Clay pottery shards from about 1,000 B.C., a 1910 medicine bottle that once contained Dr. Price's Delicious Flavoring Extracts and a 1993 Diet Pepsi can.
It's all trash, but without it archaeologists wouldn't know anything about those who have lived before us.
That's one of the messages Ann Arrundell County Historical Society Executive Director Beth P. Nowell, staff archaeologist Esther Doyle Read and her husband, Tim Doyle, convey in an exhibit that opens today at the Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum.
Called "BWI Airport Artifacts," the exhibit tells the social history of the people who once lived on airport property, from Indians to truck farmers, from people who recycled broken pots to those who threw them away.
"We're taking the social history out of the textbook and making it come alive," Ms. Nowell said.
The exhibit begins with artifacts left by the Indians, who roamed the area from 7,500 B.C. to 1,600 A.D. From sharp-edged, pointed stones called projectile points to clay pottery shards, it tells the story of people who didn't throw anything away.
"They had unlimited resources but limited technology," Ms. Read explained. "Everything was made by hand, so if something broke, it was used for something else."
Take projectile points, which were tied to sticks and used as spears for hunting. Indians didn't throw the stone away if the point broke off. They just used it for something else, such as skinning animals.
Contrast this image with the Victorians of the late 1800s and early 1900s. They lived during the age of mass production, when just about everything was produced by machines. A display case at the Benson-Hammond House tells their story.
In it are shelves full of bottles and bottle shards of every shape, size and color. There's a small brown medicine bottle made in 1910. The label says "Pain Expeller. Use Externally as a Ligament." The mixture contained 49 percent alcohol, plus capsicum, ammonia, camphor, soap and essential oils.
Then there's the medication made by Dr. Price. An accompanying 1882 advertisement from the Chicago Daily Tribune says the elixir is "prepared from the choicest fruits, without coloring, poisonous oils, acids or artificial essences."
The case also includes copies of advertisements from early Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs to show how much these household items cost. Shards of hand-painted dishes rest next to a catalog advertisement for a 100-piece dinner set that cost $7.95.
"The Industrial Revolution of 1850 produced factories that churned out sets of goods and at the same time, put people to work," Ms. Read said. "These people became the new consumer class. They bought the items from the factories. When the items broke or chipped, they were thrown out. This was a time of unlimited resources and unlimited technology."
The exhibit concludes with trash from Ms. Nowell's and Ms. Read's home recycle bins: the 1993 Diet Pepsi can, plus a Bumblebee Tuna can and Johnson's Baby Powder bottle.
"This shows that we're still using things as the Victorians did," Ms. Read explained. "We've got unlimited technology. But our limited resources are forcing us to recycle."
The exhibit, in honor of Maryland Archaeology Week, is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $1. The show runs through August.