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Earth Beer Science Technology

Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status 120

New submitter kuhnto writes A simple relic of 20th century life has taken on new meaning for archaeologists: The ring-tab beer can — first introduced 50 years ago — is now considered an historic-era artifact, a designation that bestows new significance on the old aluminum cans and their distinctive tabs that are still found across the country.
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Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status

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  • by saloomy ( 2817221 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @02:37AM (#49508745)
    Seems that there are a more ubiquitous items we could designate? Why a form of pollution?
    • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @02:45AM (#49508763) Homepage Journal

      because they're plentiful and you can age camping grounds etc with them.

      • because they're plentiful and you can age camping grounds etc with them.

        You mean the old copy of Hustler laying there wasn't good enough to date the "ancient" site?

        Give me a break, it's not hard to date American campgrounds. The whole damn country is less than 250 years old. You guys act like we're carbon dating shit here.

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @07:29AM (#49509577)

          Give me a break, it's not hard to date American campgrounds. The whole damn country is less than 250 years old. You guys act like we're carbon dating shit here.

          We ARE [cahokiamounds.org] carbon [wikipedia.org] dating [wikipedia.org] things on this side of the pond. American history goes back WAY before Columbus wandered across the Atlantic.

          The United States as a nation-state may not go back quite as far as some European countries but only a racist idiot would think that history is just the documented history of white people of European heritage. People have been in the Americas for 20,000+ years. And the United Kingdom [wikipedia.org] as we know it today is barely older than the USA so don't get so high and might about how deep European history is.

          • by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @08:15AM (#49509837)

            Give me a break, it's not hard to date American campgrounds. The whole damn country is less than 250 years old. You guys act like we're carbon dating shit here.

            We ARE [cahokiamounds.org] carbon [wikipedia.org] dating [wikipedia.org] things on this side of the pond. American history goes back WAY before Columbus wandered across the Atlantic.

            The United States as a nation-state may not go back quite as far as some European countries but only a racist idiot would think that history is just the documented history of white people of European heritage. People have been in the Americas for 20,000+ years. And the United Kingdom [wikipedia.org] as we know it today is barely older than the USA so don't get so high and might about how deep European history is.

            But this article specifically mentions beer tabs, which just turned 50 years old, and have nothing to do with the Native Americans. Unless I'm missing something here...

            • by Anonymous Coward

              You insensitive clod, I'm a Native American and I love drinking beer at campsites!

            • But this article specifically mentions beer tabs, which just turned 50 years old, and have nothing to do with the Native Americans. Unless I'm missing something here...

              You're missing the fact that someone used the fact that pull tabs aren't actually terribly old to get in an irrelevant troll about how the USA isn't that old itself compared with Europe, conveniently forgetting that the history of the Americas goes way back before Europeans got involved.

          • by dave420 ( 699308 )
            The United Kingdom, perhaps, but you should see how old the countries of the British Isles are :) European history is deep. Really really deep. For example, the town I grew up in was inhabited for the last ~9,000 years. But whatever lets you sleep at night, I guess.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 20, 2015 @02:56AM (#49508799)

      Pollution is massively valuable to archaeologists, that's where they learn a lot about the society. Millenium old rubbish heaps, midden heaps, toilets etc. All a society without writing leaves behind is ruins and pollution.

      • by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @03:02AM (#49508815)

        In the late 80's I was surveying an area that we used to party at in high school
        It had been fenced off for over a decade and it was interesting walking up on old fire pits that had been left to the desert
        Among the discarded clothing and garbage there was an occasional steel can that had been laying undisturbed where it had been thrown years earlier
        I grabbed one for myself, an old Schlitz steel can that was rusted to shit on one side and all spankin brand new on the other
        Yay! Archaeology!

