Route 66 Midden

Middens provide endless fascination for archaeologists. Middens yield information about human diet and behavior, social ranking and wealth, environment, and climate change.

Oh, “midden” is the name scientists use for old trash. It comes from the Danish word “køkkenmødding,” literally translated as kitchen mound. Middens are places where garbage was dumped, usually out of the way from normal traffic, out of sight and away from smell.

Or in plain sight and ten feet from traffic.

Archaeologists researching twentieth-century America have a treasure trove waiting for them near Holbrook Arizona. Route 66, the storied Mother Road, passed through what later became the Petrified Forest National Park. When Interstate 40 opened in 1958, Route 66 became obsolete. The roadbed sat on dirt and aggregate, elevated to protect it from wash-out when storms cause flooding. Ditches on either side were convenient for depositing trash out of sight.

Over the life of the highway, the ditches filled with empty soda and beer containers, snack wrappers and assorted debris. No easy-open cans; most of the trash was thrown from the 1930s to 1950s.Ten to fifteen feet was about how far trash could be tossed from a car window.

Petrified Forest National Park memorialized its part of the “Main Street of America” with an historical marker and a 1932 Studebaker. The exhibit does not celebrate the historical trash, though.

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