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Historic Global Commodity Networks: the Research Potential of Rubbish Dumps for the Study of Rural Household Market Access during the late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries



This article discusses the research potential of rubbish dumps for the study of rural household market access during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By investigating the global commodity networks associated with four rubbish dumps excavated by the authors in the East Anglian region, at Hempstead (Norfolk), Kirton and Falkenham (Suffolk) and Holme Hale (Norfolk), the article will show how these archives can be used to locate individual rural households within the international capitalist system. This article also discusses the potential challenges faced when analysing the historic rubbish dump archives.



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1. Davies, Peter, ‘Mapping commodities at Casselden Place, Melbourne’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 10:4 (2006), 343 .

2. In this article, the authors refer to midden deposits as ‘rubbish dumps’. These deposits contain materials discarded by the owners and placed in an area away from everyday activities.

3. See Riordan, Timothy and Adams, William, ‘Commodity flows and national market access’, Historical Archaeology, 19:2 (1985), 518 ; Adams, William, ‘Trade networks and interaction spheres – a view from Silcott’, Historical Archaeology, 10:1 (1976), 99112 ; Harris, E. Jeanne, Ginn, Geogg and Coroneos, Cosmos, ‘How to dig a dump: strategy and research design for investigation of Brisbane's nineteenth-century municipal dump’, Australasian Historical Archaeology, 22 (2004), 1526 ; Adams, William, Bowers, Peter and Mills, Robin, ‘Commodity flow and national market access: a case study from interior Alaska’, Historical Archaeology, 35:2 (2001), 73105 ; Davies, ‘Mapping commodities’, 343–55.

4. Adams, Bowers and Mills, ‘Commodity flow’, 75; Pred, Allan, ‘Toward a typology of manufacturing flows’, The Geographical Review, 54 (1964), 6584 .

5. Adams, Bowers and Mills, ‘Commodity flow’, 75, 76.

6. North Norfolk Bottle Group, <> [accessed 1st February 2017].

7. Harris, Ginn and Coroneos, ‘How to dig’, 21.

8. See Cessford, Craig, ‘Assemblage biography and the life course: an archaeological materialized temporality of Richard and Sarah Hopkins’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 18:4 (2014), 555–90; Barile, Kerri and Brandon, Jamie, eds, Household Chores and Household Choices: Theorizing the Domestic Sphere in Historical Archaeology (Tuscaloosa, 2004); Mary Beaudry, ‘Doing the Housework: The Archaeology of Domestic Life in Early America’, in Barile and Brandon, eds, Household Chores, pp. 254–62; Buchli, Victor and Lucas, Gavin, eds, Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (London, 2001); Casella, Eleanor and Croucher, Sarah, The Alderley Sandhills Project: An Archaeology of Community Life in (Post)-Industrial England (Manchester, 2010); Cessford, Craig, ‘Post-1550 Urban Archaeology in a Developer-Funded Context: An Example from Grand Arcade, Cambridge’, in Horning, Audrey and Palmer, Marilyn, eds, Crossing Paths or Sharing Tracks? Future Directions in the Archaeological Study of Post-1550 Britain and Ireland (Woodbridge, 2009), pp. 301–21; Groover, Mark, ‘Linking artefact assemblages to household cycles: an example from the Gibbs Site’, Historical Archaeology, 35:4 (2001), 3857 ; Groover, Mark, An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life: the Gibbs Farmstead in Southern Appalachia, 1790–1920 (London, 2006); Harrison, Rodney and Schofield, John, After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past (Oxford, 2010); King, Julia, ‘Household Archaeology, Identities, and Biographies’, in Hicks, Dan and Beaudry, Mary, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 293314 ; Lawrence, Susan and Davies, Peter, An Archaeology of Australia since 1788 (London, 2012); Licence, Tom, What the Victorians Threw Away (Oxford, 2015); Joy, Jody, ‘Reinvigorating object biography: reproducing the drama of object lives’, Debates in World Archaeology, 41:4 (2009), 540–56; Claudia Prado de Mello, Arqueologia urbano no Rio de Janiero: da Pré-Histόria ao Rio Vitoriani (Rio, forthcoming); Prossor, Lauren, Lawrence, Susan, Brooks, Alasdair and Lennon, Jane, ‘Household archaeology, lifecycles and status in a nineteenth-century Australian coastal community’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 16:4 (2012), 809–27; Rathje, William and Murphy, Cullen, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage: What our Garbage Tells us about Ourselves (New York, 1992); Rathje, William, ‘Modern material culture studies’, Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, 2 (1979), 137 ; Gould, Richard and Schiffer, Michael, eds, Modern Material Culture Studies: The Archaeology of Us (New York, 1981); Orser, Charles, ‘Three 19th-century house sites in rural Ireland’, Post Medieval Archaeology, 44:1 (2010), 81104 ; Allen, Jim, Port Essington: the Historical Archaeology of a North Australian Nineteenth-Century Military Outpost (Sydney, 2008); and Willkie, Laurie, The Archaeology of Mothering: an African American Midwife's Tale (London, 2003).

