Archaeology is rubbish…

Rachel, our Community Engagement Officer poses some thoughts and questions!

The first essay I was set at university was ‘Archaeology is Rubbish. Discuss’. A somewhat throw away comment at first glance, but it was setting us up to understand that as archaeologists we were going to be piecing together cultures and societies from the things that had been discarded and left behind.

That essay question popped back into my head recently because when we were out litter picking with volunteers on the River Don I came across this section of washed away bank.


It looks a lot like a section from an excavation, except it isn’t full of ancient finds – it is full of plastic bottles.

This got me thinking – if the internet hasn’t made archaeology redundant in thousands of years time and students are still being asked the same essay question, what will they make of us from the rubbish that we are leaving behind?

Will the natural progression from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age be the Plastic Age? Will someone seeing a bottle screw cap lying next to a sports type cap marvel at our leaps in technological advances? I can’t imagine people who collect clay pipe bowls wanting to pick up the modern equivalent, the cigarette butt. Will people see the branded packaging and try to piece together global trading routes onto the river? Will there be any evidence left of our riverside activities if our volunteers are busy picking it all up?

Just thought I’d share what I’m mulling over while litter picking!

Rachel Walker
Community Engagement Officer