Buried no more! Atari E.T. games dug up (pictures)

Atari tried to make thousands of E.T. game cartridges disappear in 1983. But too many people knew where they were, and now a crew has excavated them from a landfill in Alamogordo, N.M.


Daniel Terdiman

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Zak with E.T. box

ALAMOGORDO, NM -- Buried in the old landfill here since 1983, thousands of Atari E.T. game cartridges are hidden no more.
Saturday, after months of waiting for the day to come, an excavation crew dug into the landfill in search of the games, which Atari dumped here after one of the biggest business failures in the history of video games.
And with more than a hundred video game fans on hand to witness the event, the crew was able to find the games. Here, Zak Penn, director of a film about the hunt being produced by Fuel Entertainment and Lightbox, and supported by Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios, announces that the crew has found the first cartridges.

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After the crew found the first games, but before they made the announcement, a team of archaeologists inspected their find.

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E.T., drive home

Video game historian and author Ernest Cline brought his DeLorean to the event, and someone put a life-size E.T. doll in the front seat, inspiring someone to yell out, "E.T., drive home."

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Eight-bit E.T.

An IGN reporter poses for a photo with two different E.T.s, including a reproduction of the 8-bit video game graphic that inspired so much enmity over the years.

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Never forget

Pauline Acalin, editor of it8bit.com, shows the T-shirt she made a couple of years ago.

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Crowd gathered

The crew invited the public to witness the dig, and in addition to reporters who traveled from many states away, more than a hundred local video game fans came to see the dig for themselves.

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Atari hardhat

A member of the excavation crew models his custom Atari hardhat.

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Garbage pile, before

A giant pile of garbage dug out of the pit, before the crews found the first Atari games.

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Atari 2600 with E.T. game

The production company set up TVs with an Atari 2600 and a playable version of the E.T. game. Unfortunately, it wasn't one of the cartridges dug out of the landfill. The production company tested some of the games they found to see if they still worked but decided to keep that information secret as a special reveal for their film.

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Zak Penn holds up for all to see the first E.T. cartridge the crew found. The discovery meant that months of preparation and hard work to get permission to do the dig was not for naught. Many had wondered if the games were there at all, or even if they were, if the crews would find them in a 300-acre landfill.

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Bucket up-close

An up-close look at a bucket filled with Atari games gathered by the crew.

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Atari garbage

Large piles of garbage dug up by an industrial excavator lay on the ground at the side of the Alamogordo landfill. As seen here, they were filled with evidence of Atari's having buried thousands of games there in 1983.

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Star Raiders

While everyone was there to see the discovery of the hated E.T. games, it turned out Atari had also buried many other games, such as Star Raiders, seen here.

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Why Atari buried the other games is not entirely understood. It may have been due to overproduction of games like Centipede.

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Bucket of games

A crew member carries a bucket of Atari games found inside the old Alamogordo landfill.

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Going through by hand

The excavation crew worked the piles of garbage slowly and methodically, going through by hand to look for buried Atari games.

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In order to work the effort as a true archaeological dig, staff documented every step of the process.

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Before the first game was found, a member of the public walking to the bathroom found the top of an old Atari 2600 joystick, briefly getting the crowd excited about what was in store for the day. But it was not known if the joystick was originally buried along with the games.

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IRS form

After crews first dug into the landfill on Friday, some garbage from inside the pit blew up against a trash fence, proving how long things had been buried there. For example, this is a 1979 IRS form.

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