Can Recording Your Garbage For 1 Week Change How You See Yourself?

If analyzing a week’s worth of garbage has taught me anything, it’s that your garbage speaks. While I liked to imagine myself as a generally healthy eater, interrupted by the occasional unhealthy, convenient snack, I was smacked in the face with the reality that I have a generally unhealthy diet, interrupted with the occasional apple or salad. Recording my refuse also made me confront my very real, and previously ignored, coffee addiction (maybe a cup of coffee grounds a day is a touch excessive).

While my roommates chuckled at this slightly humiliating realizations, I discovered a deeper problem that I had not recognized in myself. This realization was that I am not prioritizing my health. If someone were to ask me if I would rather cook myself a healthy meal, or grab a quick burger for dinner every night, I would undoubtably prefer making myself dinner. If someone were to ask me whether I drink coffee for the flavor, or simply to keep myself going throughout a busy day, I would say I drink it out of necessity. Taking a good, hard look at my kitchen garbage made me realize that I don’t make the time to eat healthy or get enough sleep, something I probably never would have realized on my own.

The point of this anecdote is that being more conscious of the things we throw away can change our habits, whether they are dietary, environmental, or something completely unexpected. It’s easy to lie to ourselves about the things we do if we do them without thinking, but when we start to analyze our habits, we are confronted with the facts that have the potential to change how we see ourselves.

Garbology: Leaps in Data Interpretation

Trying to construct the life of my assigned subject in the Garbology project has been an opportunity to see how easy it is to make leaps with data interpretations and cultural knowledge. My subject’s coffee consumption appeared to mirror my own – does that indicate they also require coffee to function on a daily basis? Or, also like myself, perhaps they cannot justify the expense or time required to stop at Starbucks every weekday? I can easily voice the assumption that the absence of any evidence of meat may indicate vegetarianism. It’s also just as possible that availability, expense, or eating meals out of the home could have influenced the contents of my subject’s garbage. A more solid statement regarding the absence of meat products would be supported by the presence of other alternative proteins, which would then perhaps strongly indicate a vegetarian diet.

Though Garbology is a study of the recent past, it provides a good lesson to those who study archaeology of any era: the absence of one sort of item in an extremely limited data set does not always indicate a particular pattern. The presence of coffee may very well indicate a sleepless student, and the absence of meat may point to a vegetarian. But to make the leap and say emphatically “This is the way of life of the subject” is jumping to conclusions without enough supporting evidence. A researcher should critically analyze the data available, question it from multiple angles, and acknowledge when one interpretation is not the only possibility.

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.

A day in Melqart’s life.

**This story was constructed from a self-recorded garbology report from an individual known as Melqart. Below are some of the recordings that was used to construct this story**

It’s a Friday morning and Melqart wakes up feeling off. She knows she only had one glass of wine last night, so it wasn’t a hangover. Dressed, she heads to the kitchen where she finds an empty wine bottle on the table. “My roommate must have finished it” she thinks as she places the bottle in the recycling bin.

Image result for stash tea chamomile nights

She starts eating a banana and boils water for tea while she packs her school supplies. The bus is coming in 15 minutes and she still needs to pack her snacks (a granola bar and orange). She looks for her French bread to make a quick sandwich only to realize it has gone bad. As she throws it away, Melqart thinks about what to do for lunch. She looks out the window and notices it’s another rainy day in Seattle. Suddenly, pho sounds like a reasonable meal. She finishes her tea and catches the bus.

As the day goes by, Mel isn’t feeling any better, but she also isn’t feeling worse. Before going home, she does a quick stop at a Fred Meyers to buy some cough medicine.

Image result for night time cough medication krogers 10 oz

Melqart doesn’t want to risk getting sick enough to miss school. But it has been a long week, and on the bus ride home she convinces herself to relax tonight. Upon arriving, she grabs a glass of wine (what better way to relax), orders couple of pizza from Vince’s and puts water to heat up.

As she wait, she does some minuscule cleaning, throwing away the granola wrapper, orange peels, recycling the pizza box and even shreds a couple of documents with private information. She’ll take her medication tomorrow night if her sickness persists. (Spoiler alert, it does).


