About Me- Alec

A totally not staged photo of taking levels…

For a first blog post, I think it makes sense to talk about what I know best- myself. I am a first year graduate student at the University of Washington, having just moved to Seattle from Buffalo where I was in the Master’s program at the University at Buffalo. I have been interested in archaeology since I was a small child, so younger me would be thrilled to find out that I’ve participated in excavations in Portugal, Spain and France as well as throughout Western New York as a member of the UB Archaeological Survey team. I am currently interested in Western Mediterranean archaeology of the first Iron Age.

Outside of archaeology, I am a huge Buffalo fan. This goes for our sports teams (go Bills, Sabres and Bisons!) as well as the city itself. We don’t have wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, mudslides, avalanches, volcanic eruptions or other major natural disasters. Sure, it snows, but with the invention of the snowplow and salted roads, you hardly ever think about it. They say people who move to Buffalo cry twice; once when they find out they have to move to Buffalo, and once when they find out they have to move away.


How to Survive the Test of Time: By Seattle’s Neptune Theatre



The Neptune 1929, Courtesy of Seattle Theatre Group

The Neptune Theatre, located on the corner of 45th and 13th ave in the University District, was built in 1921as part of a collection of neighborhood movie theaters owned by the Puritan Theatre Company. Its grandiose organ and accommodation for over 1,000 patrons earned it the reputation as the perfect place for a night out.

With the rapid rate of change in the film and entertainment industry, adaptation is crucial to survival. The Neptune changed ownership from the Puritan Theatre Group to Jensen von-Herberg Theatres, Evergreen State Amusement Corp., Sterling Theatres, Landmark Theatres, Landmark Theatres, and the current owners, the Seattle Theatre Group.

The Neptune 2011 Renovation, Courtesy of the Seattle Theatre Group

One short-coming I noticed with the resources I found was that, while I’m certain each new owner must have made some sort of change (cosmetic, technological, etc.), the only documented changes were more recent and large-scale, like the 2011 renovation that turned the Neptune from a movie theatre to a live, performance center. This lack of context made interpretation slightly tricky.


This assignment was good practice for “reading between the lines”. As a member of the present University District dwelling society, I know that is a cool place to be, especially because it has prevailed through many trying times in our nations economy. Coupling my knowledge as a citizen of the present with the historic documents available painted a picture of a hub for entertainment that has, despite all odds, withstood the test of time.

The Neptune, 1984, Courtesy of The Seattle Public Library

The Neptune, 2016, Courtesy of King County Department of Assessments




Trash Stalkers

trash Ever wonder what your garbage says about you? Today’s humans are creatures of waste; most of us think fairly little of what we throw away. Last week’s lab was an exercise in analyzing refuse from an anonymous sample and using it to find out as much as we could about its creator. The results? Alarming.
Using an extremely small sample containing garbage, recycling, and compost (around 40 items total) it became obvious very quickly that garbage would reveal a good deal of extremely sensitive information about the individual or individuals involved in creating it. Information like whether or not you live alone, relative age, dietary needs and allergies, alcohol consumption habits, approximate disposable income, how many, if any, man_lookingchildren live in your home, as well as your likely location, pinpointed to within one and a half square miles.  And I didn’t even read their mail.

The sample contained Dick’s Drive-in burger wrappers, Trader Joe’s groceries, Fainting Goat brand gelato, and HelloFresh meal prep packaging among other items which suggested depositors who have a bit of disposable income, (spending $10 on a pint of organic locally-sourced gelato isn’t something one often does on Food Stamps.) The prevalence of glutinous, dairy-laden, and sugary items (hello, Nestle Tollhouse cookies) suggests few food allergies, while containers which previously contained half a dozen eggs and two 1/2 pound sirloin steaks and chicken breasts suggest this is not a vegetarian household either.

How do we determine age range and relative household income? Money talks. The real estate industry will tell you just about anything you want to know. If you can find the neighborhood of origin, it isn’t difficult to search for the likely demographic of that area: average house size, mean household income, ethnic demographic, and age range of the people inhabiting the area. Cities regularly perform a census, and there are no shortages of real estate websites which will give you statistics on everything from what kinds of cars the people in your neighborhood drive, to how many single mothers live on your block and how many children they probably have. Statisticians have been telling the stories of people, accurately or not (more often not), for centuries.

dicksThis sample contained three unique items which allowed me to select a fairly small area of probable origin. The previous owners of this garbage utilized HelloFresh meal ingredient delivery service, which delivers nationwide within the United States. They also have a presence in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Canada. The only one of those countries where you might find a Dick’s Drive-in burger wrapper, is the United States, and more specifically, only within the greater Seattle area. There are currently five Dick’s Drive-in locations in Seattle, and one in Edmonds, suggesting a location near one of these areas. The presence of a Fainting Goat Gelato pint (notoriously difficult to purchase elsewhere) suggest a locality near the Wallingford or Fremont neighborhoods of Seattle. Conveniently, there happens to have been a Dick’s Drive-in in Wallingford since 1954, a Fainting Goat location on the same street, and a Trader Joe’s store at 4555 Roosevelt Way NE, less than 1/2 a mile from both. Best guess triangulates our sample’s origin to within 1.5 mi.²

I’ve always been interested in trying to solve mysteries with evidence found through various forms of archaeology, so this lab was really exciting to participate in. Archaeology isn’t a perfect science, and often only tells a partial or incorrect story, but it has a great capacity for reinvention, self-correction, and analytics. I certainly have a whole new respect for garbologists and their ability to understand and analyze the world for what it wastes.

What does your garbage say about you?