Amy Michael: Let’s get trashed!
Amy Michael is an instructor of anthropology and researcher with the Campus Archaeology Program. She is furthering her research on gendered use of space on campus.
Feb. 8, 2017
Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, middens and refuse deposits can help us fill in the gaps of our knowledge about the historic campus experience and student behavior.
Campus Archaeology has been involved in excavations of three separate components of life at Saint’s Rest Dorm: the refuse pit from Saint’s Rest, the West Circle privy and the excavation of the building itself. Several blogs have been written on each of these sites, but no comparison between sites has yet been done.
This semester, Lisa Bright, campus archeologist, and I will work on re-cataloging and accessioning artifacts from the 2011 trash pit excavation (with some help from several undergraduate honors students from ANP 203) so that we may get a better sense of what is present (and, interestingly, what is absent).
For now, we have some general observations about each site such as abundance of serving dishes in the trash pit, but only dining plates being present in the privy. The trash pit and the privy also contain some of the same ceramic patterns. The location of each site also serves as an interesting variable for comparison. Because the building and trash sites were likely public and at least partially, if not totally, accessible, the artifacts found at each site are expected to be reflective of daily life (e.g. bones from butchered animals, empty food containers, etc.) and human error (e.g. broken plates, bowls, lamps, etc.).
In contrast, the assemblage within the privy is potentially reflective of secrecy, prohibition or mishap. Knowing that no one would retrieve items from a privy, students may have thrown items away in this space (or perhaps dropped them accidentally).
Saint’s Rest burned down in December of 1876. The accidental destruction of the building also creates a different context for the artifacts compared to the trash pit and the privy. These items were still in use, and their owners were not, at that time, intending to dispose of them.
Lisa and I believe that comparing the assemblages from these sites will be useful in piecing together student and faculty behavior as well as use of space on the campus. The opportunity to compare and contrast three sites from the same time period, but with disparate function, allows us to examine some largely intangible aspects of the past. Last semester we finished the privy report, so this semester we will do a quick re-analysis of some the Saint’s Rest materials and dig further into their meaning. Stay tuned for our findings!
Reprinted with permission from the Campus Archeology Blog