Garbology 101

Looking at trash is nothing new for archaeologists, the human past is littered with refuse and archaeologists use those leavings to determine a variety of things about past societies. However, it wasn’t until recently that archaeologists began looking at modern garbage for our research. Looking at the detritus of current societies offers a number of insights that we are unable to gather when looking at trash heaps or middens that are as much as a hundred years old, much less thousands. This is because there is so much of it to look at. Partly because humans have started making more waste than ever before and partly because types of waste like plant matter have not yet decomposed beyond the point of recognition. Packaging labels are still legible, not yet faded with time, meaning we don’t have to speculate as to where people are shopping and what they’re buying and eating. Which in our consumer driven society is a huge part of our culture.
For our Historical Archaeology class this past week we were asked to collect and record our own garbage over a seven day period. Stinky, but super interesting! Even just looking at my own garbage was illuminating and I was shocked by how much waste my family generated over the course of a week. Looking at such a small sample as compared to much larger garbology studies like the one at the University of Arizona might not seem worthwhile since there isn’t as much we can glean from this limited amount of trash, but there are still a number of conclusions that can be made. And even if it only has the outcome of making one or two students think twice before they throw something away that doesn’t sound too bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *