basically that simple. All you need is a rope and a good neodymium magnet. If you search for magnet fishing on amazon you can get set up for pretty cheap.

There's tons of videos on youtube about it and there's also a subreddit that looks pretty helpful: /r/magnetfishing/

And please don't leave the garbage you found on the curb. People around here do that and it's such a disrespectful way of treating the local.

I inferred the items were mostly dredged up from the Amstel riverbed, rather than a canal. Either way, as an Amsterdam resident this is a fascinating deep dive into the city's history (and its international visitors).

One item from early 1500s looks amazingly modern.

Amazingly Mondrian even.


Well, really it looks ancient.

From the 19th to 20th centuries, artifacts from around the world were increasingly gathered in European museums and curio shops. When painters and sculpters discovered things like sub-saharan african masks, mesoamerican temples, oceanic tiki sculptures, ancient cycladic figurines, japanese woodblock prints, and islamic geometric designs, it had a huge impact on them. Artists like Maurice de Vlaminck and Pablo Picasso would go on to riff on these as Cubism and other forms. Modernist artists and designers such as Mondrian were really just re-discovering forms of art that other cultures had established.

I'm no art historian, but according to the website, that fragment is a tin-glaze patchwork mosaic on the inside of a plate or bowl. Since it's 16th century this is probably an Italian Majolica plate, whose origins are an area of Sicily known for a Moorish method of glazing pottery. These designs were inspired by Islamic art from Andalusia (http://www.islamicspain.tv/Arts-and-Science/The-Culture-of-A...) and adapted over time to European imagery and patterns (though patchwork mosaics in general are about 5,000 years old)

Maybe life doesn't suck. Today: canal trash is credits cards, cell phones and Megaman. The past: fishing hooks, spear heads, a nazi coin and nothing more fun than tobacco pipes and dice.

beautiful website, well beyond its functional requirements.

I wonder if any other cool stuff gets found when the canals are fished for bikes (another interesting thing about NL canals I heard about on HN[1]), or if that happens in mostly the same areas, making them more likely to be over-fished.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFAIzp9MCkg

> or if that happens in mostly the same areas

There aren't that many canals outside of Amsterdam's center. The ones outside of the center tend to be cleaner as well, because, well, less people around them at all times, and more logically separated from the population (think: parks around them, not houses and bike parking spots right next to the canal).

I didn't put a lot of effort in finding the exact location of this excavation, but there are some mentions of Damrak on the site, which is as center Amsterdam as it can get.

That's the Prinsengracht, I used to live in the little street in the top left of the video!

A Mega Flippo, an audio tape and those marbles, it's a trip down memory lane for me as well. Very cool project.

There's a philips c12 (iirc) there, I had one circa 2000, really liked that phone. Maybe it was more by association though. My contract allowed one free number and I set that to a landline access number of a discount telecoms provider so i was able to make calls to everywhere really cheaply for the time.

I find it intriguing that the design of the buckle[0] is over 600 years old and practically unchanged.

[0]: https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/vondst/NZR2.00536MTL065...

There's a canal in Oxford I walked along regularly, over the course of a year I pulled five bikes out of it, one of them looked brand new.

I have a feeling they're not including the bikes in this project. I've seen them dreg up bikes from the canals before and from the looks of it the entire bottom is covered in them. IIRC it's 4000 bikes per year in Utrecht.

Brand new bike in a canal sounds suspicious as heck to me...

A friend has pulled a couple of nice bicycles out of Copenhagen's harbour. He has a favourite spot, which is deep and silty — "easy" methods to retrieve a lost bike, like a hook on a rope, are difficult there.

None have been reported stolen (there's a website to check this). We think people fall in when cycling drunk at night.

PSA from the Netherlands: never park your bike next to the canal without chaining it to something immovable or some drunk asshole will throw it over.

I'm sure they were all stolen.

Most bikes in Amsterdam are stolen at some point. There is little crime except when it comes to stealing bikes. Mostly because the police doesn't do anything when bikes are reported stolen, so unless you're caught red handed you have little to worry about.

Slightly off topic: When in high school me and some mates actually found a dead body in the canal.

This was not in Amsterdam but Utrecht, which has very similar canals. My school was right on the canal and it was an early winter morning. Turned out it was a homeless person who probably fell in while drunk, at least that was what the police said. Not a nice morning...

