At Georgia State, centuries-old trash reveals how Atlantans used to live

With the Phoenix Project, discarded Coke bottles and broken jars become treasure
463
GSU treasured trash
Typography by George McCalman.

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Civil War bullets. Wooden dice. Glass bottles of a then novel elixir called Coca-Cola. When construction crews were building MARTA’s east-west line in 1976, a team of urban archaeologists and Georgia State University students were nearby, salvaging and saving trash, trinkets, and the occasional treasure. Now, the Phoenix Project is researching the stories behind the approximately 100,000 items that fill roughly 400 bankers boxes in GSU’s Kell Hall. Dr. Jeffrey Glover, an associate professor in GSU’s anthropology department who’s managing the collection, says the artifacts show us what many history books can’t: what everyday Atlantans used in their lives between the early 1800s and the mid-20th century. “There’s power in materiality,” he says. Though the items are not on display, a growing list of interesting finds—researched by writing students taught by Dr. Robin Wharton—can be viewed at atlantaartifacts.net.

GSU treasured trash

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

GSU treasured trash

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

GSU treasured trash

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

GSU treasured trash

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

GSU treasured trash
Dr. Jeffrey Glover

Illustration by George McCalman

This article originally appeared in our February 2018 issue.

Advertisement