Future Archaeologies of Marine Litter

We’ve been working with people living on Scotland’s islands and coastlines to create a series of exhibits that showcase both the state of our seas and shores, and the imaginations of those who live near them. You can see virtual versions of the exhibits on the dedicated pages of this site. You can also read about how each one came into being.

Below, you can read about the general process we used to create the exhibits. If you would like to create your own Future Archaeology of Marine Litter and have it included on this site, please contact us via info@futurearchaeologies.org.uk.

The project helps local communities create physical and virtual exhibits that highlight and explore the problem of marine litter, based on the idea of future archaeologies. We started to develop the idea of future archaeologies of waste in the Waste Stories project – you can read our first future archaeology story developed in that project here (about nurdles). Following on from this, we worked with Museums of the FutureNow and the Solway Firth Partnership on the Solway Hoard project.

In Future Archaeologies of Marine Litter, we ask ourselves:

  • What traces and remnants of our age might survive into the future?
  • How will the archaeologists and historians of the future make sense of our culture and society?
  • How will our era be displayed in the museums of the future? What might end up as the treasures and mysteries of the future?

Future Archaeologies of Marine Litter is a collaboration between Waste Stories, the Scottish Islands Federation Marine Litter Working Group, the Solway Firth Partnership and Museums of the FutureNow. It is a daughter project of Waste Stories (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) and received dedicated funds from the University of Glasgow’s NERC Interdisciplinarity Fund between January and March 2023.

Creating Future Archaeology Exhibits

Our basic process involves the following steps:

Selecting objects

For each site, we select objects collected during beach cleans or picked up on the tideline. We might choose common items; quirky or unexpected finds; or mysterious, unidentified objects.

Thinking about the past

We then ask participants to think about what we know about the past – 100 years ago, then 200, then 500, then 1000, then 5000 – in their own local area. We consider questions such as: what did people eat? Were their clothes like ours? Did they speak the same language? What do we know about their politics or religions?

We also ask participants to think about how we know what we know of these times. For example, do we have written or printed records?

Choosing a future

Then we ask participants to choose a future. For example, is it 100 years away? 1000? Is waste and marine litter a thing of the past? Has the landscape changed? Is there a continuous historic record connecting us to them, or has there been some kind of break?

Creating stories

We then synthesise the suggestions that have been made and create stories that accompany the objects. These can be stories that the archaeologists and historians of the future might tell to explain the objects, or stories of how what happens between now and the future chosen by the group.