Seasonal Urban Archeology

Posted on February 12th, 2009 3 great comments. Room for one more!

My best laid plans had all the chances of snow in hell.

I had been depending on the bitter cold to stay in place; I needed liquids to be able to flash-freeze on contact with surfaces. Unfortunately, a major thaw settled over the city and I ended up with nothing more than slush and puddles, and my originally planned topic ran down the storm drain along with everything else.

beneath the thawI was moping along until, my eye being drawn by a reflected glint of sunlight, I spotted something just as worthy of an in-depth article: a filthy snowbank, slowly disintegrating in the gentle afternoon sun, dislodging it’s treasures onto the sidewalk.

It occurred to me that the layers of the grimy snow (and more importantly their contents) were, in a sense, a sort of stratified time capsule much like the earth embankments of traditional archeological digs. Each line represented a period in which it snowed sufficiently to engulf any lost or discarded articles.

beneath the thawWe could (more or less) correlate these layers’ contents to actual calendar days and trace the history of the pile.  A whole two months’ worth of history just lay there in the dirty ice waiting to be uncovered! It became clear that the breadth and width of the project would be staggering. Cataloging each find would prove exceedingly time consuming,  so I had to satisfy myself with a cursory examination, analysis, and much plagiarized research [bet you didn’t know this was science!], results of which are listed here for your leisurely perusal.

Winter Clothing

beneath the thawThis is by far the most common seasonal urban artifact. Most items show evidence of having fallen from pockets or been carelessly cast off, but there are occasional areas where this theory breaks down as entire matching ensembles have been discovered. More rarely, an occasional parka makes an appearance as do understandably discarded ear muffs.

The evidence clearly demonstrates past cultures’ penchant for disposable outerwear. We can only guess at what other perversions these “people” had.


beneath the thawThis ancient remnant is most often found in the Muntadhar al-Zaidi era strata of archeological sites. Most puzzling to scholars has been the almost complete absence of the second shoe or boot, leading some researchers to posit that humans during this era (roughly sixty days ago) were single-legged and travelled by means of hopping. Scientists have yet to figure out how boots or shoes would become so easily dislodged, especially in mid-winter. However, there is a general consensus that having the ability to always buy shoes at half price would make the items less valuable and more likely to be tossed aside.


beneath the thawLarge, unwieldy behemoths were apparently the order of the day during the last days of the Joe The Plummer era. Boffins [the thesaurus does indeed have many entries in this area] believe that the generation’s influx of new appliances  (informally named the “Christmas” era) produced an overabundance of crappy late-eighties housewares that required immediate disposal. While such artifacts may be seen within almost all strata, truly ancient representations appear mainly around college dorms and student housing. Recent discoveries, including the monstrous “Rotisserie” (pictured left) have cast doubt on the veracity of previous findings. Suggestions to explain such shocking discoveries include:

  • The guys responsible for disposing of it were really lazy.
  • The guys responsible for disposing of it got high before work.
  • Both of the above.

Perhaps future investigations will reveal the true answer.


Canine feces (or “dog shit” as they’re called by researchers) are often found at the lowest-most layers of the strata. At this advanced age, artifacts suffer from significant bleaching and aging, producing brittle and fragile specimens. In fact, any casual passerby may carelessly dismiss “dog shit” for brittle sugar sticks or, in more extreme cases of decay, icing sugar.

One would be well advised to not to attempt to taste such findings, however, but instead to deliver them to experts for analysis. Flaming paper bags are the preferred mode of delivery.


beneath the thawThis is a refreshingly familiar relic to most readers. In fact, you might be sucking on one right now. That cool menthol breeze has wafted through every layer of history, leaving it’s indelible mark on each one. Despite the ever-present coughing, wheezing, and horking of loogies by enthusiasts, this timeless pastime continues to be a big hit with city residents and visitors alike.

Perhaps most surprising is how little each new era has changed the ubiquitous little c-stick. At each stratum one can find butts in various states of decomposition, from the just-smoked to the nicotine-stain-with-a-filter, but all with roughly the same dimensions.

For a long time this similarity puzzled investigators until one brilliant discovery last Wednesday. Roaming bands of bums were seen to be smoking discarded cigarettes down to the nub resulting in the same length as all archeological butts. Surely this is no coincidence.

Natural Resources

These are found mostly in the bottom-most layer of sites. Typical components include various caches of petro-chemical pools, pre-formed aluminum deposits, nickel disks, and ancient flora and fauna  (e.g. rats, potted plants, etc.)

Being blocked by a deeper layer of sedimentary concrete, little else is known beyond this time period.

The Future of S.U.A.

beneath the thawI’m happy to have brought you this glimpse at what, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a fascinating subject. Future seasonal urban archeology is bound to be a rewarding field for any young up-and-comer that is able to hold back their bile. Each new season offers fresh opportunities to explore the strange and disgusting refuse of months gone by, and there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of raw research materials forecast for the near future.

Perhaps, if the forecast agrees with me, that original idea I mentioned at the top will also find its way to the surface. In the meantime, be sure to separate your recyclables.

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