If Trash Could Talk

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Ancient trash tells archaeologists a lot about the past. In this activity, learners take a close look inside their trash can and think about the clues it offers about their lives. Learners separate the layers of the trash, make a checklist of the items found and where, and then answer questions to interpret their findings. In a suggested extension, learners examine the trash from another site and compare and contrast interpretations. Use this activity to introduce learners to the work of archaeologists.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • rubber gloves
  • newspaper or plastic
  • items from one trash can
  • paper and pencil
  • Trash Checklist


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth's History
      • Archeology
  • Life Sciences
    • Evolution
      • History of Life
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
    • Science as a Career


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Ology


  • All rights reserved, American Museum of Natural History,