You might have seen or heard the news about identifying four people buried at Jamestown — England's first permanent settlement in what became the U.S. — who died some 400 years ago.
That is you might have if you're a history buff like me.
It's a story combining science, history, archeology and mystery as teams spent two years to identify the men in those graves. But something in a BBC.com report caught my eye:
“There's a time limit on how long we can do archaeology," says William Kelso, director of archaeology at Jamestown Rediscovery.
“Pottery lasts forever but wood doesn't and iron used for armor and weapons is going to be gone. We have another 20 years I would think.”
Pottery lasts forever? Sounds pretty similar to what environmentalists say about plastics today.
I guess that makes sense. Think of all the museum displays you've come across (again, the “you” here assumes you're a history buff who includes museums in vacation plans) and the number of times they've tracked human civilization based on bowls and combs and jewelry and other bits of pottery and ceramics.
So were the residents of ancient Mesopotamia thinking longevity when they tossed out a broken pot? Did Athenians worry about piles of discarded vases?
Probably not. While pottery may last forever, humans consumed it at a far smaller volume than we do today with plastic, especially plastic packaging. And a fish is far less likely to confuse a bowl for food when it's in the water than they are with microbeads from today's exfoliating face cleansers.
But still, that archeology angle has me wondering if some thousands of years from now our ancestors will be dating a shift in domestic technology by the appearance of Rubbermaid containers rather than glass, and if they'll be seeking some way to carbon date Legos to pin down the growth rates for some abandoned suburb.