Selective recordings from Melqart’s report



How to tell if someone is a snowbird from their garbage…

In a recent garbology project I participated in, each member was given a set of data from one another that listed their garbage from the past week or so. In the sample I received there was food, packaging, cat food cans, and a curious piece of paper that was a boarding pass…to LAS VEGAS! The date for said boarding pass was the 17th of December. So what does this mean? Someone went to Las Vegas for a little winter fun, or maybe to visit family around the holidays? Regardless of what happened I feel that a lot can be learned from this piece of paper in regards to the person/people who threw it away. The conclusion I came to was that they are either from/ are connected to this desert oasis, or flock there every winter to get away from the bitter, harsh, slushy, winter we have here in Seattle. Though my conclusion might be far from the truth, it shows the power in trash. From a single item in the trash, we can learn quite a lot about a person or group of people. As the field of garbology has risen over the past years, we are beginning to better understand our current and not so distant selves in terms of what we do and what we throw away. So whether or not these people are snowbirds based upon their boarding pass, I still know they had some fun in the sun during the holiday season.

How Do We Preserve the Past?

During the Preserving the Past Together seminar last week, representatives from cultural resource management firms, government agencies, and tribal historic preservation offices gathered to discuss challenges, benefits, and ways to improve collaboration in the future. While listening to the poignant remarks on something as sensitive and important as handling and preserving indigenous culture, I, like most 19-year-old girls, found myself thinking about myself; how I could learn more, and how I could get my foot in the door.

Eventually, the conversation shifted to university interest, especially how the University of Washington could help. One way universities help is by creating interest in students as well as the general public. For instance, the Burke Museum (associated with UW) has an annual “Archaeology Day” where families and community members come to play games and learn about artifacts. Another point about universities was more curriculum based. According to some of the workshop speakers, UW should offer more classes and research opportunities based around local archaeology, instead of grooming students to specialize in other places of the world. This particularly spoke to me, as I have studied abroad in Spain, and strongly consider focusing in the archaeology of that region.

After this seminar, and some of the discussions we’ve had in class, I’m starting to wonder where I have the right to practice archaeology. Although I identify as an American, I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable digging and interpreting Native American artifacts, as it’s not my history to tell. Hopefully, with seminars like these, collaboration between archaeologists, universities and tribes will improve, giving a place for non-Native Americans to support tribes in their attempt to preserve the past.

“Preserving the Past Together”. Seminar, from College of Arts & Sciences, Office of Research, Anthropology Dept., Quaternary Research Center, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House Academic Planning Committee, Burke Museum, and Simpson Center for Humanities, Seattle, January 12, 2017.

Preserving the Past Together

One of the topics raised at the seminar for Preserving the Past Together on January 12, 2017 was “Paths forward for preserving heritage together”. A way in which archaeologists can work toward these paths are by physically going to the communities. Physically being in the community allows archaeologists to hear from directly from members, which gives them more information and multiple perspectives. This then allows archaeologists to more accurately record histories, and therefore more accurately preserve the past. At the seminar, Leonard Cambell said, “I have information they can’t get out of a book.” This really made me think. They mentioned there are items that have certain knowledge involved which is sometimes kept from archaeologists. This information might have been left out because the archaeologist wasn’t trusted, or the they didn’t find an opportunity to discover a more complete truth.

This ties into a question that I was stumped on for the rest of the day. The question was, “How do you protect something you can’t even talk about?” Archaeologists must earn the trust of the tribes, representatives, and the staff to accomplish this. Identifying the tribe, and meeting and communicating with representatives and staff are ways in which archaeologists can earn trust, and then be given a more complete truth. One member mentioned how they would appreciate if someone interested in their history would write an email including more than just two sentences. If someone is interested in an honest history, won’t they have more questions or comments than two sentences? What are they really interested in?

It’s important that archaeologists allow communities to tell their own story. What right does an archaeologist have in telling someone else’s story anyway? Especially if they don’t have as much of the truth as they could have uncovered with identifying, meeting, and communicating with members or representatives.

– Stephanie H.

In preserving the past, communication is key

The first lunchtime workshop of the Preserving the Past seminar series (@preserveseminar) kicked off last Thursday with an overwhelming turnout at wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a.k.a. the Intellectual House) on UW’s campus. This workshop, Collaborating on Heritage in the Salish Sea, brought together a panel consisting of tribal members, cultural resource managers, and local/state agency representatives in order to create conversation around the opportunities and challenges of caring for heritage within the Salish Sea.

