Archeology: from an intern’s point of view

My name in Zach Whalen, and I am a College of the Atlantic student who is interning at the Abbe this winter. I have been working with the archeological collection from the 2009 field school at the Ewing Bragdon site. The work so far as has consisted of lots of washing bags and bags of stone flakes, pottery shards, shells, and bones. Once a bag is cleaned, it is then cataloged; re-bagged, and put in file box to be accessed later.

Most of the work is cleaning garbage, albeit 1000 year old garbage, but still it’s the leftovers and scraps that were discarded as waste. Now it gives us a window into the way life was lived back then by seeing what was eaten, what was made, and what was discarded. By looking at the old bones, we can see what kind of animals were eaten or lived in the area. By looking at the temper in the pottery, we can see what resources they were using and date how long ago they were there. Looking at the stone flakes and broken tools, we can see the types of stone they had and methods that were used to make tools.

There is so much that can be learned from sorting through the trash, and it makes me think about what an archeologist will find in 1000 years when they look at our trash? But that question also worries me. The people who lived here before us lived with the land and used what was here to live their life, and it is only because of the shell middens’s preserving qualities that anything is left. Whereas, if you look at our landfills in a 1000 years’ time very little will have changed – the plastic, Styrofoam, and glass will all still be there waiting for the new archeology intern to wash and short it…