Re: Future Gazing
I've wondered what historians and archaeologists from the future will be able to find from the 21st century.
A shit-tonne of metal. Before the industrial revolution metal was valued and used carefully, with broken implements being mended wherever possible and melted down for complete reuse otherwise. People moving in frontier lands would burn their house down just so they could retrieve all the nails from the ashes, straighten them out and use them to build their next house. The artefacts we have recovered are primarily ones which were lost or which had to be abandoned to escape war or natural disaster.
Archaeologists in the future are going to dig up landfill sites to find an incredible concentration of elemental metals: iron, steel, copper, tin, zinc and aluminium from old or broken locks, RSJs, window frames, roofing sheets, cables, ducting, pipework, frying pans, toasters, alarm clocks, tin cans, bottle tops and everything else that we chuck out. It's only in the last 25 years that we've had any reasonable degree of household recycling, and arguably the level we have is still not high enough. They'll be able to follow the development of battery technology through the decades. They'll be able to identify the point at which touchscreen displays were invented when the landfill strata starts to include distinctive slivers of titanium and rare earth compounds.
There's another thing which will likely happen within a thousand years: the archaeologists will be competing with the industrialists to dig up the landfill sites. Before long humanity will have mined out the most accessible natural deposits of useful minerals, so that if there's still a technological society in the future -- and especially if it's one trying to develop and recover after a collapse -- they may find 20th century landfill sites to be the most readily accessible source of nearly pure metals.
Side note: a society recovering from a technological collapse may struggle to make it to their industrial revolution, because there will be no coal or oil they can reach by muscle power alone. Perhaps they'll have to figure out a way to mass-produce and work iron, and to run steam engines, by burning all our plastic waste.