Per a report from Stereogum, a number of archaeologists from Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility recently excavated the festival grounds of the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the famed 1969 music festival held at a dairy farm in Bethel, New York. Woodstock is an iconic moment in music and cultural history, with more than 400,000 people attending the legendary concert, to see performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and many more.
Though the festival happened just about a half-century ago—next year, Woodstock will celebrate its 50th anniversary—the site is commonly recognized for its major cultural significance. The farm, previously owned by Max Yasgur, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. A non-profit, ’60s-themed museum now sits on the site and is responsible for the area’s preservation, a project that has been ongoing since the late ’90s.
Thus far, the five-day excavation has turned up exactly what you would expect to find after a 400,000-person music festival, like parts of aluminum can tabs, broken glass from bottles, and evidence of chain-link fences. However, these hilariously mundane artifacts actually do serve a purpose in the project’s larger mission, which is to clearly define and map out the layout of the original festival grounds. On the eve of the festival’s 50th anniversary next year, the archaeologists’ findings will also be used to inform new walking routes around the grounds before next summer.
As the project director Josh Anderson told Stereogum, “The overall point of this investigation is to kind of define the stage space.” Using evidence of a fence, he explained, “We can use this as a reference point. … People can stand on that and look up at the hill and say, ‘Oh, this is where the performers were. Jimi Hendrix stood here and played his guitar at 8:30 in the morning.'”
Given that aerial photographs from the festival aren’t reliable in identifying the exact location of the festival’s stage, lights, and speakers, the team is using these various artifacts as clues to estimate these key features’ locations 49 years ago. After determining the spot where a chain-link fence on the side stage met the wooden “Peace Fence,” the scientists have used concert photos to better estimate the perimeter of the stage.
Given that parts of the farm were re-graded in the late ’90s for a Woodstock anniversary concert, the original stage site has been buried under additional layers of earth. Additional items, like the bottle caps, are helpful in determining the surface level of the field at the time of the event, which will be useful if the on-site museum decides to re-grade the area to match how it was back in 1969. However, the museum only has tentatively thrown out this idea, knowing that any major changes to the site might be frowned upon by visitors.