The blah group did whatall and made such-and-such pottery. Easy for us to say, huh? But when we’re confronted with our own archaeological materials, stuff gets a little more messy. In a few senses of the word.
When we look trash from our own place and time, we have a better idea of what’s going on archaeologically. We know the social implications of generic brand ham. We know that when we’re nervous, we fiddle with the tab on our soda can. We know who drinks peppermint mochas, and who’ll chug iced black.
But do we really? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Consider! For all our contemporary expertise, we’ve got baggage—stereotypes, assumptions, unacknowledged grey areas in our almost-encyclopedic knowledge about the nuances of modern social interaction on a college campus.
Nevertheless, we might be tempted to draw conclusions about exactly who used that trash bin. We must resist! Profs’ll chew creamsicle-flavored gum, and sporty bros’ll order venti pumpkin spice lattes with two shots of vanilla.
People think garbology is cool because it gives us some greater insight into our own time, through our trash. They’re right—it is, indeed, pretty damn cool. But as we dive into the dumpster, let’s keep in mind that this is about behavior and culture, and let’s keep our assumptions in check.