Archaeology 4: Objective Facts v. Subjective View Garbage doesn’t lie The Fall of Rome Pottery and people Economic collapse Shifting settlements Amazing! Shrinking cows! A post-literate world Rubbish! A catalog of self-delusion Fats and meats Diapers: cloth v. disposable Are we running out of landfill space? Proportion of landfills Environmental science versus environmental perception The ascendance of chicken
ARCHAEOLOGY does four things very well 1: Providing a chronology for the “people without history.” 2: Providing objective fact to a subjective historical record 3: Reconstructing ancient lifepaths, how individuals in the remote past actually interacted with the physical environment. 4: Providing a window into potential patterns of long term human occupation and cultural variation through time (Sociocultural Evolution).
If you take my cultural class, one of the main points that I try to make is this: “People do not react to the world as it objectively exists, but rather as they perceive it to be.” This includes us. It includes all humans. The world around us is as we have been socially and culturally constructed to perceive it.. We see the world through a thick “perceptive lens” of culture. So, we’re going to talk about perception for a bit.
OBJECTIVE: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers. as opposed to SUBJECTIVE: (1) peculiar to a particular individual, (2) modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background. This is a Rorschach inkblot, of course. From a subjective perspective, it is course, anything one wants (I think it looks like a pelvis). From an objective perspective, it is a purposefully random object designed to allow individual interpretations. Objectively, it has no inherent meaning.
What is this? What is this objectively?
What is this? What is this objectively?
What is this? What is this objectively?
What is this? What is this objectively?
The goal here is to study human culture objectively, or as objectively as possible. This entails stripping away as much of our own cultural biases as possible- trying to see something for what it is, independently of our individualistic interpretation. Humans, without specific training, generally cannot think objectively. Hence the use of the scientific method, which allows an objectivity free from of individual bias.
Rationality, perception and response. Again, as humans, we don’t response to our surroundings as they actually exist, we respond to the world we imperfectly perceive. Given this imperfect understanding, and we make the most reasonable decision available, the result can be said to be RATIONAL, i.e. one that makes logical sense, regardless of how mad the decision might appear to others. Hence reason and response often depends heavily on perception. Perceptions crafted largely through enculturation. Prisoners’ dilemma Body dysmorphic disorder
A SUBJECTIVE REALITY is the worldview (cosmology) of any given ethnos, or population. It may or may not have any relationship to objective reality. If a group believes in an accessible, vibrant spirit realm, they will act accordingly. If a group believes in the intervention of powerful supernatural spirits, they will condition their response to take those spirits into account. If a group believes in a relatively inaccessible omnipotent patriarch, they will take his commands a the central guiding force in their lives and daily actions. Now, here’s the tricky bit. From an anthropological view, if one is studying this group, one MUST take their worldview into account. To systematically study human culture, the fact that their subjective reality may nor may not be provable in any manner- IS IRRELEVANT.
“Pointing the Bone” Australian Aborigines have a special “death curse” that they use on people who have broken taboos, especially the incest taboo. The oldest man of the village will take the largest bone of a human, emu or kangaroo and sharpen the end and attack a long stringed cord at the other end (some account have the cord soaked in the intended victim’s blood), this is the kundela. Then the “executioners,” called the Kadaicha Men, walk up to the victim and point the sharpened bone at him where everyone can see. They give the “kadaicha” chant, a high-pitched wail. They have now given the victim the “death curse. In the next few weeks, the victim will almost always weaken and die. Some have perished, in modern times, while in modern intensive care units in modern hospitals.
Australian anti-aircraft gunners in WW2 with a kundela tied to their gun.
Now, as humans inhabit these subjective realities, their perception of the world is always skewed, and this includes us. Science, however, allows us the opportunity to study the world OBJECTIVELY, to test hypotheses through replicable experimentation and observation. Prior to Copernicus, scholars placed the Earth at the center of the universe, with all other heavenly objects, including the Sun, rotating around it. This is false, of course, and through careful observation, made mostly by Galileo, found that the Earth is itself in motion around the sun.
