Amid rolling fields and woodland, 100 miles north of New York City, a team of archaeologists scoured the land for clues.

Their search was not for Mayan mosaics or Roman ruins – rather, the team was looking for information about an epic period of American history: the Woodstock music festival.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary gathering, which brought Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker together for one of the defining musical events of the 1960s.

In advance of the celebrations, a team from Binghamton University’s public archaeology facility was enlisted to help map out precisely where the festival unfolded.

"The overall point of this investigation is to kind of define the stage space," said Josh Anderson, the project director, kneeling beside a hole that showed evidence of a fence that kept 400,000 fans from the stage area.

"We can use this as a reference point," he said. "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.’"

Artifacts dug up from the Woodstock siteCredit:
AP

The five-day excavation did unearth some artifacts: parts of old aluminium can pull tabs, bits of broken bottle glass. 

The artifacts will be analysed and mapped for depth and location – the pull tab parts are useful since they suggest where the surface level was at the time of the concert.

The main point of the survey was to get a clear understanding of the layout of Max Yasgur’s old farm – which is already on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hillside has been preserved since the late 1990s by a charity that runs an adjacent ’60s-themed museum, complete with a psychedelic bus.

"This is a significant historic site in American culture, one of the few peaceful events that gets commemorated from the 1960s," said Wade Lawrence, director of The Museum at Bethel Woods. 

He told AP that the archaeologists’ work will help the museum plan interpretive walking routes in time for the concert’s 50th anniversary next year.

“Bethel Woods would like to recreate the experience of the main concert stage from the 1969 festival,” the museum’s website states. 

“This includes the performer’s bridge over West Shore Road, the speaker towers, and fencing around the main stage in addition to footers or other evidence of the actual stage.”

Mr Lawrence said aerial shots taken during the August weekend cannot be relied upon to show the exact location of the ’69 stage and light and speaker towers.

Paul Brown working on the Woodstock siteCredit:
AP

On-site data helps, though the bottom of the hillside was re-graded in the late ’90s to accommodate a temporary stage for anniversary performances.

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The spot of the original stage is under a layer of compacted soil, brought in for the concerts.

However, archaeologists now think they have found the spot where a chain-link fence on the side of the stage area met the wooden "Peace Fence" that ran in front of the stage. Now they can match concert photos to a specific spot in the field. That could help them estimate where the corners of the stage were 49 years ago.

During the dig, archaeologists rolled back square metres of the long green grass and carefully scraped away inches of dirt as they searched for clues about the old layout.

"It’s some science. It’s some guesswork," said archaeologist Paul Brown as he worked a square. "You hope that you get lucky."

Mr Lawrence said the archaeologists’ report also will be used as museum officials consider restoring the grades in the area of the original stage.

The museum is weighing any change to the site carefully, given its significance to so many.

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