A number of scientific analyses were employed to show the changes in composition that occur after items are buried.

School children study the changes that occur after modern rubbish and archaeological artefact replicas are buried

Rubbish and archaeology

Professor Robert Van de Noort

‘Rubbish and Archaeology’, was an innovative project designed to involve school children in experimental archaeology. The project was designed for 152 school children in the Askern ward of South Yorkshire, and takes place near the Iron Age site of Sutton Common. The initial response from school children and their teachers, however, suggests that the project could be replicated at many other locations.

'Rubbish and Archaeology' was essentially an experimental burial project; modern waste and archaeological replications were buried side-by-side and the change in the material over time was measured and observed. All objects were analysed prior to burial using several tests, ranging from the determination of volume, size, colour and moisture content to digital photography and microscopy. Following excavation, the same tests were applied, and the change over time was determined. The project had a number of major benefits - it required from the children the application of a range of scientific ideas and techniques, it provided the children with some insight into the creation of the archaeological record, and it linked archaeological issues directly with the contemporary issue of waste disposal. It also resulted in a closer involvement of local children with the archaeological work undertaken in the past and future on Sutton Common. While the archaeologists contributed such sensible objects as basketry filled with joints of beef, 'Iron Age' pots filled with spelt, leather buckles with copper buckles attached and hazel roundwood with iron nails, the childrens' choice ranged from a locally-caught perch, to fruit, sandwiches, bags of crisps and a Stella Artois bottle. The objects will be excavated later this year.

This project was not designed as an academic exercise. Nevertheless, from an archaeological point of view, it has provided insights, for example into the impact of organic remains during the immediate post-depositional phase, such as shown in the rapid deterioration of the rush baskets - the rushes contained too much oxygen for these to be preserved, even in waterlogged conditions.

The project was undertaken in a partnership between the Carstairs Countryside Trust, English Heritage and the University of Exeter.