A BATCH OF Abraham Lincoln's trash has been unearthed in an old well behind his house in Springfield, Ill., and is being studied by anthropologists seeking clues to the way he lived. It includes chicken bones, eggshells, pottery and glassware.
There are fragments of fine china, which may be additional evidence that the rail-splitter didn't live quite so simply as his campaign handlers let on. But whatever is concluded from this study -- even if it is only that the Lincolns couldn't agree on who was to take out the garbage -- Lincoln's image won't be greatly diminished; he has such accomplishments as having saved the union and ended slavery to fall back on.
Most of the rest of us aren't so fortunate, however. The evidence of our worthwhile activities -- paycheck stubs, certificates of commendation from the PTA, bowling trophies -- is likely to have rotted or rusted away by the time the anthropologists get around to our neighborhoods, leaving us to be judged by whatever haphazard bits of junk endure long enough to be dug up. Most likely they will be things such as the six-pack of empty beer bottles the neighbor's kid pitched under the porch one night and a V-8 engine block in what used to be the driveway. Who knows what they'll make of that in the 28th century?
A society that generates trash on the scale ours does -- not just chicken bones and pottery, but everything from disposable razors, soda cans and Big Mac containers to battleships and weapons systems -- invites misinterpretation. It's bound to be a source of endless confusion to the professors and graduate students digging through its remains.
Perhaps they'll be able to put it in context and present a fairly accurate picture of our way of life. We hope so. But we can't rid ourselves of the vision of a museum case containing a "Typical North American Village Scene at the Close of the 20th Century." It shows a man in a wedding dress and derby hat using an electric guitar to paddle across an Olympic-size swimming pool. On shore, a woman is using a Toyota hubcap to hollow out a log canoe.