Certainly, your trash can answer mundane questions. If you find a candy wrapper in some hidden trash can in the laundry room, you might discover someone has been sneaking treats. You might sneak through your neighbor’s—though that is ill-advised—and find out something surprising about them! Trash has even been seen as a window into the lives of our favorites celebrities: how else would we know that Bob Dylan once misspelled vanilla as “vannilla”? (Rathje 2001, 17)
However, archaeologists have been using trash to gain even deeper insights into the day to day lives of people. In fact, archaeology of garbage makes up most of our understanding of past human lives outside of written record and living structures! Just think, every activity you’ve ever done likely resulted in some amount of garbage, which was deposited along with the garbage from everyone else in your area for that entire day. What would that kind of material tell us about the people in your area?
By itself, refuse can show us what people are eating, what people are wasting, and what people are reusing. However, archaeologists also relate current events—such as food shortages—to their data to see how different stressors affect habits in regards to refuse! Do people waste more of the breads they regularly buy, or specialty breads like hot dog buns or pretzel rolls? Does a shortage in sugar cause less or more sugar to be discarded? Trash reflects some quirks and irrational behaviors people pick up under different conditions such as shortages or repetitive diets.
Challenge yourself to consider what your trash says about you this week. Its stories might surprise you!