Meinerswijk Bunker Archaeology Pull Tabs (Update 16)
Last week I had a dream in which a ghostly ghost appeared in front of me. It was the ghost of an American man, clearly of age and wisdom, with a misty gloom around him. Before me, in living person – well sort of – stood the ghost of Ermal C. Fraze. Indeed, it was Fraze, the inventor of the pull tab himself. “Behold”, the ghost spoke, “I show you the book of all information of all pull tabs in the world!” The sound of thunder rolled across the sky, followed by a blinding flash and the deafening rumble of thousands of beverage cans being crushed simultaneously…
With a scream I woke up, sitting up straight in my bed, cold sweat running down my back. I grasped the sheets, but the ghost was gone. With a sigh I relaxed and then , there it was before me on the floor: a big leather-bound book with a mysterious aluminium glow around it. Oh my! It’s real! The book of all information of al pull tabs of the world! Filled with the spark of engagement with true archaeology, I jumped out of bed and grasped the book. I immediately ran into the garden as fast as I could, tore the book apart and burned it page by page until nothing remained but ashes..
There is more than one motivation to do archaeological research. The classical motivation is the idea that archaeology is here to fill in the gaps in history, explaining to us in ever growing detail what happened when and how people lived in all ages. If we work with heritage long enough, and sincere enough, one day the archaeological narrative will reach the state of perfection, the equivalent of the ‘great book of pull tabs’ from the dream above. Exciting as this positivist idea of progression of science may be, it has one great downside: the second perfection is attained, all archaeologists in the world are done and unemployed. Archaeology, as the vessel of discovery practice, would instantly be as dead as Ermal Fraze himself.
Archaeology in the Pull Tab project is not so much about the knowledge: it is about doing. It’s about performing archaeology, stepping into the process and learning on every level. I learn as I do archaeology, it doesn’t matter if someone else starts all over and does everything again. It also doesn’t matter if the big book of all pull tab knowledge is already written somewhere else on the planet. The big book of all pull tab knowledge of the world is not the goal (or the ‘end’ in ethics language), it is the means: by doing the work, the craft, we learn and by learning we connect to our material world and to each other. And the world may learn something too, if we’re lucky.
Sometimes people ask me why I did not visit a pull tab factory yet. Don’t worry, I will, but doing it soon seems to me like a potential spoiler. There’s much more fun in trying to figure stuff out ourselves, than being told by the factory how everything fits together…even though right now I am pretty sure the factories do not have long term memories on their own pull tab history. Why I think that? Well because they never have and it shows. A good example is the history of Rexam, one of the former leading beverage can companies. Their now deleted website held a page with the over a 100 years of history of the London company, I think, because I can’t check it directly anymore. In 2016 Rexam was bought by the American Ball company. The Rexam website was discontinued and incorporated in the Ball website. And what is left of the history narrative of Rexam? Look for yourself: it is reduced to 1 line! The website is one thing, but my guess is it is telling for what happens on a bigger scale: companies have short memories. This was partially confirmed when I visited the famous Heineken Archive. That’s also why we need archaeology.
The 15 cans from Meinerswijk
So I like to start all over and start in the field, with cans actually excavated. What can we learn if we take one case, the 1950s bunker in Meinerswijk Arnhem. I visited it in februari when I made the Purbex Video. From it I took 15,5 cans, but I threw out the very rotten 0,5 can end. Let’s see what we got.
|No||Size can in ml||Body material||tab||brand drink||producer can||Exp Date|
|1||500||Al||S-IV-1||Landerbräu Super Strong||Ball||2020|
|2||250||AL||S-III-2||Mixxed Up Energy Drink||Rexam||?|
|3||330||Fes||S-III-2||Hoitland Royal export Lager beer||?||?|
|5||250||Al||S-III-2||Summit Cola Light||Rexam||24-9-2005|
|7||250||AL||S-III-2||Summit Cola Light||Rexam||24-9-2005|
|8||250||AL||S-III-2||Kruidvat Power Booster||Rexam||22-6-2006|
|9||?||Fes||S-III-2||Lipton Ice Tea||11-2011|
|10||250||Al||–||Summit Lemon Lime||?||?|
|11||250||AL||S-III-2||Euro Shopper Energy Drink Sugar free||CanPack CP||08-2014|
|13||330||Fes||S-III-3 closed||Grolsch premium Pilsner||?||nov 2008|
|14||250||Al||S-III-3 closed punched||Redbull||Rexam||26-8-2010|
There is so much data to take note of right from the start, like sizes and type of cans, the pull tabs of course, and information on the labels. Then there are expiration dates on the bottom – if readable and present – and the secret UV codes (see this video for more about that). If you need more information on can terminology, check this page.
For the Netherlands this indicates that all cans are from later than ±1992. However if we look at the expiration dates there are no older cans than 2004. You can tell because expiration dates on most drinks are about six months to a year after production of the drink. This does not indicate older cans were not present, they could be deeper in the trash heap in the bunker: as you can see in the video, I did not take all the cans. However, if we assume this sample is indicative for the whole bunker, it looks like the bunker or the environment underwent a change in 2004, which caused cans to be discarded into the bunker after that date.
What interests me a lot right now is the relationship between pull tab and factory. It’s interesting that S-III tabs are overabundant in this sample. Eleven out of fourteen, that is about 80% of the tabs! The can factory can be identified from al little mark on the can body, near the zipcode usually (see pictures). I am not sure yet if cans from company A can have can-end from company B but it is clear that S-III-2 Statabs can be found on Rexam and Can Pack cans. S-IV and S-VI tabs are found on the Ball Company cans of quite recent dates. Might it be that the S-III type pull tab was a patent typically held by Rexam? We don’t know, but it is something to check later.
What more can we find?
I always like to take samples like these and then look further into the information it reveals elsewhere. Like said, Rexam was incorporated in Ball in 2016. I found this on Wikipedia, not a reliable source per se, that is important to take into account always! But this does connect to information on www.ball.com. Because Wikipedia and the Ball company website both say Rexam was taken over in 2016, I dare to believe that information, but if this was a true scientific publication, I would like to check facts like these with more primary sources, like a database of packaging branche professional magazines. Anyway, the REXAM an Can Pack logos on cans from 2005 and 2006 do show that these cans were closed with S-III type ends. Notice that there is also variations in these end in the smile beads, so can-ends with the same type of pull tab, did originate from different production lines.
From the brand names we can see some typical –second class- Dutch drink bottlers producers like Kruidvat and Summit used REXAM can. This leads me to the question if these were produced by Dutch plants of imported from the UK or Denmark? Again, something to find out later. Right now I am primarily interested if the S-III pull tab was a typical REXAM owned tab. So up next is a search on Google Patents to find out!