Sunday, June 28, 2020

Disposable Cups

How long ago do you think disposable cups were invented?

They were definitely in use by the mid-20th century.  I remember seeing them in my dentist's office when I was a child, having my teeth examined, and I am 61 years old.

Do they go back farther than that?  Yes.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, paper cups go back to imperial China.  One can make sturdy but disposable cups from bamboo with primitive tools. It's also possible to make very temporary cups out of leaves or grasses.

But how about disposable cups that are durable enough to show up in the archaeological record? It turns out that there were small, cheaply made pottery cups that have been found by archaeologists in contexts and quantities clearly indicating that the cups were considered to be disposable.

One is a news article from that may be read here.  This article describes an archaeological find under the courtyard of Schloss Wittenberg of many broken pottery cups and deer bones, apparently thrown there after a feast sometime in the 15th century.

The other find is a 3,500-year-old find on the island of Crete.  The find consists of fragments of thousands of thin pottery cups.  This news article from USA Today includes a picture of an unbroken example of such a cup, which went on display late last year at the British Museum.

I don't usually agree with the adage, "There is nothing new under the sun," but it may be true here; apparently humans have appreciated throw-away convenience for a long time.

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