The Early Days of Trash

August 16, 2007

Trash has always been part of life as a human. To quote the self styled garbage archaeologist William Rathje, “Throughout most of time human beings disposed of garbage in a very convenient manner; simply by leaving it where it fell. To be sure, they sometimes tidied up their sleeping and activity areas, but that was about all.?(1) The trash management system in a hunter-gatherer society was straightforward enough; move debris out of the way of your feet, and when the smell built up too much, move on to a new spot. Naturally the first real problem with this method came about when people began to transition into a more settled lifestyle.
Even so, “not surprisingly, a human being’s first inclination is always to dump.?(2) In early settlements it was not always even common to carry waste to the edge of town. Instead people left small debris right on the floor inside their buildings, sometimes sweeping it to the edge of the room and still more occasionally bringing in good clean dirt or clay – fill of some kind – to cover it up. Over time this practice raised floors, houses and eventually entire cities, as roofs and doorways were elevated to accommodate the rising floor level. “Over time the ancient cities of the Middle East rose high above the surrounding plains on massive mounds called tells, which contained the ascending remains of centuries, even millennia, of prior occupation.?(3)
(1) Rathje, 1992, 32
(2) 34
(3) 35


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