Archaeologists Study Woodstock '69 Field To Answer Questions About The Famous Festival

Swami Satchidananda giving the opening speech at Woodstock Music & Art Festival in 1969. Mark Goff/Public Domain

Archaeology isn’t always about battlefields, ancient skeletons, and exploring the Temple of Doom. Researchers have recently been rooting around the archaeological site of a much more recent, but no less significant, chunk of history: the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969. 

As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility just finished up a 5-day excavation in the fields of the festival on the site of an old dairy farm in Bethel, New York (pictured below).

You might ask yourself, why do archaeologists need to excavate a widely-documented event from living memory? Well, it seems that memories of the festival are pretty fuzzy in places (for some inexplicable reason).

The team's main mission was to figure out where the iconic stage once stood. The concert’s 50th anniversary will be next year, so the local Museum at Bethel Woods is hoping to carry out walking tours around the sacred ground. It also doesn’t help that the notorious, and much less peaceful, anniversary concert of Woodstock ‘99 disturbed much of the surrounding land.

A panoramic view of the Woodstock festival grounds at Bethel Woods in New York. Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

Combined with an aerial survey of the field, the archaeologists' snooping led them to a hole in the ground that was the site of a chain-link fence that kept the fans from the stage.

“We can use this as a reference point,” project director Josh Anderson told the AP. “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.’”

As for the artifacts at the site, there’s not much in the way of hippie paraphernalia, nor any traces of the festival’s performers, which included big names from the late 1960s music scene, including Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, and Sly and the Family Stone.

They did, however, find a bunch of beer can pull tabs and bits of broken bottle glass.

While many people might shudder at the thought of comparing the event to a great war or the passing of an important law, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair '69 remains one of the most defining milestones in US history. Much more than a music festival, it has become an icon of post-war America and a rose-tinted symbol of peace, love, and harmony. 

Peace out.

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