Many locks and keys? And a gun? I bet there's an unsolved crime behind that one.

A very specific set of things get dropped into rivers it seems - so many coins! So many identification cards! Until it occurred to me - only metal and plastic things last in a river. The river is 'sorting' for these sort of things.

Under Dutch law, it's equally illegal to a real gun, because it looks like a real gun. Yes, this is insane. (and police are doubling down on it, too - with a recent campaign against 'too real-looking toy guns').

It's striking how disposable the newer plastic items look compared to pre-1930 items, which are made mainly out of ceramics, metal, glass and wood.

I was going to ask why there's no smartphones in the collection, but it would appear that this was all dredged up in 2005.

Fascinating gallery anyway. I'm amused at how many pipes they managed to dredge up, but a bit surprised at how many of them appear to be tobacco pipes.

This was done as part of building a new metro/subway line straight through the city (the "North - South Line"). Unfortunately, it's taken this long to finish, should open in three weeks.

It's really cool to see present-day artifacts as someone 400 years from now might see them. "Flippo disk." "Mobile telephone."

Interestingly, there appear to be as many smoking pipes found in recent years as in 1650. Some things never change, except perhaps what goes in the pipe.

I think that doesn't change so much either...

USSR coins are categorized as Russian Federation, but Yugoslavian coins are categorized as Yugoslavia. Seems inconsistent to me.

The archaeologist in me wants to go down to the Cuyahoga River and see what kinds of things that get thrown in there. But then I remember that this is the Cuyahoga River and do I really want to go in it even in a wetsuit?

So if you threw out your plastic ID card with your picture 29years, it's still there, readable. Can this be used to prosecute people for flytipping?

You'd imagine a good number of these items would have been dropped accidentally, or possibly by not the legal owner (e.g. after a robbery).

This one, clearly looks like someone tried to destroy it and throw out https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/vondst/NZD1.00540KST014...

it could as well be stolen and the thief tried to destroy it

No because there is no proof of intent.

But there are some thrown away guns in the collection so may be some old crimes will be solved.

That's interesting, I read of someone who got done because a shop receipt was found on the street. They went to the shop with the receipt and were able to find the transaction's credit/debit card details and then went to the bank with those to id the person who was then successfully prosecuted for littering.

"But there are some thrown away guns in the collection so may be some old crimes will be solved"

Surprisingly few, I thought.

It looked I saw some bones too as I traveled back a few hundred years. Wonder if they are human.

There are some human bones.

Amazed to see such good colors on even cardboard items (like that pokemon pog). Isn't the water supposed to fade paint layers?

That's a plastic 'Flippo'. Similar to cardboard milk caps but they came in bags of potato chips and are made of plastic.

Funny how materials of each era have very different durability (and complexity)

I thought it was interesting to see ID cards and paper currency show up for modern times and to see plastic emerge as a new durable material among the ancient metals and pottery.

First food, then clothes, money, keys and finally drugs.

Theres an Irish pound coin near the top.. lol random.

Ok, theres also a 50 pence and 20 pence piece.. I reckon they were all dropped in at the same time.

It's like Wall-E but now

I love it, browse through time

do any of those IDs belong to missing persons i wonder.

Oh great, another internet rabbithole!

Amazingly well implemented website.

* Works well on mobile

* Does fancy tricks with scrolling without breaking normal scrolling behavior or turning into a performance nightmare

* Good design and very readable (when many other websites seem to equate good design with low contrast, thin text)

It doesn't even work without Javascript. And it uses a preloader. Preloaders are harmful: they block progressive page rendering by a browser; even though they might look fancy, I strongly advise against using them. And what's worse, it shows a preloader on every click.

So I would rather consider it a poorly implemented website. Since when do we need Javascript to display a grid of images? This site can be easily implemented in plain HTML; why did they chose to use JS here?

As much as I would love to see websites working without JavaScript, that ship sailed years ago. What I call HTML fundamentalists - those who believe that content should be in HTML and JavaScript are for interactive features only - make up a very small niche nowadays, even among the more tech-savvy audience. Unless the intended audience is likely to contain HTML fundamentalists, it doesn't really make much sense for web designers today to consider how to make a website that works without JavaScript.

I am not implying any contempt towards HTML fundamentalists. A website I made (https://elv.sh) works without JavaScript, precisely because the ratio of HTML fundamentalists among shell users is likely non-negligible :) It evens works with w3m, for that matter. The "terminal screenshots" are actually just text and they show up in their full glory in w3m.

