TIME Technologizer

E.T. Is Right Here: Lost Atari Cartridges Unearthed in New Mexico Dump

Atari Cartridges
A member of the excavation team brandishes an E.T. cartridge at a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico Microsoft

Video game company Atari Inc. reportedly discarded hundreds of video game cartridges, including cartridges for its unsuccessful E.T. game, in 1983 after a crash in the gaming market. The materials have now been recovered by excavators for an upcoming documentary

The 1982 Atari 2600 video game version of E.T. is famous for several things, none of them good–including being both terrible and terribly unsuccessful, so much so that it helped drive Atari to the brink of death. But the thing which has become the defining fact about it is the sad fate of the unsold cartridges: The company supposedly had them dumped in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico and then covered over with concrete. Here’s the New York Times writing about the burial in 1983.

Last year, Fuel Entertainment secured the right to excavate the landfill in search of the lost games, a project it undertook on Saturday. The archeological effort hit pay dirt: The diggers have uncovered at least hundreds pof cartridges, including both E.T. and some titles which were best-sellers at one time, including Asteroids, Centipede and Space Invaders. (Whether that’s the extent of the trove we don’t yet know–as recounted in the Snopes entry on the burial, the legend has always been that millions of cartridges were dumped.)

The excavation was filmed for an upcoming documentary which will premiere as an exclusive offering on Xbox. More details at Microsoft’s Xbox Wire.

Now that this important matter has been addressed, maybe it’ll prompt someone to investigate the other iconic dumping of a tech product flop: The unsold Lisa computers Apple allegedly got rid of in Logan, Utah, also in the mid-1980s.

Bonus material: See below for the original TV commercial for the E.T. game. Even when being advertised, it doesn’t look so hot.

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