Archaeological Repository Showcases New York City’s Rich History

Esquire Expand-o socks box and various shards

It’s hard to imagine New York without its noisy cabs, towering skyscrapers, and selfie-snapping tourists. But thousands of years before the city was paved over with concrete, vibrant communities were living on the land. Archaeological discoveries can sharpen the details of these people’s lives: A 1000-year-old dog grave, for instance, shows us that some pre-Columbian communities revered their pets, while fish bones from the 17th and 18th centuries trace inhabitants’ evolving diets. These are a few examples of the artifacts housed in the Nan A. Rothschild Research Center, an archaeological repository containing hundreds of thousands of New York City artifacts uncovered from all five boroughs.

On the morning of Wednesday, October 5, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission dedicated the repository, which is now open by appointment to scholars and researchers for the first time since it launched in 2014. Located beneath an office building in midtown Manhattan, the repository contains over 1500 boxes of artifacts spanning 8000 years of New York City history. Some items are ancient, like a spearhead used by a hunter during the Stone Age. Other artifacts, like the bones of a 19th-century carrier pigeon and an 18th-century sugar-refining tool that still smells of molasses, offer insights into a more recent time in history.

Amanda Sutphin, director of archaeology for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, identifies a green toy teacup (seen below) as one of her favorite items from the collection. “Just thinking of a child who played with it before we were born, you can get that sense of the past,” she told mental_floss.

Before relocating to the center, the objects had been scattered in different places throughout the city. “They had been kept in different conditions, so some of them were in fine condition and others were not,” Sutphin said. “We had to re-box things. Some had been gnawed by rats, some were moldy.” The collection’s current home is climate-controlled and organized in a way that makes it easy for visitors to access.

The dedication also celebrated the release of a new companion website to the physical space, where students, teachers, and the general public can browse through the hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the city’s collection. The landmarks preservation commission says this digital archive is the first of its kind built around the archaeological findings of a single municipality.

Despite the impressive size of the inventory, it still doesn’t account for every artifact that’s been dug up within city limits. “The problem is deciding what to keep,” Nan A. Rothschild, the Barnard anthropology professor the new research center is named for, said at the launch. “It’s hard to know what might be significant.” The project is still a work in progress, so that’s a question the archaeologists will continue to grapple with as new objects are added to the collection. You can see some highlights from the collection below. 

Bones from dog burial


Atlantic drill whelk shell and assorted other shells


Glass toy teacup, likely early 20th century


Wood, shell, and stone fragments


Stemmed projectile point


Small fragments of pottery


Box from "Conida's Bon-Ton Candy Shoppes," along with an assortment of pottery shards, stones, and bones


10-inch plate, circa 1780–1830

All images courtesy of NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
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Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]

Gumdrop LTD.
British Designer Recycles Used Chewing Gum Into Everyday Items—Including the Soles of Shoes
Gumdrop LTD.
Gumdrop LTD.

Even if you never chew gum, you may have stepped on a gob of the stuff discarded on a sidewalk or felt it stuck beneath a park bench. Chewing gum is the second most common source of litter, behind cigarettes, and because it isn't biodegradable, cities are struggling to get rid of it. Now, the BBC reports that British designer Anna Bullus has found an ingenious alternative to tossing old gum on the ground: She's repurposing it into new products normally made out of rubber or plastic.

Bullus started her gum recycling project by installing bright pink bins called Gumdrops around sites in the UK. The containers, which are made from recycled gum themselves, come with signs telling passersby that any old gum dropped into the bin will be recycled. In some places, the receptacles led to an 89 percent decrease in gum litter.

After analyzing the chemistry of chewing gum, Bullus found that it contains polyisobutylene, a type of polymer similar to plastic that's often used as a synthetic rubber. This means it can be used to make everyday products like doorstops, coffee cups, and plasticware. It can even been turned into playful pink soles for shoes, which look much more attractive than the gum that normally ends up on the bottom of your shoe.

The collected gum is processed with other plastic polymers at a recycling plant in Worcester, and from there it's sent to a plastic molding specialist in Leicester, where Bullus executes her designs. Combs, lunchboxes, pencils, Frisbees and many other items made from gum are available to order from the Gumdrop website. Anna Bullus is also accepting suggestions of other products to make from the chewed-up gum she collects.

Pink coffee cups.

Pink guitar pick.

Dog catching frisbee.

Pink rubber boot.

[h/t BBC]

All images courtesy of Gumdrop Ltd.


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