Monday, 4 May 2009

Time Travelling in Stretford

I had a bit of a weird experience today - in Stretford, of all places!

I'd had a bit of a lazy day indoors, mainly because the weather was so uninspiring. At about half past three I decided to get some air. I wanted to check a few things out near the Bridgewater Canal in Stretford. Eventually I found myself in that field which is bordered by the river and near to the A56 and the slip-roads onto the motorway. It was bleak, damp, cold and not very interesting. In the middle of a featureless field I spotted some mounds of earth and disturbed ground and thought that I would check it out to see if any interesting weeds had appeared. Now, I realise that weed spotting, in a field near the motorway, on a drizzly bank holiday is somewhat eccentric behaviour but I found it preferable to falling asleep in front of the telly (well, that's my excuse ... OK, OK I'm weird, I admit it!).

Anyway, I soon realised that what I had stumbled on was an old tip and that the mounds and pits had been made by people digging for 'antique' bottles. Scattered all around were old bottles, jars and bits of broken crockery. Then I spotted some fragments of newspapers - they were a bit soggy but still readable. One of the fragments was part of the Sunday Express. There were photographs and adverts, all very old-fashioned looking. I peeled a couple of pages apart and saw a headline about Hitler deporting Jews to Poland. I peeled a few more pages apart, looking for a date - and found one: October 30th, 1938! Someone had actually thrown that newspaper into their dustbin over 70 years ago!

I would imagine that, in 1938, no-one gave much thought about what happens to rubbish when it's put in a landfill. They must have known that all the glass - which appears to have been as ubiquitous as a packaging material as plastic is today - and the ceramics would be more or less unchanged by time. But I presume that they thought that organic material, like newspaper, would rot down in a few years and turn to soil. But, evidentally, no such transformation took place and, preserved in the anaerobic (i.e. oxygen free) conditions in the tip the old report of Hitler's foul crimes 'slumbered' through all of those decades until I got to read it today. And buried with it was a sort of time capsule of life in the 1930s - bits of bottles and jars which once contained milk, beer, spirits, jams, preserves, pickles, condiments and medicines and plates, saucers, tea cups and tea pots buried with the ashes of countless coal fires.

I suppose that archeologists have always considered rubbish tips ('middens') to be useful sources of information, but it's surprising to think that future archeologists, looking back at our times, may literally be able to read that information. Perhaps, though, they'll only be able to access a relatively brief 'window' in this way because, of course, from now on we should be recycling our newspapers - not sticking them in landfills!

Dave Bishop, May 2009

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