What is Reverse Archeology?

Usually, archaeologists dig into the ground to uncover the stories of the past. In Orange, we already have a hole in the ground where the highway runs through town. A lot has changed about Orange since the 1960s when Interstate 280 divided the city in half. To build the interstate, hundreds of homes, shops, and community spaces were torn down, and many people left Orange for other towns. Our team is doing a “Reverse Archaeology” of I-280 to discover the stories of Orange. What was Orange like before the highway? What drew current residents to Orange after so many people left? What do people need to stay in Orange? Together with residents of Orange we want to look past the divided city and understand the Orange as a whole – past, present and future.

The novel idea of a “reverse archaeology of I-280” is guided by the goal of documenting and returning what the construction of I-280 has taken away from the city of Orange. The specific space created by the Interstate is an unhealed wound and an uninterpreted archaeological site that citizens of Orange confront every day, and, for many, a space to be avoided because of the danger of high speed traffic, pollution, and lack of any meaningful cultural associations. The effects of this wound have furthermore spread throughout the city of Orange. Key institutions such as Orange Memorial Hospital are now in ruins and residents living on opposite sides of the highway have lost a sense of mutual belonging that the unified city once provided.

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Original Artwork by Vladimir Jean