Garbology: How the Present Day Informs Us About the Past

This week in our Lab we looked at personal recordings of trash disposal. In both recording my own data and reviewing another one of my classmate’s (Eshmun), I quickly discovered how looking at someone’s trash is both informative and deceptive. In both our garbage cans and in middens from a previous human settlement, only the unwanted items of a person’s or village’s life are left behind. We can see partially what they consumed and perhaps even what they used to cook and eat their meals with, but it is not often that we can see the items saved and not discarded. In the past there is a lack of how they obtained those items, did they grow/farm them, gather them, hunt them, fish for them, perhaps even trade for them? But in modern times some of these questions are easily answered, the food was mostly procured at a grocery store, recipes can show which particular store it was bought at, and particularly for this seven day recording period, a pattern can sometimes be discerned. What’s eaten for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner are easily noticeable with a general understanding of American food culture. An individual’s personal preferences and behaviors, like a love for coffee (or perhaps a requirement for it), can almost create an image of that individual’s daily routine. I believe analyzing what and how we currently understand present day behaviors allows us to in turn question previous cultures’ and societies’ behaviors, especially pertaining to food. Why did they eat this, when during the day did they eat this, why did they eat this during this period of the day, and etcetera. It’s also interesting to consider the differences between a self reported document and the physical items discovered, and how both can lack information pertaining to the individual. Not only does the study of garbology help us in understanding the present day and our future, but for archaeologist it also helps to generate new questions and perspectives about how we understand the past as well.

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