        • by dysmal ( 3361085 )
          Too bad there wasn't any beer left in that can. You could have sold it to some hipsters since they think Schlitz is good again.
          • They are supposed to have recently revived the original formula that they used in the 60's

            I remember that when I was a kid the pull tabs on Schlitz had little slits to either side of the rivet on the ring.
            You could bend the tab enough to breakit from the ring, then stick the tab into one of the slits by the rivet and use the tab as a spring to send the ring sailing across the room.
            Good times having ring wars with my friends while the adults got plastered, and yes everybody used to drink Schiltz back in the

    • Because beer.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      By that argument why bother excavating garbage pits, when temples and mausoleums are so much sexier? Well, because temples and mausoleums are consciously built by high status people to convey messages. Garbage (and by extension pollution) tell you things about everyone, including things they didn't think worthy of documenting but turn out to be interesting.

      • Temples and mausoleums lie and tell the story that they want you to think happened

        Garbage as no such aspirations and tells you what actually happened

  • America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @02:53AM (#49508777) Homepage

    Only in America could something only 50 years old be considered an "historic" artefact, archaeologically.

    That's the 1960's, people. Elsewhere, it's not even considered antique unless it's from 1915 or before. And, to be honest, there's an awful lot of stuff that's "antique" that's worthless. My house would basically qualify as antique and it just a normal suburban semi.

    This is what happens when you have only 500 years of recorded history and ignore anything that happened before then.

    I watched Time Team once, where they do an archaeological dig live on TV, The American episode was so dull because they basically couldn't touch anything. All the "history" was the top inch of soil. Over here in the UK, if it doesn't involve a six-foot-deep trench, you're not even getting past the modern rubbish into the proper archaeology.

    Ring-pulls aren't historical. They may be old, they may even be collectable, they may be something worth remembering for later years, but they're not historical. There's a bakelite museum I know of - fabulous place. Some of the stuff in there is antique, or damn close to the definition. But it's still just plastic. Nice to visit with the kids to show them how things used to be but hardly a point in history worth noting beyond casual interest.

    On the flip-side, I know a guy in Italy who goes through the Alps with a metal detector and still runs across first-world-war bodies, still with all their equipment intact. He has his own museum (and is properly licensed to do that, I'd like to point out). Even that is stuff nearly twice as old as this and of vital historical importance.

    Ring-pulls are still in my memory from being a kid 20 years ago. They aren't historical. Give it 50 years and maybe. But if they are "historical artefacts", then things like cassettes have been for years too.

    • Re:America (Score:5, Interesting)

      by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @03:09AM (#49508841)

      My mother's grandfather had founded a town along the border in the late 1800's
      The place has been largely abandoned since the Great Depression and we would take a rare trip down 50 miles of washboard road to visit the ruins when I was a kid
      There were a couple of people that had set up trailers and ran their own museums.
      Lots of stuff like the jar of whiskey with a rattle snake in it that an old Chinese man that lived there had used for medicine and broken pieces of my mom's family china that they had dug out of the trash pits
      Since then some of the town descendants have set up a web site and hold a reunion every now and then
      I'm pretty sure the guy with the museum is long dead, I doubt that he had any legal right to anything that he had scrounged
      That's how things used to roll in the desert

    • Re:America (Score:5, Insightful)

      by oobayly ( 1056050 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @03:32AM (#49508907)

      The difference between Europe and America:
      * In America 100 years is considered a long time
      * In Europe 100 miles is considered a long distance

      Certainly true for me - I grew up on an Island where we have monuments going back 5,100 years, but is only 174 by 302 miles in size.

      • Because europeans can totally relate to miles?
        • by ledow ( 319597 )

          UK is in Europe.

          Miles is just fine. We did let you borrow them, after all.

          However, 100 miles isn't a lot at all. The only difference is that you can go through four countries (without noticing) if you do that in certain places in Europe.

          Hell, it's 200 miles to get half-way across my country in it's narrowest dimension. We can do 450 miles for a long-weekend in Cornwall.

          Ironically, France is less distance from London than a tourist-y, beach-y destination like Cornwall.