A scientific archaeology works in the same manner, providing objective fact about the human past, one that often unseats commonly lead theories and subjective perceptions on the human past. In other words, archaeology provides objective data, a corrective, to subjective perceptions as to how the human past unfolded. I don’t think this robs history of its wonder and splendor, indeed, reality is often odder and stranger than we could imagine….. We’re going to look, specifically, at two examples of this. 1: the archaeology of the Roman Collapse 2: the archaeology of modern American garbage.
The Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean basin for some 700 years, from ~300B.C. to AD 400. By about 20 BC, it had reached its logistical limits, roughly being the map above. It was ruled by a landed elite, the Senatorial and Equestrian classes, in conjunction with the military, headed by an Emperor. The state functioned through a mix of militarism and government largesse, but unified through a flexible notion of “Roman-ness”
It was a highly complex ancient state with great cities, a complex commercial economy and enormous resources at its disposal. Yet between A.D. 400 and 500, the Roman Empire in the West rapidly unraveled. By 500, a German warlord ruled Rome itself, which had become an empty, ruined shell. Many reasons have been suggested, included Gibbon’s famous work (which blamed the Christians), but most have followed Will Durant’s oft-quoted line, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” Rome declined, grew decadent, collapsed.
The general consensus, for a goodly portion of the 20th century, was that Rome declined and collapsed. The Germanic armies entered the old empire and entered a land already laid waste. They didn’t so much conquer Rome as simply move in and occupy the ruins. This has lead to an even more modern synthesis that Rome didn’t really “fall” at all, but that Europe underwent a gradual and often peaceful transformation from Roman rule to the post-Roman world. The German armies were largely welcomed by the Roman citizenry, as they could maintain the peace and security that the declining Roman military could not. This “peaceful transformation” theory was proven quite popular, especially in a modern Europe desirous of a modern peaceful transformation of its own.
The timeline of the Roman Collapse 200-300 Transformation of Germania 234-284 “Crisis of the Third Century” 330 Capital moved to Constantinople 350 formation of the Hunnic Empire 378 Battle of Adrianople 380 Christianization of the Empire 405 The Three Invasions 405-408 Rhine Frontier collapses 410 Visigoths sack Rome 410-500 Permanent German states inside the empire 410-452 Military Rule in the West 451 Battle of the Catalaunian Plains 452-492 Political upheaval 455 Vandals sack of Rome 469 end of the Hunnic Empire 492 Ostrogothic Army seizes Italia, deposes the Emperor 535-554 The Gothic Wars, the 18 sacks of Rome
Some marks of Roman decline are well-known and include: -an explosive growth of central government -a general depopulation of the cities -a general depopulation of certain areas (particularly Italia) -gross inflation of the currency -endemic economic crises -unending military campaigns on the frontiers So, archaeologically, we are going to look at for indicators of economic and demographic (population studies) collapse.
A SCIENTIFIC ARCHAEOLOGY consists of the following three steps. 1: formulating a hypothesis 2: developing a methodology to answer the hypothesis 3: applying the methodology to the archaeological record. For the Roman collapse the question concerns the degree and scale of the indicators of decline, specifically, Late Imperial social structure, demography (depopulation) and economic crisis. For all of these we should see a prosperous past, indicators of problems, a declines, and then a collapse. Did it decline rapidly? Slowly? How widespread was it? The economic collapse? To what extent and how fast?
Specifically, as we are looking at the archaeology of the Roman Collapse, we’ll be employing large scale pattern analysis in two ways, looking at home the Romans related to the landscape itself, the patterning and mapping of sites and settlements, something called SETTLEMENT ANALYSIS, and looking at distributions of artifacts through time and space, something I call GEOCHRONOLOGICAL ANALYSIS.
We’ll start with settlement patterns. Settlement patterns are difficult for two main reasons. One, ancient sites often underlie modern sites and, two, they are very expensive in time and money. There is, however, a way to cheat. This is aerial photography (or aerial archaeology). When the wheat is ready to harvest, the slight difference in the tops of the wheat mean, one good day when the light is just right, the foundations of the Roman villa stand out.
