The movies tend to give a glamorous and adventurous spin to archaeology that it rarely actually has. Many times, archaeologists find their most important clues not in great monuments or stone structures but in garbage heaps. When dealing with a site, whether it is prehistoric or historic, the community’s trash heap (known as a midden) is one of the best sources for information about the people that lived there. Trash can tell you what people are eating, what manufactured items they use and even what they value. For example, in a prehistoric site on the coast of the United States, one of the most common things to be found are shell middens, since Native Americans in a good deal of shellfish. For the purpose of this paper, a single individual’s garbage will be examined for one week to determine what can be learned from its contents. While not precisely comparable to what might be found in a midden at a site, the general principles involved are the same. These principles include a description of individual items found, a categorization of those items and the numerical frequency with which they occur.
For one week, the entire contents of a male neighbors trash was carefully selected, sorted, recorded and evaluated. For items which were broken into many pieces, such as eggshells, the author estimated how many of the original whole items there were (such as one egg or two). Nonspecific unidentifiable items were bagged in general categories, such as “plastic wrappers.”
Trash Contents
The following is a list of the trash contents that were collected:
2 12 ounce can soft drinks and boxes
4 cans chicken soup
1 box all-natural green tea
4 2L Diet Coke’s
2 2L diet Sunkist
1 2L diet Mountain Dew
2 beer bottles
2 Styrofoam cups
3 plastic straws
1 paper cup
orange T-shirt
17 plastic spoons
4 plastic forks
3 pint containers chocolate ice cream
3 Ramen noodle containers
1 microwavable hotdog package
12 count doughnuts box
2 Pop…