          • In Florida, it's 350 miles from Jacksonville to Miami. Follow the road down to Key West, and that's another 150. And you've never even left the state, much less the country. Key West, incidentally, is closer to Havanna than to Miami, speaking of inter-country distances.

            A friend once told me of a college reunion where they gave a prize for whoever traveled the farthest to get there. The guy from Philadelphia lost to a Floridian who not only did the full North-South route, but the East-West route. Over 1000 m

            • he guy from Philadelphia lost to a Floridian who not only did the full North-South route, but the East-West route. Over 1000 miles totally within Florida.

              Then he deserved the prize for shittiest route planner. I can track 5,000 miles in Florida if I drive the costline a couple times before actually heading to my destination. Just because the guy picked a horrible route doesn't make the state that large. Basically what you're saying is the guy drive A1A and I-95 from key west to the Georgia -Florida line ... THEN decided to cut west on A1A back to I-10 and took I-10 to someplace like Pensacola.

              Yea, its possible, but its stupid. Its like driving from Atlan

          • Hell, it's 200 miles to get half-way across my country in it's narrowest dimension. We can do 450 miles for a long-weekend in Cornwall.

            As someone who lives in the UK and regularly visits Cornwall: it's a bloody long way and takes ages. I *also* used to live in the US and thought much less of travelling far larger distances.

            Then again crusing down the US 285 with cruise control set (tailgaiting and being tailgated by another car in the middle lane because that's how we roll in NM), one finger on the wheel a

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          The ones that aren't ignorant, shit-faced little fucks can.

          I suppose that might be a very small percentage, but I wouldn't want to associate with the others anyway.

        • Even if they aren't familiar with exactly how far a mile is, they know that it's a unit of distance used in similar situations to kilometers. It's reasonable to expect that the meaning of the saying wouldn't be lost on them.
        • The ones that can understand the use of English instead of their respective native language certainly won't be bothered with the archaic distance measurement.

      • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

        What're these monuments?

      • I agree.

        Back at university, our dorm was over 100 years old, and in my home town, just a few weeks ago, a restaurant has been closed and sold that has been run by the same family for almost 120 years.

      • by VMaN ( 164134 )

        I'm assuming you grew up on Iceland, but nothing on man made is that old on Iceland. Did I assume wrong?

      • The difference between Europe and America: * In America 100 years is considered a long time

        I hear this shit all the time from Europeans. Oh your country is only 200 years old. Fucking racist, we had people here 30,000 years ago, just because they're a different colour doesn't mean it's less relevant.
        And ultimately we're all 2000th generation African, so we all share a common history. It's not like humans in this part of the world just popped out of thin air 200 years ago. Your 5000 year old relics are equally my 5000 year old relics, since their connection to either you or I is so equally distan

      • The difference between Europe and America: European people generally have the ability to differentiate between "country" (a political thing, e.g. United States of America, or USA for convenience) and "continent" (a geographical thing, e.g. America). It gets a little trickier for us Europeans once we take "state" and "nation" into consideration too, but that is a different story.

    • You're mixing up "historic" and "antique".

      Yes, antique is old, but history is made every day. World Wars I & II, Great depression, Civil rights movement, Cold war, Fall of the Warsaw Pact... All that is history! Even though it happend after 1915.

      Heck we have historicans and archeologist digging up and recovering the remains of escape tunnels below the German/German-border because they are part of history and considered historically important! And they can still ask the people who dug them for help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think you are missing the point. When the pullout tabs were phased out in favor of tabs that stay with the can, I remember thinking that a thousand years from now discarded pullout tabs will be a valuable archeological resource. They are distinctive, ubiquitous, and indestructible, and because they were only used during a short time, they would conclusively date any architectural layer they were found in. Maybe modern circuit boards with their date coded components will serve a similar purpose. I wonder
      • Or a thousand years from now, an archaeologist might suddenly discover what those famous lines from Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" actually meant. Ouch!

