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I'm reading Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and I come across this paragraph:

Human history at last took off around 50,000 years ago, at the time of what I have termed our Great Leap Forward. The earliest definite signs of that leap come from East African sites with standardized stone tools and the first preserved jewelry (ostrich-shell beads). Similar developments soon appear in the Near East and in southeastern Europe, where abundant artifacts are associated with follu modern skeletons of people termed Cro-Magnons. Thereafter, the garbage preserved at archaeological sites rapidly becomes more and more interesting and leaves no doubt that we are dealing with biologically and behaviorally modern humans.
(My emphasis). To the archaeologically or anthropologically inclined of you (you know who you are!), this probably sounds normal. You may even find something to object to in that. But I had never, ever thought of garbage as something that was archaeologically useful. Strangely, I have considered many times what future generations will make of our garbage. But when I thought of artifacts found at excavations, etc, I've always had this weird image of the pristine arrowhead, being brushed carefully out of the sand. Something static. But "a pile of garbage" is... alive in some way. I'm not glorifying the fact that humans are filthy as hell, but rather the messiness of the process that is brought to light but that simple image.

BTW, this book is great, although a bit infuriating in a strange way: As I read it, I can't help but agree with his logic, at almost every step. I want to dissent, damn it! :)

Posted by diego on February 5 2005 at 10:03 PM

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