Talking Trash

No, I’m not talking about boastful archaeologists trying to to intimidate their competition. Instead I want to talk about garbology. Garbology is the study of rubbish or what we commonly call trash. It first began with the Garbage Project in Tucson, Arizona in the 1970s. William Rathje, an American archaeologist, started this project because he felt trash could offer more insight into peoples lives than the people themselves. After reading a few chapters from Rathje and Murphy’s book, “Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage”, I was hooked. The evidence and findings from their research were surprising and left me creating my own hypothesis for each study. A perfect example from their book is a study about waste behavior during a red meat shortage in the United States. They had hypothesized there would be less red meat waste during the shortage. But what they discovered was an increase in beef waste due to “crisis buying”. People had stocked up on beef but did not have the knowledge or tools to cook and store their meat. Leading to an increase in red meat waste. Something they had not anticipated going into this study but lead to an additional study to support their theory.

Last week I had the opportunity to conduct my own rubbish analysis for my Historical Archaeology course. I reported my waste for a week and in return I had to analyze a classmates waste. In comparison my waste was very different from my classmate. For example, I had a significant amount of waste because I live in a two person household that cooks one to two meals a day. But 32% of my classmates waste was take out food and beverage containers. This evidence suggests my classmate lives in a one person household that does not cook at home. This can also be supported by their other waste. Which included snack packages and beverage containers. These findings would also suggest a household with disposable income. My classmate spent $65 on take out food and beverages in a week. And that only includes food or beverages that were brought home. When I reached this conclusion I began to ask myself why do they have this food behavior. I looked through their report again for clues. I found my answer when I saw three cardboard Amazon boxes in their refuse collection. Their waste reflects a life that requires convenience. Maybe because they grew up in a culture that is focused on convenience or maybe because they are a full-time student working a part-time job. In order to draw more precise conclusions I would need more material evidence. I know that is not possible in this situation but that won’t stop me from developing my interest in garbology and talking trash with my fellow archaeology students.

1 thought on “Talking Trash

  1. How about a tip of the hat to A.J.Weberman.No academic But he popularized the term garbology.He went thru Bob Dylan’s garbage in the Village in N.YC.

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