      • by sh00z ( 206503 )

        I think you are missing the point. When the pullout tabs were phased out in favor of tabs that stay with the can, I remember thinking that a thousand years from now discarded pullout tabs will be a valuable archeological resource. They are distinctive, ubiquitous, and indestructible, and because they were only used during a short time, they would conclusively date any architectural layer they were found in. ...

        Exactly. I'm a contractor at the NASA Johnson Space Center. One day in the 90's, I was walking across a parking lot that had just been graded flat in preparation for a new layer of asphalt. I found myself in a "field" of dozens of pull-tabs embedded in the pavement. It was easy and fun to imagine some Apollo-era astronaut gathering. The Right Stuff, indeed.

        (of course, today, just bringing alcohol inside the gate will get you fired)

    • Rule of thumb: If somebody is still alive to remember it, it's not archaeological, it's just obsolete.
    • A normal suburban house may not get you much money. It may not be something people would watch excavated on Time Team. But to an archeologist, an average house is usually one of the things most cherished. That said, fifty years is just a minimum time to be considered historic legally. We're not going to preserve most antique houses, much less beer tabs. Simply, we wouldn't even consider the possibility earlier. It's a good time to start considering if something should be preserved, with an perspective decen
    • Only in America could something only 50 years old be considered an "historic" artefact, archaeologically.

      Only people who lack comprehension of history would be so arrogant as to think something has to pass an arbitrarily long age to be of historic interest. I used to own an auction company so I've been a dealer in historic artifacts. Some stuff is historically interesting even though it isn't very old. Other stuff is very old and of very little historical interest or significance.

      That's the 1960's, people. Elsewhere, it's not even considered antique unless it's from 1915 or before

      The word antique has no specific connotation of date or time. It simply means old. The exact date is irrelevant.

      This is what happens when you have only 500 years of recorded history and ignore anything that happened before then.

      Oh well I guess

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )
        You conveniently missed the part of his posting where he said archaeologically historical. He kind of has a point.
    • I totally disagree.

      What makes these old things interesting is that they show change over time. Imagine a museum with decade-themed rooms for each decade from about 1900 till now. There would be something unique to see for each room. Even the 2000s vs the 20-teens would be obvious with big desktops and blackberries in the former, tablets and iPhones or Androids in the latter. You could really see the style changes in the 50s through tte 80s. The prosperity of the 20s vs the austerity of the 30s would be

    • Over here in the UK, if it doesn't involve a six-foot-deep trench, you're not even getting past the modern rubbish into the proper archaeology.

      In America, we don't brag about living atop six feet of trash...

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )
        If you could manage to choke down your hurt pride, you'd realise he was talking about the normal detritus of modern development rather than actual trash. But I think you knew that, but needed something to make yourself feel better ;)
    • According to the article, it wasn't so much that the tabs were historical artifacts, it was that they could be used to date a location from 50 years ago. The example in the article was a campsite that was used during the 60s based on the type of pull tab on the beverage containers.

    • Only in America could something only 50 years old be considered an "historic" artefact, archaeologically.

      Crap, by that standard my wife can be considered a historic artifact.

      Um, don't tell her I said that, okay?

    • Only in the UK would 50 miles be considered a "long distance".
    • It's not about the can tabs per se. The can tabs have changed often enough in design that the can tab design can be used to date sites from recent history. Their historical artifact status also makes them a useful proxy to protect sites like campgrounds or festival sites that otherwise have little in the way of artifacts. Both of these properties make them useful in dealing with recent historical sites from the last 50 years in both North America and Europe.

  • by VMaN ( 164134 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @04:16AM (#49509007) Homepage

    As a metal detector user my historic artifact to junk ratio is going to get quite the boost...

  • A simple relic of 20th century life has taken on new meaning for archaeologists: The ring-tab beer can — first introduced 50 years ago — is now considered an historic-era artifact, a designation that bestows new significance on the old aluminum cans and their distinctive tabs that are still found across the country.

