18 July 2016

One person's trash...

One person's trash is another's treasure... or data, if you are an archaeologist or anthropologist working in a landfill.

Places where trash builds up can provide archaeologists important clues into past lives. For instance, in Toronto, Canada, when the Major League Baseball stadium was first built, archaeologists surveying the site found many interesting artifacts from what was then the lake shore in the early city. Most items had either been lost in the lake, or were part of the landfill extending the reaches of the city into the lake.

Archaeological teams have also dug into our more recent past. For instance William Rathje's Garbage Project, which "explores modern waste disposal, consumption, and recycling patterns" across North America. Or, the recent dig for Atari in a New Mexico landfill, which became a much publicized spectacle that "provided the necessary means to directly access the contemporary past for purposes of archaeological and historical research."

But, sociocultural anthropologists -- like Joshua Reno -- are also beginning to turn their attention to landfills and the people that work in this "secret world of activity that [is] utterly necessary to all of us, but completely hidden from most of us." In this interview, Reno digs into our social relationship with garbage.

What does trash, as material culture, tell us about our social worlds?

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