Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
How can we ensure that people in the distant future do not excavate hazardous waste that we are burying today, produced from military and civilian nuclear programs? When the US government faced that challenge, it turned to cross-disciplinary “experts” for advice. Two very different proposals emerged from planning, both based on assuming that we can abstract features from monuments built in the distant past that helped them survive physically, to convey messages to us today. Much of what these experts proposed drew on common sense ideas about sites that archaeologists study. But where the experts saw predictability, an archaeologist today sees more unpredictable effects. Where the experts assumed things that have lasted for thousands of years were intended to do so, archaeologists demonstrate how survival is sometimes an outcome of unanticipated effects: things we see as monuments today were rarely, if ever, intended to survive for us. Even the assumptions the planners made about the materials used in sites like Stonehenge turn out to be questionable, based more on what people think about substances like granite and kitty litter than how those materials actually behave. This talk explores how we might think about long term survival drawing on what archaeology actually shows.