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The Scientific Method. An Introduction to the Inquiry Process By Keith Carlson Dept. of Anthropology University of Arizona. Why does it rain?. Why is the sky blue?. How did people live in the past?. How old is the Earth?. How do scientists know what they know?. Answer….

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The Scientific Method

An Introduction to the Inquiry Process

By Keith Carlson

Dept. of Anthropology

University of Arizona

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Why does it rain?

Why is the sky blue?

How did people live in the past?

How old is the Earth?

How do scientists know what they know?


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A step-by-step

process scientists use to answer questions and solve problems.

The steps of the Scientific Method are:

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1) Research Question:

The problem or issue you want to learn more about.

2) Hypothesis:

Testable Prediction that follows from your research question that can be tested and evaluated.

3) Methods:

What will be your procedures for testing your hypothesis?

4) Data Collection:

Record observations regarding data related to the problem you are interested in.

5) Inferences/Interpretation

What can you say about your hypothesis based on your observations? Is your hypothesis supported by your observations?

6) Sharing your conclusions

Scientists write reports and give presentations to inform others about their research!

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What’s Archaeology and Who’s anArchaeologist?

  • Archaeology:

    • The study of human activity and the past through material remains

  • Archaeologist:

    • A scientist who studies humans, past and present, through their material remains

    • Uses the Scientific Method!!!

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Bill Rathje


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The Garbology Project

From: Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage, by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2001

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The Garbage Project

  • Began at the University of Arizona in 1973

  • As part of their research method, project personnel have studied over 250,000 lbs of garbage from American households and Landfills since 1973.

  • Research Question:

    • What can we learn about our own society from the garbage we throw away?

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First, what hypotheses do you have about what the garbologists would find in the typical American garbage and in Landfills?

The Garbage Project developed several hypotheses and questions based on questionnaires and other general knowledge….

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Hypotheses and Specific Questions the Garbology Project Generated:

  • Landfills are filling up with fast food packaging and lots of plastic waste – as based on surveys of what many Americans think is in our waste.

  • Paper and food products biodegrade over time.

  • What is the relationship between what people say they do and eat, and what is actually found in their garbage?

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Methods and Data Collection Generated:

How would you test the hypothesis?

Systematically excavate, or dig

in landfill….

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Methods and Data Collection Generated:

… sort contents layer by layer

and bag by bag …

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Methods and Data Collection Generated:

Rathje and Murphy


… and record observations about what

You find!!!

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Project Observations: Generated:

1) Landfills contain almost 40% newspapers between 15 and 40 years old!!!

2) Plastic bottles, soda cans, and fast food

packaging less than 1%!!!

  • Items such as lettuce

    and old fruit lasted over 15 years!

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Inferences - What do the observations mean? Generated:

Do the observations support the hypotheses?


Landfills are not filling up with plastics, but with

paper and construction products. Items that we would expect to decompose do not always.

Recycling of paper products, in addition to plastics,

is not a major activity in modern society in comparison to the total amount of garbage!

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Conclusions Generated:

  • Recycling, especially of paper, needs to be a PRIORITY!

  • People need to find ways to compost!

  • What people think is in their garbage is not necessarily what is really there!!! and……

    • What people say they eat and do is not always necessarily the case!

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Important references Generated:

  • From: Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage, by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2001

  • projects/GarbologyOnline