Infrared film helps, too. At any rate, one complies a map of all these Roman sites, then goes out over the course of a few years and excavates small test-pits at each one, just to get a sense of when they were built and how long they were occupied. In this way, the entire Roman landscape slowly becomes evident.
As settlement studies of the Roman landscape emerged after WW2, three things became increasingly clear. One, the Roman landscape was densely packed with farms (villas). Two, 80-90% of the villas were working single-family farms. Three, most dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries. Roman society was not a few wealthy families and a mass of slaves, but rather a very few wealthy farmers and a vast majority of free-holding family farms. And most of this growth occurred very late.
Except for the “hubs” all the black rectangles are small to medium sized Roman villas.
This large-scale occupation of the countryside occurs at the same time that the big cities underwent “depopulation.” From the settlement data, we can see that Rome underwent no significant drop in population at any point in the 3rd, 4th or 5th century. The people didn’t vanish, they moved out of the large cities and into the countryside and small cities. For a society that embraced an agricultural work ethic, this should not be surprising. As the Empire consolidated power into four “mega-cities” (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Carthage), the big cities held no attraction. As Roman society prospered, generally people bought a plot of land and moved onto it. So, when did the demographic collapse begin?
Here is the settlement pattern for the region of Metz. The black dots are villas and small villages occupied mostly in the 4th century. The rectangle is the fortified city of Metz itself (Divodurum was the Roman name). It is also the only occupied place on the map in the early 5th century. What happened here at the beginning of the 400s? In the late 5th century, the entire region is depopulated. There are zero human settlements. What happened in the mid 400s?
On the left is Roman settlement in Southern Tuscany in the 5th century. Note the density of small villas and farms- none of which are fortified. On the right is occupation in the 6th century. What happened in Italia at the beginning of the 6th century?
In other words, large-scale abandonment of the countryside do not occur until the barbarians show up, the Roman government loses control and is unable to maintain security outside of the fortified centers. Of course, people flee their small, isolated farms when they become vulnerable. If some small group of brigands or Germanic soldiers can show up anytime, burn you out, kill your family… you are gone. Especially as the warfare of the day, as barbarians and Roman legionnaires slug it out, grows more and more brutal. (The Hunnic armies simply kill anything they find.) Finally, in terms of demographic collapse, we can see that, prior to the collapse of the Rhine frontier- There was no demographic decline in the Late Roman Empire.
A SCIENTIFIC ARCHAEOLOGY consists of the following three steps. 1: formulating a hypothesis 2: developing a methodology to answer the hypothesis 3: applying the methodology to the archaeological record. Now, we’ll turn to the economy. To chart this, we’ll rely on geochronological patterns, the distribution of the artifacts across multiple sites. For the economic decline, we should expect to see increasing regionalization, a shrinkage of markets, and an end of currency as the Roman economy worsened. Particularly, we’re going to look at ceramics. Pottery endures for just about ever, it is found at virtually all sites in cultures that used it and is a highly reliable indicator of the economy health of a civilization. The Romans made very nice pottery on an industrial scale with a few large centers manufacturing vessels for the whole Empire.
Graufensque Pottery, manufactured at a single site in southern Gaul (France) and exported throughout the Empire. This was a highly advanced economy, but note the drop-off at the Rhine frontier.
Here are the distributions of Baetican amphora in the western Empire in the 4th century. Now, Baetica, southern Spain, wasn’t exporting amphora, but was exporting olive oil on a large scale and shipping the oil in the amphora. The Late Roman economy, while elaborate, tended to be rather regional in scale, so Spanish oil was limited to the Western Empire. At any rate, note that Spanish olive oil is reaching England and the Rhine frontier. Even in the 4th century, there seems to be little diminishment of economic activity.
The most common pottery in the Late Empire was AFRICAN RED SLIP, called, simply ARS. ARS was manufactured in colossal amounts. Indeed, Roman production of ARS would not be equaled in the world until the 17th century. ARS was manufactured in series of large, imperially-subsidized factories located just outside the city of Carthage in North Africa. It is very distinct, hard, well-fired and very well-made.
