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Atari's once-buried E.T. cartridges hit eBay, going for hundreds of dollars

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Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The dirty, crushed and crumpled Atari 2600 cartridges that sat buried in a New Mexico landfill for more than 30 years are now up for auction on eBay, and some of those unearthed treasures are going for hundreds of dollars.

The city of Alamogordo, New Mexico — where thousands of Atari items were dumped and buried in 1983 — is now selling copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Asteroids, Defender and other classic games via the Tularosa Basin Historical Society on eBay. About 100 cartridges, some still in the box, are up for auction with starting bids of $50. Boxed copies of E.T. are commanding the highest bids, upward of $405 as of this writing.

The exhumed Atari cartridges come with a numbered certificate of authenticity from the city of Alamogordo, a city property ID tag and "a narrative with photos of the 1983 burial and the 2014 excavation proving the legend to be true." Otherwise, the cartridges are "sold as-is" and aren't guaranteed to work, should a buyer attempt to play them.

The games up for sale on eBay are part of a lot of 1,300 cartridges that the city voted to distribute earlier this year. In an excavation of the legendary landfill, where Atari was long-rumored to have dumped tons of excess inventory, some 792,000 games are said to have been recovered.

Some of the games are headed to museums, where they'll be put on display. The Video Game Museum of Rome is currently home to a portion of those unearthed Atari 2600 games in an exhibit called "E.T. The Fall: Atari Buried Treasures."

The city plans to sell between 700 and 800 of the Atari 2600 games, which also includes copies of Centipede, Missile Command, Warlords, Phoenix, Swordquest and Star Raiders, in batches to assess their value and public demand.

For more on the Atari landfill dig and the history of the disastrous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game, read Polygon's feature. A documentary feature on the Atari landfill and the excavation of its contents, titled Atari: Game Over, will debut on Nov. 20 on Xbox.

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