What you seek is not always what you find. A group of archaeologists at a Welsh village would nod to this sentiment best, after their expedition into understanding how building materials decay and degrade over time resulted in a wealth of plastic being found.
According to a study published in the journal Antiquity this week, 2,000 plastic items were found on the historic site, which sits among the rolling countryside of west Wales. Castell Henllys, the site of an Iron Age village in the Welsh Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, was once home to a wealthy family that included a community of up to 100 people. The community worked together to produce food and other resources almost 2,000 years ago, CNN reported.
Small plastic remnants by visitors over the years accumulated over the years to reveal the surprising amount of litter. Among the plastic fragments were utensils, bottle caps, straws, straw wrappers, plastic bags, plastic food wrap, candy wrappers and even “an almost complete Godzilla-themed thermos wrapper.”
While plastic is thought to be the leading source of marine pollution, the study shines a light on its impact on the terrestrial environment as well, the researchers said. More than 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste will flow into the world’s oceans and land over the next two decades without widespread intervention, according to a report last year.
“We thought we would find items that were lost during the use of the houses, but the amounts were disturbing in their environmental implications,” Harold Mytum, lead researcher and professor of archaeology at the University of Liverpool told CNN. “To find that here gives the site a new importance — it shows how our plastic discards effect everywhere.”
The findings align with what researchers have believed for some time now — our time will come to be known as the “Plastic Age”, with the material becoming a hallmark of the Anthropocene, the current geological age.
“The plastic creates an archaeological signature of our time (the Anthropocene), but one which is environmentally damaging,” Mytum said. “That plastic will enter the ecological cycle and have wider implications. If all this material was recycled, it would not be represented archaeologically but would help save the planet ecologically.”
Mytum is working with the staff at the historic site to increase environmental awareness for future visitors and will use the evidence they collected during the excavations to create an educational campaign.
“This shows that carefully planned reconstruction on excavated areas can provide very effective public interpretation and education facilities, and test theories about building construction,” Mytum said. “It also shows, though, that even when it appears that the site is well maintained and litter collected, much may still be deposited. Management of what is sold in site shops and allowed on-site could help reduce the entry of plastic into the terrestrial environment.”
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