In Two Thousand Years

My husband and I like watching Time Team, a British television program where a group of specialists swarm into a place somewhere in England, Scotland, Wales, and occasionally other places to spend three days trying to figure out what was going on in the past. Using written records, if there are any, and excavating with a series of trenches to find artifacts, they are able to tell from what they literally dig up what the people were doing in that spot and when. Some items they uncover are indicative of specific times and situations. If Samian pottery is found, there were some well-heeled Romans or Romanized Brits hanging around. If there are flint blades and axes, it’s prehistoric. Glazed floor tiles indicate medieval buildings, often churches.

I used to wonder what the archaeologists in the future will identify as our defining artifacts–early 21st century. When I went for a walk on Earth Day, I finally figured it out. Armed with a trash bag and latex gloves, I went around my neighborhood and the park picking up trash. The biggest contributor to the hoard I accumulated were fast food containers including cups and plastic single use liquor bottle. Those little plastic bottles show up everywhere. They are washed down the gutters into the sewer system then into the water ways and the ocean. They are sold in ten packs or individually. They are everywhere–liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores. And the plastic lasts forever.

I’ll admit, I’m mystified by why people throw trash out of their cars and onto the ground in the park’s parking lot when there is a trash can ten feet away. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to not pollute the place where you live and play and walk and drive. Who enjoys drifts of blowing garbage?

In one or two thousand years, if there are still people on Earth, the big blue marble circling the sun, those people may wonder who lived on the planet that we are so close to destroying–or at least making difficult if not impossible for humans to live on. When they dig down to our layer, they’ll find the index artifact to be single-use plastic liquor bottles. Then again, maybe, just maybe, we’ll stop making a mucked up mess of our planet before it’s too late. Fingers crossed.