Discard Studies often deals with “dirt,” but we mainly focus its symbolic representations and rhetoric, rather than the soily stuff itself. I struggled to find articles about dirt, the stuff itself, for our bibliography. The Journal of Material Culture has come to the rescue with a new article by Roderick B Salisbury entitled “Engaging with soil, past and present.”
From raw material to sacred clay, from wall plaster to garden plots, soil plays an intimate role in the lives of agriculturalists. In the lives of archaeologists, however, soil too frequently plays the role of overburden, or the stuff holding the more important things, like stones and bones. At best, soil studies are seen as essential for environmental reconstruction or coming to grips with formation processes. A more grounded approach to interpreting agrarian life involves an understanding and appreciation of soil as a partner. In turn, thinking about soil opens new terrain in the study of landscape perception, ideology and memory. This article explores the potential offered by the materiality of sediments and soilscapes.