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6.6: Activity 5 - Garbology Survey

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    Brian Stokes, Allan Hancock College

    This exercise is a comparative study of modern human debris called garbology. The purpose of your study is to determine whether patterns of behavior are visible in the material remains you observe. You will conduct a ground survey of two sites, map and analyze the debris you observe, and test your hypotheses about the sites based on your finds.


    1. Choose two outdoor locations that are mostly similar but differ in terms of some important aspects of typical behavior in those locations. The sites will likely vary in size but should be no smaller than 20 feet square or the equivalent. The behavioral differences can be based on your own knowledge of the locations, on your assumptions about human nature, etc. Following are some suggestions, but we urge you to think of different places that would be interesting to compare.

    • A portion of a public park vs. a vacant lot
    • A tourist beach vs. a non-tourist beach
    • A parking lot of a bank vs. a parking lot of a store
    • An art cinema vs. a mainstream theater

    2. Prior to surveying and mapping your chosen locations, develop at least two testable hypotheses regarding the material evidence you expect to observe at each site. Include your reasons/rationale for your expectations in describing your hypotheses.

    3. Conduct a ground survey of debris at the two areas and map, list, and describe any debris (artifacts) and features you observe on the surface. Do not collect the debris! Each site map should fill most of a page and use the metric system. Your descriptions of the debris should include information about each piece of debris’ significant attributes—size, shape, manufacturer, condition, etc.


    • Analyze your survey data for patterns of similarities and differences for the two areas. For example:
    • Are there clusters of debris?
    • Are some items clustered together while others are not?
    • Are there differences in types, amounts, conditions, etc. in where and how debris is found at the two areas?

    Written Analysis

    Write an analysis that incorporates your findings using the following structure to organize your work.

    1. Introduction – Discuss the two sites you chose to survey and why. What were your hypotheses and your predictions?
    1. Methods – Describe the survey strategy/method you used to test your hypotheses.
    1. Maps – Include your maps for each location (they should fill most of a page and use the metric system). Each map must provide the following information:

      a. The site name

      b. A distance scale

      c. An outline of the archaeological site boundary

      d. A magnetic North arrow

      e. A legend (denoting mapped artifacts)

    1. Data – Include an inventory of all of the artifacts that you mapped at the site in a spreadsheet or table format. Be sure to include all important details about the artifacts in your spreadsheet/table.
    1. Analysis – Discuss your findings at the two sites. Did you identify any patterns in the debris?
    1. Conclusion – Compare your evidence from the sites with your hypotheses and your predictions. Did you find what you anticipated? Do you accept or reject your hypotheses? Did you find any unexpected differences in the debris that can be related to behavior that took place at the two locations?

    Designate your maps as figure 1 and figure 2 and your data inventories as table 1 and table 2 and attached them to your written analysis as appendices. Reference the figures and tables in your writing when appropriate.

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