    Like people, things don't suddenly become more important or interesting just because they turned 50.

  • Paleoanthropology Division
    Smithsonian Institute
    207 Pennsylvania Avenue
    Washington, DC 20078

    Dear Sir:

    Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled "211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull." We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents "conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago." Rather, it appears that what you have found is th

  • Aluminum Cans [youtube.com] The guy actually opens some vintage pull-tab cans... for SCIENCE!

    The Hackaday article that video was linked from [hackaday.com]

  • Keep in mind that these were thrown into holes (some deep) as well as left on the surface. Replacing some posts a few summers back, I ran into a lot of these with the beer cans they came from.
    • Ancient people threw their trash into holes as well. It is a problem archeologists deal with all the time and one of the reasons sites are excavated and documented very carefully.
  • "bestows new significance on the old aluminum cans"

    I'm not sure that those ALUMINUM pull rings are fifty years old. Steel, yes, I suppose so. They've been around for most of my life. I remember people still used can openers to open their sodas and beers when I was a kid, sometime around 9 to 12 years old, I started seeing pull rings. But, the macho men and the big kids were still crushing their empty cans to demonstrate how many muscles they had between their ears. Aluminum cans became a thing when I

    • Your memory serves you well, the aluminium cans did not take off until the late 70's early 80's when the technology needed to recycle them [google.ca] was invented.

      Disclosure: one of the inventors on that patent is my father, his other research was in solar panels, ocean thermal engery (otec) [osti.gov], the aluminum air battery [ieee.org], the use of adhesively bonded aluminum structures such as the Jaguar XJ and hybrid diesel electric vehicles.

    • But, the macho men and the big kids were still crushing their empty cans to demonstrate how many muscles they had between their ears.

      The can-crushing scene from Jaws [youtube.com] was actually a fairly significant event in the relationship between Quint and Hooper when the movie came out (only strong men could crush steel beer cans with one hand, and Hooper is showing he's not intimidated by Quint's physical strength). To modern audiences who've lived with nothing but aluminum cans, it seems pointless and almost comic

      • Uh-huh - that is right.

        My own experience with crushing cans? I was a runt, so I didn't crush cans when I was a kid. Not even when I was a "big kid" in high school. I joined the Navy in '75, made a couple cruises, and during that time, aluminum cans became ubiquitous. (The Navy had them everywhere, at least.) I came home one summer weekend, and visited an uncle's bar. There were a couple people in there that I knew from high school - one growing fat and soft, another who looked pretty good shape. We a

  • So by inference, Jimmy Buffet (Margaritus Flipfloppus) is now archeologically significant as well.
  • They all went to China. Beers, sodas, juice drinks - so many use disposable pull tab tops. And they're the original US toolings that were pumping them out in the 70s and 80s. How do I know? Because the top of the can is still embossed with English, just like back in the day. Newer toolings (China sourced) are all in Mandarin, but you still see a lot of those older toolings used to stamp the pull tabs - English embossed and all!
  • First off, that should be "a historic". The author is clearly not a native speaker and it's slightly painful to read but I digress. The real what the fuck is:

    As an example, Schroeder cited a site that a colleague has been investigating in Washington: a campground that became one of the first major meeting places for the gay and lesbian community in the Northwest in the 1970s.

    “The site may well be eligible to the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property,” Sc

  • "...Blew out my flip flop. Stepped on a pop top. Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home..."

    You couldn't write Margaritaville today.

  • "I'm a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists!" (TV: Silence in the Library)

  • A response to those who complained (or bragged) that events of 50 years ago aren't "history", for whatever sincere or insincere reasons you gave, a reminder: history keeps happening. They will be history someday, if they aren't now.

    When you are 100 years in your grave, those pull-tabs and their cans could still be helping historians and archaeologists figure things out, perhaps in ways that we can't begin to imagine.

    Who would have thought fifty years ago that isotope ratios in human remains could tell us

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