Modern midden: one person's trash is another's history book
November 30, 2019 9:59 PM Subscribe
On the county, state, and national levels, wilderness parks are often beloved for their natural wonders: handsome trees, cantilevered rock formations, shrinking glaciers—and not the things that people leave behind in them. But over time, many park staffers have found themselves caretakers of this historic debris. The older stuff strewn around can be a window into understanding a landscape and how people have used it. That’s how a couple dozen decades-old bottles and cans came to be cultural heritage objects in the custody of Fire Island staff. Sometimes Trash Is Treasured in America’s National Parks -- Bottles, cans, and more can reveal a long history of industry, recreation, and shenanigans. Similarly: Along the Remains of Route 66, Road Trip Trash Has Become Treasure -- Welcome to the “throw zone.” (Atlas Obscura x2)
From the first article:
From the first article:
While different types of public land in the United States—managed by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service, for instance—are subject to different laws about land use, there is overarching legislation about protecting things that are old—mundane or otherwise. Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), anything found on federal land, such as the Fire Island National Seashore, that is 100 years or older is considered an archaeological resource. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which created the National Register of Historic Places, lowers the age threshold to 50 years but has other criteria, such as association with an important person or event.Word of the day: garbology, the study of modern refuse and trash as well as the use of trash cans, compactors and various types of trash can liners (Wikipedia), with the fun fact that A. J. Weberman invented the word garbology in 1971 when he went through Bob Dylan's trash.
Historic trash has the most value when it’s left alone. Just like any other form of archaeology, context is key, and what’s around any given piece of trash is as or more important than the item itself. Archaeologists and other park staff often choose to leave the trash in place, but visitors, either through well-meaning ignorance or the desire for souvenirs, may not. Some guests just make off with stuff, while others with the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” ethos might think they’re helping out. Joshua Tree made the news during the federal government shutdown in 2019, when some well-intentioned folks went in, garbage bags in hand, to clean up after some raucous, messy guests, Theuer says. Sometimes, he adds, they went too far, and picked up some historic stuff, too.
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