9. The contents of a rubbish dump can be dated based on the composition of the archive, the style of the artefacts and pottery marks.

10. Licence, What the Victorians Threw Away, pp. 68–104.

11. Ibid., pp. 68–70.

12. Tom Licence, ‘Kirton Rectory, Suffolk’, <> [accessed 12th January 2017].

13. Burke, Bernard, Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1879), p. 9 .

14. Emma Jean Adlington's gravestone is located in the graveyard of St Mary's Church, Bradenham, Norfolk.

15. Obituary: ‘Horatio George Broke’, The Alpine Journal, 44 (1932), 287–8.

16. See Ginn, Harris and Coroneos, ‘How to dig’, 18; Craig Cessford, ‘Life in a “cathedral of consumption” corporate and personal material culture recovered’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 16:4 (2012), 789 ; Garrow, Patrick and Wheaton, Thomas Jr, The Oxon Hill Manor Archaeological Site Mitigation Project (Baltimore, 1986); Williams, G., Gray, Marlesa and Pape, W., Gateway to the Past: Cultural Resources Investigations in East St. Louis, Illinois, Volume I (East St Louis, 1982), p. 213 ; and Catherine Blee, ‘Sorting Functionally-Mixed Artefact Assemblages with Multiple Regression: A Comparative Study in Historical Archaeology’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Colorado, 2000).

17. No trench was excavated to a depth greater than 1.5 m.

18. See Klein, Richard and Cruz-Uribe, Kathryn, The Analysis of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites (Chicago, 1984), p. 26.

19. See Cessford, ‘Life in a “cathedral of consumption”’, 789.

20. Personal communication, Tom Licence.

21. Adams, William, Silcott, Washington: Ethnoarchaeology of a Rural American Community (Pullman, 1977).

22. Davies, ‘Mapping commodities’, 347.

23. Riordan and Adams, ‘Commodity flows’, 5.

24. Ibid.

25. Busch, Jane, ‘Second time around: a look at bottle reuse’, Historical Archaeology, 21:1 (1987), 67 , 77.

26. Ibid., 77.

27. Ibid., 67.

28. Ibid., 67, 77.

29. Ibid., 77.

30. Licence, What the Victorians Threw Away, p. 36.

31. Producers of high-end, expensive products did not need to incorporate a deposit into their price. These products would afford to absorb the cost of the packaging.

32. Busch, ‘Second time’, 70, 72–3.

33. Ibid., 72.

34. Norfolk Record Office DC 4/1/10, Council Minutes of Loddon Rural District Council 1934–6, 18th February 1935, p. 43.

35. Essex Record Office D/ROn 1/1/1, Ongar Rural District Council Minutes 1906–1911, 23rd April 1907.

36. Adams, Bowers and Mills, ‘Commodity flow’, 79.

37. These are only products that can be classified as being food, drink or health-related.

38. Food contains any product that could be eaten, for example Bovril, meat paste, fish paste and sauce. Drink contains any liquid that could be consumed, for example beer, wine, mineral water and ginger beer. Health contains any product that was meant to cure an illness or used as a preventative measure, for example toothpaste, cough cures.

39. Davies, ‘Mapping commodities’, 348.

40. Ibid., 347–8, 350.

41. Tom Licence, <> [accessed 8th February 2017].

42. Licence, What the Victorians Threw Away, p. 83.

43. The authors are arbitrarily defining local as within 30 km of the consumer.

44. The design of medicine bottles is distinct. Even if they were not branded, it would still be possible to identify that they originally contained medicine.

45. Licence, What the Victorians Threw Away, pp. 69, 74.

46. Adams, Bowers and Mills, ‘Commodity flow’, 73.

47. Riordan and Adams, ‘Commodity flows’, 6.

48. Adams, ‘Trade networks’, 105.

49. Licence, What the Victorians Threw Away, p. 10.

50. Adams, ‘Trade networks’, 109, 110.

51. Adams, Bowers and Mills, ‘Commodity flow’, 75.

52. Louise Hepburn, ‘Fenland's Ark! This Floating Church came to you in Victorian West Norfolk’, Eastern Daily Press (2015), <> [accessed 12th January 2017].

53. It is the authors’ hope that, eventually, a global database of packaging evidence from historic rubbish dumps will be established. This tool would enable in-depth analysis of changing patterns of consumption (such as the growing preference for branded medicines), the impact of globalisation (evident in the global movement of certain products) and the development of commodity networks and associated consumer choices.

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Historic Global Commodity Networks: the Research Potential of Rubbish Dumps for the Study of Rural Household Market Access during the late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries



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