While it is true that I cannot resist a good Indiana Jones pun, the connection between archaeology and trash goes much deeper than my bad joke. The truth is – although most of us would undoubtedly prefer to be stealing golden idols and fighting off Nazis – archaeologists are essentially in the trash business (old trash usually, but trash nonetheless). Fortunately for us, trash can tell us a lot more about human behavior than Nazis can!
The study of garbology uses archaeological techniques to study modern waste habits to learn about human behavior. When most people throw something away they rarely think about it again. Even if you were to ask them about it a couple hours later it would be unlikely that they could recall much about the quantity, composition, or price of the object that they had thrown away. The creation and deposition of garbage is such a normal part of our everyday lives that most people cannot even fathom the secrets that their trash is likely to reveal.
While examining the trash log of one of my colleagues I sadly did not find any clandestine refuse, but I was able to identify their general habits, hobbies, and preferences. I was also able to make an assumption about the area that they live in based on to-go coffee cups, and even had a rough idea of how many cats they live with. This study provided me with a brief window into the lives of one of my colleagues; when studied on a larger scale, garbology can open the door to the mysterious aspects of human behavior.