Garbage Archaeology

The trash of a civilisation or culture can tell us so much about them. Of course, we don’t have most of their rubbish anymore, but we do have bits and pieces here and there to tell us details.


Consider, for a moment, the modern waste disposal site. It could be a dump, a landfill, or even a recycling centre with storage for things waiting to be processed. You’ll have items contained in instant bins Perth being delivered, or stuff in containers that are waiting for their eventual fate.


It might seem like a disgusting thing to do, but look at what’s in there. There’s a lot of details there that can lead to insights on the culture that created it all.


Look at the things that end up in, say, a landfill.


You’ll find outgrown children’s toys, gifts that were never opened or used, pieces of artistic works that will never see completion. Old books and other media, broken machinery, busted appliances, and things you don’t even remember buying can all end up there.


Imagine, for a moment, if each of these items had a description. Little notes that told people what they were, who they belonged to, and maybe what they meant to their former owner. Lastly, the record would include why they were thrown away.


That’s what archaeologists and historians do, in a sense. They find the trinkets and the details, the small things that get discarded. Then comes the struggle to make sense of it all, to add context to something that was gone long ago.


There are also apparent differences in what is wasted where, and how much.


For instance, food products being wasted is more common in areas that are economically well-to-do. It plays into how their situations allow them easier access to adequate food, so one meal spoiling isn’t as big of a deal.


What doesn’t get tossed out is also worth noting. What are you willing to hold on to, even if you probably should throw it away?


What’s valuable enough to a culture or people that it would be retained, even if it’s never used or damaged beyond repair? It’s like those stories of Japanese families starving rather than give up a tea set that’s been in the family for centuries.


Of course, most people don’t think about their rubbish in these terms. To them, it’s just something they don’t want or need anymore. To a historian or archaeologist, though, it’s all part of a tapestry that shows us what our civilisation is like.

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