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Archaeologist donates Atari landfill cartridge to his university

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Here's an unusual donation: A long-buried, probably inoperable, foul-smelling cartridge of a video game more than 30 years old. The University of North Dakota happily accepted it.

Bill Caraher, an associate professor of history at the college, took part in the famous dig through an Alamogordo, N.M. landfill for the remains of Atari's rise and fall in the 1980s. Ostensibly the burial site of millions of copies of the 1982 ultra-flop E.T: The Extra Terrestrialthe excavation uncovered thousands of cartridges from North American home video gaming's initial boom.

The city of Alamogordo began putting its share of the haul up on eBay for sale to collectors back in November. Depending on the title, some cartridges fetched four-figure prices. Carraher figured his participation earned his university a piece of the garbage as a memento. He bought a disposed Centipede cartridge for $60 shortly after it went on sale.

Carraher, an archaeologist, notes that paying for artifacts is not something ordinarily condoned by his professional colleagues. (More typically they acquire them by bullwhip, evading large rolling boulders, or punching out Nazis.) However, given limited supply of such an artifact and its very recent nature, he felt the only way to commemorate UND's participation in pop culture history was to fork up the $60.

Probably a good thing, as bids on some of the cartridges went well north of that initial figure. One of the specimens ended up in the Smithsonian Institution. Carraher said the copy of Centipede that he is giving will include materials explaining "the full context of what went on." The university also plans a showing of Atari: Game Over, the documentary by Zak Penn being shown on Xbox Live.

The director of the Department of Special Collections of the University of North Dakota said they will happily accept the cartridge, where it will be stored alongside material from significant figures in the state's history and artifacts from its settlement. It will be likely studied by top men.

Top. Men.