The biggest theme that emerged from this conversation was the need to foster better communication between tribes and non-native archaeologists. As Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, Leonard Forsman, admitted, both parties have a history of making assumptions about the goals and interests of the other – a practice that has not led to productive collaboration. Instead, it is imperative that archaeologists consult with tribes when they are engaging in excavation projects. This means going beyond merely complying with the law and filling out required paperwork, but actually speaking with the THPO (tribal historic preservation office) about interests that tribal members may have in the proposed project. As Chairman Forsman said, “We are not an obstacle, we are an asset.” Indeed, tribes operate their own libraries and have access to a wealth of historical documents, both written and oral, which could be of use in archaeological interpretation by illuminating additional voices and lines of evidence. Additionally, there is a lot of value in face-to-face conversation and negotiation as it helps to build trust and foster mutual understanding – and can only lead to better archaeology (and better archaeologists).

By opening up lines of communication, a rich and fruitful collaboration may be possible, as archaeologists educate themselves about local tribes and their histories and tribal members are able to learn about archaeology and recover some material aspects of their heritage.

The next Preserving the Past event will continue this conversation on February 16, 2017 from 12:30-2:30pm in the Smith Room (324) of the Suzzallo-Allen Library. This workshop, entitled Meaningful Collaboration and Indigenous Archaeologies, will feature a keynote delivered by Dr. Chip Colwell, Senior Curator of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and founder of SAPIENS.

A word on Preserving the Past Together Seminar

On a cold but sunny Thursday afternoon, I sat upon a wood bench within a beautiful wooden conference space at the Intellectual House on the campus of UW. That afternoon there was the Preserving the Past Together seminar. This work shop focused on the collaboration of heritage in the Salish Sea. As the panelists discussed various topics of collaboration, my thoughts and notes centered on two ideas that came up. One was the hesitance felt by many native communities and elders in sharing key knowledge about certain sites. The second involved the simple yet largely overlooked idea of coming to the archives, the teachers, and the elders of native communities when looking for information. These two topics can come at odds when researchers, developers, and politicians finally come looking for information but are stopped by communities that do not wish to share their knowledge. As said by a member of the panel, “how do you protect something you can’t talk about?” These ideas stuck in my mind as I contemplated the two sides to the topic. But as the panelists continued it became clear that no matter what work that goes on between the tribes and the State, etc. there needs to be mutual understanding and respect for one another if cooperation and collaboration are to happen. In an expanding world, certain knowledge needs to be shared in order to keep avoidable destruction from happening, but we must also stop assuming what we know and spend time and share knowledge with the tribes themselves.

The seminar will continue with three more workshops targeted at working together to keep the past. The next one will be held, February 16, 2017   12:30-2:30pm I look forward to what comes from this as well as the rest of the workshops.

Meet the TA: Jake Deppen

Profile picture of Jake in a Spanish cafe

Enjoying a traditional Mallorcan breakfast of ensaïmada and café con leche.

Originally posted April, 2015; Updated January, 2017

I am a PhD student in the UW Archaeology program and the Teaching Assistant for this year’s Historical Archaeology class. I was previously the TA for this course during Spring 2015 and am looking forward to doing it again.

I received my BA in Anthropology from The Ohio State University and an MA in Anthropology from UW. My PhD research is a study of ceramics from the Late Iron Age in Mallorca, Spain, a time when indigenous Mallorcans were increasingly connected with outsiders like Phoenicians and Romans. I am particularly interested in the dynamics of these cultural interactions. My research is a small part of a larger collaboration between UW archaeologists and archaeologists in Spain which we have dubbed the Landscape, Encounters, and Identity Archaeology (LEIA) Project.

Before beginning my work in Spain, I worked on a number of projects and sites in southwest and central Ohio, mostly focused on what archaeologists call the Fort Ancient culture. If you ever find yourself in southwest Ohio, the museum and reconstructed village at SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park make it worth a stop.

Outside of Denny Hall, I am the proud dad to Nikhil. Objectively speaking, he is the best baby in the world.

Jake and his son Nikhil