Light grey indicates distributions before 400, fairly widespread, mostly confined to the coast and the Empire. Black circles indicate distribution after 425, it is greatly diminished, largely absent in the Western Empire. What happened in the early 5th century in the West?
Moving forward in time, the 6th century distributions of ARS. It has virtually vanished completely in the West, but remains largely undiminished in the East. What happened in the 6th century west?
In other words, the pottery shows the degree of elaboration and complexity of the ancient Roman economy. It’s large, industrial in scale, and widely distributed from Britain to Egypt. It was cheap and virtually anyone could afford it. And it continued to be delivered until, and even after, Roman control ended throughout the West. Finally, in terms of economic decline and specifically in terms of production, we can see that, prior to the collapse of the Rhine frontier- There was no economic decline in the Late Roman Empire.
The Sevso Treasure- family silver buried in the iron cauldron on the left probably from a wealthy rural villa in either Noricom or Pannonia. It was likely buried as the Hunnic armies advanced and the Roman frontiers collapse. This was not an impoverished people in a state of marked economic decline.
The incredible shrinking cow. The scale of the Roman collapse was immense. Even the cows grew smaller. Roman ranchers bred their cows for slaughter at the market, so they progressively bred larger and larger cattle. Early Medieval farmers HAD no market to sell it, the early Medieval economy was largely non-commercial, and production was for local consumption. Hence the scale of the economic collapse is apparent even in the bones of cattle.
The end of literacy, graffiti by Roman citizenry- ordinary citizens.
8th century graffiti. The “commoners” in the West had entered a post-literate world.
The reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire are multifaceted and complex. But the archaeology is clear, at least demographically and economically, Rome was not in any state of decline. (Given that the Roman armies were still winning battles in the middle of the 5th century, probably not much of a military decline, either.) The Germanic tribes did not enter a unoccupied landscape of a civilization that had already collapsed. The end of Rome was in no way a peaceful transition from Roman to Germanic rule. It was a violent clash that the Romans lost. Claims to the contrary are, simply…
A SCIENTIFIC ARCHAEOLOGY consists of the following three steps. 1: formulating a hypothesis 2: developing a methodology to answer the hypothesis 3: applying the methodology to the archaeological record. Starting in 1973, William Rathje (Univerisyt of Arizona) became acutely interested in applying a scientific archaeology to the material assemblage of modern America. His research questions were: ->What exactly gets thrown away? ->What comprises, percentage-wise, our collective garbage? ->What happens to our garbage after it is thrown away? ->What changes occur in garbage patterns over time? He was surprised to find that no one had any idea what the answers to these questions were. He began with a series of garbage collection studies, but eventually realized that to get the data he needed, he would have to dig.
He realized that he would have to excavate inside landfills themselves. He got permission to begin core samples of landfills around Tuscon, but eventually, he got permission to excavate inside the largest, smellest, most continually used landfill in the United States- Fresh Kills- the municiple dump for the city of New York. In continual operation from 1948-2001 and covering 2200 acres.
Measuring by volume, Fresh Kills Landfill in comparison to the Great Pyramid at Giza. In fact, by volume, the Fresh Kills Landfill is the largest man-made object on Earth.
Traditional excavation techniques were out of the question. Rathje turned to taking core samples using industrial sized mobile augers.
The auger would be emptied.
And then sorted…
Each layer could be dated by fragments of newspapers still remaining.
Note the 1976 date.
Additionally, soft drink and beer bottles and pull-tabs fit into very temporally sensitive typologies, allowing individual years to be determined from each landfill layer.
The results was that he invented and entirely new field of study, GARBOLOGY, the study of modern refuse, the archaeology of garbage.
You can buy t-shirts.
So, what is the composition of a landfill? Before Rathje, no one really knew. A 1990 survey revealed the following estimates: estimates Disposable diapers 40% Plastic bottles 29% Large appliances 24% Newspapers 11% Paper 6% Food waste 3% Construction debris 0%
So, what is the composition of a landfill? Before Rathje, no one really knew. A 1990 survey revealed the following estimates: estimatesactual amount found Disposable diapers 40% <2% Plastic bottles 29% <1% Large appliances 24% <2% Newspapers 11% 13% Paper 6% 40% Food waste 3% 7% Construction debris 0% 12% The chief component of landfills is PAPER, mostly newspapers and telephone books.
