USU faculty member tracks trash to follow growth of societies

Jacob Freeman, an assistant anthropology professor at Utah State University, is the lead author of a research project that he says has developed a way to measure the growth and decline of human economies for 10,000 years through what is known as public archeology.

“What archeologists have done over the last 50 years as a result of this public archeology, we’ve accumulated big records of people’s trash. And we’re able to date that trash and so we can see if society’s accumulation of trash is going up and down together.”

Freeman said he and his research partners over four continents decided to ask the question: Do human societies grow and decline at the same time across the world throughout history, or is each human society on its own unique trajectory, doing it’s own thing?

“What we found out is that there is a linkage across societies and it goes way back into our history and we’ve been growing and declining at the same time for many thousands of years.”

After two years of research this team of scientists published a peer-reviewed article — in September —  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Dr. Freeman said he expects their article will be a springboard to future research.

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