I don't understand your complaint about the "preloader". It is a placeholder while the website is fetching images in the background, and, assuming that it is implemented correctly, it does not add any latency. Without the "preloaders" the images are not going to show up immediately, you will just see a blank page or partially blank page. The preloader gives you some idea that the website itself can be reached and I think it is a nice interactive feature.

I don't think so. There are cases when SPA provides better user experience (apps that work offline, complicated editors, endless feeds with images, like buttons and comments) but if you need to display text with images, using SPA (and writing two applications) is an overengineering, making a complex solution instead of simpler one. Server-generated HTML is not an outdated technology.

> I don't understand your complaint about the "preloader".

It makes page load seem slower. Browsers can display HTML progressively even if it is not completely loaded, but preloader makes the user wait until all the resources are fetched. This is effectively discarding all the improvements browsers implemented for faster page rendering.

Also it is annoying to see a blank page when you navigate back and forward.

> It makes page load seem slower

Only because in this case, the website is actually quite slow under load. Triggering a full browser page load would seem even more slow.

I don't dispute your principles. I do also believe that the benefits you argue for are likely marginal for much of the intended audience.

The grid of images seemed considerably large; my guess is if the page was just a static grid of images it would increase their bandwidth costs considerably, and might give rise to issues where if you scroll down far, it would still be loading images from much higher up. Using this technique it looks like when you scroll somewhere, it can load the images that you have navigated to. Maybe modern browsers are smarter in this respect? I'm not sure.

No, sadly modern browsers are not smarter. If you make a page with thousand of images then they will load all of them. There are JS libraries to fix it, but they make images inaccessible for bots.

If the website were a static one it would make sense to make it separate pages (one era per page, for instance).

It's an SPA written in react, so unsurprisingly it requires javascript. Preloaders being harmful is purely your opinion, and your example of why they're harmful doesn't seem convincing to me.

I can see a case for a static version of the site being available, and I think with a bit more work they could have generated one from the react source.

That said, and this is more of a generalization, I think hacker news has a bias towards JS-free sites. Accessibility is an issue, but you can have a fully accessible JS-based site. JS can make it difficult for a scraper to interact with a site, but a separate xml (or whatever) document would be better to allow scraping anyway.

Basically, when developing a site at some point you decide how much effort you're going to put into supporting users who don't have javascript (usually out of choice), and for most people the answer is zero.

SPA is for apps, and websites are often better done with plain HTML. You don't need a megabyte of Javascript to display text with images.

I guess that people might prefer SPA because they are not very good at server programming or maybe they think it can make their resume look better (though I don't think choosing a complicated solution instead of simple one makes a good impression of an engineer).

Of course there are cases when you can't do without SPA: apps that work offline, interactive apps, online editors etc. But it doesn't make much sense to use SPA for a blog.

> at some point you decide how much effort you're going to put into supporting users who don't have javascript (usually out of choice), and for most people the answer is zero.

...until SEO people say that the site is poorly indexed so you need to generate a HTML version of the site. And you understand that it would be easier just to make a plain HTML site from the start.

I have this same conversation most days at work! By the way, I agree with codedokode except for one thing. I believe it should have been implemented in plain HTML but enhanced with JS. Works for everyone. Even the 5%. https://kryogenix.org/code/browser/everyonehasjs.html

I think it works slow and not good on Android and Chrome here.

Heh, should have thought twice before posting that from a fairly high-end Android phone :)

I've got the feeling this is supposed to be showing a lot more objects than it does. The timeline goes way back, but only the top bit if filled with fairly recent items.

I'm watching this with Chrome on a Mac. Possibly not the combination they made this for.

Yep, had the same in Safari. But when I use Firefox and click on -119000 it shows the objects almost immediately.

Should be better now. We didn't expect the traffic we had today.

It works fine now. I'm a bit stunned by how much there is.

Too bad it keeps breaking for me :( "OEPS, ER GING IETS GRUWELIJK MIS."

Seems broken in Safari Mac - the facet search doesn't work and scrolling down simply stops after a while.

Works great in Safari.

Not here, for me on Mac

Works horribly in Safari.

Also in Chrome on Android (both newest version). Got also an error on loading often.

The reason that there are no Nokia's in the collection is due to them all still working and holding charge, so they were taken and put to use.

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