Paper is the villain. And there’s so much of it, that even simple economics shows that recycling it on any worthwhile scale will never be profitable for anyone.
Alternate studies have revealed the same component over and over. Paper, by both volume and count. A side discovery was that, in landfills, styrofoam compressed down into a much smaller volume and is easier to retrieve and recycle.
> Hence, the shift from styrofoam to paper coffee cups and clamshells, actually generated MORE GARBAGE. And more garbage by volume. Styrofoam, especially if recycled, is friendlier to the environment than paper.
Disposable diapers crush down to virtually nothing, comprising less than 2% of a landfill by volume. They contribute very little to landfills. Hence, in comparison to the energy expended by washing and reusing cloth diapers…
…there is no significant environmental difference between using disposable over cloth. If anything, disposable diapers seem slightly friendlier to the environment, as cloth diapers are eventually thrown away anyway. Now, they do contain human waste, but compared to the other stuff in the landfill, that’s small potatoes. Landfills are highly toxic, but not from nuclear waste or industrial by-products, but from…
Makeup. Trace amounts left in bottles, especially nail polish, leach out when the bottle breaks and enters the overall leachate of any given landfill. The leachate is the liquid sludge present in any landfill that sinks to the bottom. When you lift up a full garbage bag and there’s this odd, gross stuff dripping from the bottom? Same thing. Except in a landfill, that liquid, leachate, contains the accumulated make-up from millions and millions of make-up containers. Highly toxic.
These mistaken ideas about what we consume and discard are what Rathje called “a sad catalog of self-delusion.” Garbage doesn’t lie. We do, even to ourselves. In comparing what people reported consuming and discarding with their actual trash, he found that people over-report healthy foods and dramatically under-report unhealthy foods. Overreported cottage cheese (-311%) Liver (-200%) Tuna (-184%) Skim milk (-57%) Unreported Sausage (+56%) Ice cream (+63%) Bacon (+80%) Potato Chips (+81%) Sugar (+94%)
So, what goes on INSIDE the landfill? It’s been long known that landfill produce a lot of methane gas. Landfill companies have to place long tubes and periodically burn off the methane to keep the ground from bubbling and buckling. They also knew that the methane production diminishes after a few years. But they didn’t know why. By taking chemical samples of each of the dated layers, Rathje accurately reconstructed a landfill’s internal processes.
Garbage in a landfill goes through four stages, giving off carbon dioxide and methane is uneven pockets. The degree of chemical activity depends on available oxygen and water (H2O). After two years, all available oxygen has been depleted in a given layer and the water has leached down. The result is, after two years, an anaerobic, water-poor environment in which virtually nothing can live. After two years, all chemical processes come to a halt.
Everything stops. Everything is preserved inside the landfill. Rathje uses the term “mummification,” which is so say that all organics are mummified and preserved, probably forever. What rots in a landfill? Almost nothing.
Hence, the perfectly preserved newspapers.
The good news is, that once sealed, landfills seem pretty safe, they’re fairly self-contained. So, are we running out of landfill space? What happens to landfills once they’re sealed? The sealed-over site of Fresh Kills.
Historically, once sealed, people move on top of them, build houses. Modern people are no different. Here is a map of New York City. Everything in black is “madeland,” i.e. former garbage landfills turned into part of the city. We live on top of our own garbage. So, taking that into account, we will never run out of landfill space.
How about trends over time? Rathje and his garbologists documented major changes in the American diet over the last fifty years, in particular, this included the shift from distinct cuts of meat (shanks, steaks, & chops) to processed meats (sausages, hot dogs). The shift marks two things, 1: the decline of the neighborhood butcher in favor of the supermarket meat counter, and 2: a movement where one can see the fat of the meat to one in which the fat is invisible.
