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!