Monday, August 12, 2013

August 9 -- archaeology, right in my own neighborhood


Sorry for my absence yesterday -- Blogger was broken and wouldn't let me upload any pics.....

This property is on my normal one-mile walking loop, and is on the corner where I turn back toward our house with Wilbur when he and I are walking our two-block loop.

They are doing something with the plumbing, about three or four feet below the surface.  We note the orange snow fencing, and take a desultory look into the ditch.  There is LOTS of plumbing work going on in the neighborhood.  Some set of idiots decided it was ok for us to have cardboard sewer pipes, when the neighborhood was built, and -- big surprise! -- those cheap pipes are failing.  Many people have replaced sewer pipes over the course of this summer.

So -- ditches and plumbing work have become ho-hum; we don't pay particular notice.  (I don't know that's what's happening here; it's just why we don't regard this sort of activity as unusual.)

The pipe needs to go under the sidewalk.  The ditch comes right up to the edges of the sidewalk, on both sides.

Flowers on the dirty sidewalk.  Someone must have picked this, and then dropped it here.....

Looking down into the ditch.  Trash.  Still, we're not thinking anything out of the ordinary is going on here.

After we round the corner, as we head up the hill, parallel to the main part of the ditch, we glance at the pile of dirt that has come out of the ditch.

Wait a minute.  We take a closer look.  There is  LOT of trash in with the dirt.  I mean a **LOT** of trash.

Look how dense it is.  Seven items in a space less than two feet wide.  That's a beer-bottle-size brown bottle.  These seven pieces of trash come from at least three different items -- a clear glass bottle, a brown bottle, and a steel can, and maybe they came from more than three items.

Now our interest is piqued.  We look more closely, and we see more and more different items represented.  Pottery.  Lots of pottery.

Some metal stuff, but much more pottery.

Even more glass than pottery.

Glass cup?

I turned it over -- obviously not a cup.  Look how thick the glass is!  I'm thinking this is one of those insulator things that used to be on telephone poles to hold the wires.......


Glass and more and more glass.

I am no expert, but I am thinking all of this is relatively new.  Noxema doesn't come in glass anymore, but I bet this was a Noxema jar. 

In Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets, we heard about which objects survive when buried in different sorts of environments.  Glass and pottery hold up better than anything except stone.  Metal is more fragile, if the environment is wet.  (We did not hear about any digging so recent that it could have included aluminum items...  I wonder how aluminum holds up, in wet dirt....)

Michigan has a temperate climate.  The ground is damp, or wet, most of the time, especially three or four feet below the surface.  Steel cans don't last long, compared to bottles and ceramics.....  (I moved this can onto the sidewalk to take its pic, and then returned it whence it came.)

I wonder how long before this would not hold together at all.....  Wouldn't it be interesting to bury a can, and dig it up every 5 years or so?  To see what happened to it?

What cool textures! 

I did not dig, though I did move some objects -- turning the most dangerous-looking glass over, for example, so no one's dog got a nasty cut.  The dirt pile was easily within leash-length of the sidewalk, and there were small pieces of broken glass as far from the ditch as the sidewalk itself. 

I only observed what was visible, rather than digging through the excavated dirt. 

But.  I saw no evidence of garbage at all.  No bones, no pits (peach pits, say).  I saw no aluminum.  No plastic containers.  Just this minute I took a quick look -- aluminum pop cans took over in the 1960s.  So -- no aluminum may indicate that the date is 1965 or earlier?   Assuming the aluminum would still be recognizable, after decades in the damp ground?  On the other hand, that insulator thing would have been much older than that, assuming my identification of it was correct.

Ditch in the background, with ... shoe.

I'm pretty sure this is plastic.  I don't think leather would have survived.  It's dirty, and part of it has rotted away.  I conclude it was buried, but was it buried as long as the rest of the stuff?  I have no idea.

This is the only plastic I saw (other than the cup bottom near the top of this post, which might well have been very new indeed (dropped by the ditch diggers?). 

I found all of this to be very confusing.  Why was it here?  How old was it?  One burial, or many?

I have seen older items come out of the ground near an older house.  My first house was built in 1880, and I bought it in 1980.  I have seen older bottles come out of the ground, and older ceramics, too.

My guesstimate would be that this stuff went into the ground 45 years ago, plus or minus 5 years?.  (How old *are* plastic shoes, anyway?  I don't know....  I'm guessing not much older than 30 years?)  I owned glass Noxema jars, 40 years ago. 

I don't know when public garbage collection began, but I know Ann Arbor was doing it in the 50s and 60s.

My guess is that this stuff went into the ground when public garbage collection was available.

So -- why is it here?  This collection isn't an item or two.  There are so many different items.  Odd, very odd. 

I suppose there's no reason to think that this stuff is all the same age, but its presence is so anomalous.  It's hard for me to imagine that people went out and buried trash in their yard many different times......  When all they had to do was put it in a garbage can!  Back in the 1960s, in Ann Arbor, I think you didn't even have to take the can to the curb.  I think they came and got the can, from near your back door or your garage, or wherever you kept it, took it to the truck, dumped it in the truck, and then brought it back.  (Right, Mom and Dad?  No?)

Why would anyone bury their trash, rather than just dumping it in a garbage can for publicly-funded trash-removal to handle?  Baffling.  Maybe this was some sort of time-capsule-y collection, buried for posterity, only to be destroyed by ditch-digging machinery?  I wonder........

Many different thoughts arise, thanks to ADLS.  Thoughts about how long different things survive, buried in the dirt, in Michigan, for several decades.  Thoughts about how much archaeologists have learned from looking at people's discarded items, over the millenia.  Thoughts about what, in all that trash, might be important and useful, as information for future archaeologists, and so should not be disturbed by looters.  Or ditch diggers.........

On the other hand, there isn't enough time in the world for every item ever used by anyone to be drawn, photographed, measured, recorded.  There isn't enough space in the world to reverently put every item on a shelf in a warehouse.

When/why is something Important?  When/why is it Trash? 

Who gets to decide?

One of the things we learned is that, sometimes, things will be dug up, drawn/photographed/measured/recorded, and then -- those things will be replaced in the ground and buried.  When archaeologists re-bury stuff, they typically toss a modern object into the ground, so that future diggers will know the site was disturbed at the time of the modern object.

I tossed a penny into the ditch.  A futile gesture, as I reconsider -- I wasn't thinking about metal not lasting long (relatively speaking!) in this environment..........  If I were an archaeologist, perhaps I'd get a friendly ceramist to make me some small disks with my name, location, and the date inscribed, so I had something really informative to toss into the ground where I had dug.......

I'm not usually out and about much before noon, but I'd seen that ditch the night before, and had taken a couple of pics.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to record the ditch itself, and take more pics, so I got up and got going on the 9th.

The 9th was another of our beautiful Michigan summer days!


1 comment:

thecrazysheeplady said...

Argh. Trash... On a funnier note, have you read the famous Smithsonian letter about the backyard digs? It's google-able.

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