Is this your archaeological deposit?

Isthisyourluggage.com purports to be the product of a person’s hobby–buying lost luggage from the airlines, photographing the contents, and putting the photos online.  At first I was suspicious–the photos haven’t changed since 2009, the design work is really clean and the domain name is registered through an anonymizing proxy.  But there’s an interview with the creator, Luna Laboo on the Examiner that implies that these are not just the products of a design thesis.  While she compares her collection to a case of butterflies, I’m more inclined to think of them as an intact cache, an archaeological deposit.  Archaeologists love caches because they contain objects that were intended to be grouped together by the person who buried them so there is a coherence that we do not normally see in the archaeological record.  Whether we can interpret the meaning behind the intentional deposition of such objects is another matter entirely, of course.  Sometimes these caches are attributed to ritual activity; the person burying the objects had no intention of coming back for the objects.  But occasionally we find caches of tools, weapons, or coins that seem as though the person would be coming back for them–but never quite made it.

These suitcases are a bit like the latter, small assemblages of items that were gathered together for a specific purpose, only to be abandoned later on for whatever reason.  Looking at the clothes you might glean a few facts from the assemblage.  The suitcase above probably belonged to a teenaged girl who had gone on a trip to the beach.

These contemporary assemblages have always been of interest to me–I have a small set on Flickr of the boxes I would find around Berkeley full of the left-overs of garage sales that explores the same concept.  I’d love to do a more formal study of these contemporary assemblages (one of my advisors has a particularly nice collection of abandoned photo packets from an old lab) but that would probably be another dissertation or two.  Anyone know of contemporary archaeologists doing similar projects? I want to hear about them!

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4 responses to “Is this your archaeological deposit?

  1. How do you find these things? One of the really fascinating issues with these sorts of collections is the question of interpretation–even if we know what all of the objects are, can we still re-create or re-imagine who the person was? Kinda reminds me of Shanks’ “Three Rooms” article.

    I have always wanted to do a photo project about modern campfires and fire rings–to photograph them in the same way that we would any other “hearth.” I came across some good ones a few years back while on a desert survey project in socal. Ringed with rocks, cans, bottles, and other assorted trash–they weren’t archaeology THEN, but in another 40 years we’ll be out there looking for “itinerant weekend survivalist” remains (0r something like that).

  2. If you consider our individual garbage sacks an archaeological cache (I certainly do), then there is also William Rathje’s work back in the 1980s with the Tucson Garbage Project (see article in NYT from 1992 I dug up: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/05/books/we-are-what-we-throw-away.html). Granted he was looking at these “modern middens” on a grand scale, however what we throw away is certainly a truer reflection of how we live our lives, more so than what we write down or tell people. Of course, this differs from the deliberate grouping of items inside a suitcase for a specific purpose (i.e., a trip), though we deliberately throw things in the rubbish bin because we have decided that these certain items are no longer useful and can be disposed of.

  3. Pingback: Is this your archaeological deposit?

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