How train tunnels beneath Amsterdam revealed a medieval treasure trove

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(CNN) — Constructing Amsterdam’s North-South metro line was massive bother — a budget-blowing 15-year operation that concerned fastidiously burrowing beneath the foundations of centuries-old structure.

For archaeologists tasked with sifting by delicate mud to protect any historical past disturbed by the huge engineering mission, it was no simple feat both. Their probably hazardous work passed off inside concrete containers pressurized to maintain out deluges from the Dutch capital’s ubiquitous waterways.

Right now, the fruits of their subterranean labors could be seen at Rokin station, certainly one of eight stops on the route and one which doubles up as a formidable underground archaeological museum, with almost 10,000 artifacts on show.

The station, properly price visiting in its personal proper, is a testomony not solely to the wealthy heritage on which Amsterdam is constructed, but additionally to the engineers and archeologists who labored so arduous to protect it.

The fruits of their labor are displayed in two glass instances positioned between the escalators, one case at both finish of the station. On any given day, it is commonplace to discover a commuter going up and down the escalators, simply to get a greater look.

A major variety of these artifacts have been present in and round Rokin, a neighborhood that lies alongside town’s principal Amstel river that was on the coronary heart of Amsterdam because it developed from the thirteenth century onwards.

Waterways are inclined to turn into dumping grounds, accumulating objects over the centuries. The Amstel riverbed round Rokin was no totally different.

“The sheer mass of fabric we unearthed in the course of the development of the North-South line, was extraordinary,” says Peter Kranendonk, certainly one of two senior archaeologists main the excavations in the course of the metro mission.

“The development gave us a singular alternative to excavate beneath town as much as a depth of 30 meters,” he provides. The oldest objects discovered have been mollusc shells relationship to over 115,000 years in the past.

The artifact shows at Rokin station are organized into varied themes. Within the north show, the main target is on objects associated to meals, science and know-how, arms and armor, communication, video games and recreation, private artifacts and clothes; whereas the south show consists of objects from buildings and constructions, interiors and equipment, transport, in addition to craft and business. All of those artifacts present insights into Amsterdam’s wonderful, and generally unknown previous.

“Some objects, just like the 500-year-old cash, have a direct story behind them,” says Kranendonk. “On the idea of the finds, we are able to additionally say one thing about using an space,” he provides.

Underneath strain

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Archaeologists labored in pressurized concrete chambers.

Monuments and Archaeology/Metropolis of Amsterdam

In a single spot at Rokin, unearthing a focus of chopped animal bones pointed to the existence of a butchery close by within the Seventeenth and 18th century. At one other spot, an abundance of furnishings fittings confirmed the presence of a furnishings maker’s store within the nineteenth century.

“Previous to the excavation of those artifacts, town had an archaeological archive of solely about 70,000 artifacts,” says Hoite Detmar, who served because the director of the North-South metro mission from 2016 until its completion. “We discovered 10 occasions as many in the course of the development of the North-South line.”

Kranendonk elaborates on the relatively unconventional excavation course of behind these finds.

“This was not a traditional dig,” he says. “Often, excavation is finished earlier than constructing. However on this case, the development plans have been already finalized. So we needed to turn into a part of the present course of. The civil engineering crew have been constructing and we have been excavating.”

For the archaeology crew, working within the caissons was a novel expertise. A caisson is a big watertight concrete chamber, open on the backside, from which water is stored out by air strain and through which development work is carried out underground or underwater.

“It was an attention-grabbing expertise but additionally a bit scary,” says Kranendonk. “The deeper you go, the extra compressed the air will get. It is like deep sea diving,” To acclimatize to the caissons, groups needed to spend time in a strain chamber earlier than getting into and after exiting, in any other case they’d face danger of “the bends,” when fuel bubbles kind within the physique, probably resulting in paralysis.

About 700,000 artifacts were recovered beneath Amsterdam.

About 700,000 artifacts have been recovered beneath Amsterdam.

Monuments and Archaeology/Metropolis of Amsterdam

To allow folks to have interaction with the Rokin shows at leisure, a web based database of almost 20,000 objects, Below the Surface, was created, offering details about each single merchandise within the glass instances. “It is a strategy of discovery in its personal means,” says Kranendonk.

“We knew we might be working within the metropolis for a really very long time and would inconvenience residents lots,” says Hoite Detmar. “This was one of many some ways we gave again to town.”

Along with the 2 archaeological shows, the partitions of Rokin station adjoining to the tracks are coated with stone mosaics by artists Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel depicting 33 of the artifacts unearthed — a keyboard, a pike, a teapot, cube, a butterfly, amongst others.

There may be even a mosaic of a crocodile which represents a crocodile jaw that was unearthed, a relatively uncommon discover for this a part of the world.

An engineering feat

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The brand new metro line needed to burrow beneath historic metropolis foundations.

Monuments and Archaeology/Metropolis of Amsterdam

Hailed as one of the vital difficult infrastructure initiatives within the Netherlands, the North-South line was inaugurated in July 2018, with a whole lot of fanfare. The route is six miles lengthy — of which 4.5 miles are underground — and runs beneath the historic metropolis heart, the Central practice station, and the IJ, a water channel which separates town’s north from its heart.

The road linked neighborhoods just like the northern suburbs (beforehand unconnected by rail) to town heart, eliminating the necessity to take a ferry throughout the IJ or to drive by the IJ tunnel. It additionally halved the 30-minute journey time required to traverse town from north to south. Proper after the opening of the road, an estimated 120,000 commuters used it every single day.

Nevertheless, the preliminary plans for the North-South line weren’t met with enthusiasm. Public resistance to this mission was prompted by the traumatic experiences throughout development of Amsterdam’s first metro, the East Line, within the Seventies. A big a part of the Nieuwmarktbuurt neighborhood was demolished to make means for the mission, resulting in anger and riots in 1975.


Art work on Rokin station’s partitions represents objects present in its development.

Anne Pinto-Rodrigues

The development of the North-South line started in 2003, certainly one of its key goals being to protect the present constructed surroundings.

With this in thoughts, a particular route was chosen and several other new development strategies have been used, together with the deployment of a personalized tunnel boring machine, which made it potential to dig deep in Amsterdam’s delicate soil, with out impacting constructions above.

Nevertheless, public considerations about houses collapsing loomed over the mission. In June 2008, work got here to a grinding halt when 4 Seventeenth-century buildings close to Vijzelgracht station sank by about 25 centimeters (10 inches), rendering them uninhabitable.

“Fortunately, nobody was injured,” says Detmar. An impartial evaluation was performed and work resumed in the summertime of 2009. The heritage homes have been additionally restored.

The mission was beset with many engineering challenges that led to the doubling of the development price range from 1.4 to three.1 billion euros. The preliminary launch date of 2011 was additionally pushed again to 2018.

Regardless of these challenges, the North-South line has functioned easily since launch.

Detmar says he is happy with the appreciation the mission has obtained so far, particularly for the artwork at every of the eight stations on the brand new line.

Rokin is the spotlight.

“Once I journey to Rokin station, I see folks actually finding out the archaeological displays,” he says. “I hope extra folks will take the metro to see this underground museum.”

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