They also noted a major shift in the American diet, a shift away from pork and beef to chicken. In layers from the 1950s, chicken occupied less than 20% of the meats. By the late ‘70s, is occupied almost 80% of the meat. This is again for two reasons. One, it notes the rise of massive poultry farms and subsequent drop in chicken prices. Two, it noted an increased concern with health, chicken generally being a healthier and leaner meat than beef or pork (as long as you don’t eat the skin).
Also, they noted an oddity in the data. In 1973, in an effort to control inflation, President Nixon announced a series of price freezes of certain products. One of these was beef. Major newspapers and magazines predicted an impending beef shortage and, soon enough, beef vanished from markets and the price skyrocketed. However, in the landfills, the year with the highest amount of wasted beef? 1973. Because of the meat shortage, people purchased unfamiliar cuts of meat. They didn’t know how to cook it and ended up burning it or throwing it away. Hence the meat shortage was exacerbated by a sense of panic from the media and people rushing out to purchase meat they didn’t need or know how to cook.
Lastly, it found that the average amount of garbage produced per day by the average American (per capita basis) has been DECREASING since 1950. 1950 1970 2009 This was largely attributed to increases in packing design technology. To drive costs down, companies have been trying to use less and less packaging. The result has been the steady trend of source reduction of material entering the landfills. Secondarily, there has also been a trend of increasing use of garbage disposals in kitchens.
So, in environmental terms, the garbage disposal has a greater positive impact, generally, than any degree of recycling. (But organics only please.)
The best way to handle paper is not to recycle it. It’s expensive and has not proven profitable. Paper recycling efforts are generally feel- good, money-losing operations. It’s wasteful. Paper, if you want to be environmentally friendly about it, should be SHREDDED and COMPOSTED. That way it never enters to waste stream at all and turns into a nice potting soil. Which IS recycling it, in a matter of speaking…
Rathje summed up his work in what he called ”The five myths of American Garbage.” The Five Myths of American Garbage 1. Fast-food packaging, polystyrene foam and disposable diapers are major constituents of American garbage. 2. Plastic is a big problem. 3. A lot of biodegradation takes place in landfills 4. America is running out of safe places to put landfills. 5. On a per capita basis, Americans are producing garbage at a rapidly accelerating rate. All of these statements are empirically false. So, is there a Garbage Problem? Yes, but only to the extent that all societies have a garbage problem. To the extent that Americans are excessively wasteful? Not really, our “garbage problem” is much less serious than in other societies or countries in the world. Most alarming to me, is that before garbology (and even today) both industry, environmental groups and the government, in terms of trash, were not doing the research, but still publishing studies. In short, all three groups were simply INVENTING DATA to support whatever perspective they wanted to push.
So, to recap. ARCHAEOLOGY is the methodology for the exploration of the human past through the medium of the archaeological record. A SCIENTIFIC ARCHAEOLOGY consists of the following three steps. 1: formulating a hypothesis 2: developing a methodology to answer the hypothesis 3: applying the methodology to the archaeological record. ARCHAEOLOGY does four things very well 1: Providing a chronology for the “people without history.” 2: Providing objective fact to a subjective historical record 3: Reconstructing ancient lifepaths, how individuals in the remote past actually interacting with the physical environment. 4: Providing a window into potential patterns of long term human occupation and cultural variation through time (Sociocultural Evolution).
Archaeology MeadowcroftRockshelter Archaeological Record Blackwater Draw Laws of Stratigraphy Clovis Archaeological Culture Folsom Population the overkill hypothesis Cultural Region the nudge theory Material Assemblage atlatl Site Poverty Point Feature teosinte Architecture nixtamalization Deposit xocolātl Artifact Mesoamerica Ecofact Objective The Pompeii Premise Subjective Thomsen and Worsaae Subjective reality The Three-Age System Settlement Analysis Heinrich Schliemann Geochronology Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers Garbology Typology Ascendance of chicken Henge Complex Anthropology Physical Anthropology Linguistics Cultural Anthropology Epiphysial Union Arthritic lipping Strontium analysis Puppe’s Rule Forensic Entomology Perimortem trauma MNI Crow Creek Makin Atoll El Mozote