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The refuse that clutters New York City is typically considered an eyesore if it isn’t ignored altogether. But a closer examination can yield surprising rewards.

When you adopt the perspective of an archaeologist, the experience of walking down a litter-strewn street can become a kind of treasure hunt, where puzzling relics of the city’s past await you in the most unexpected places. We can search through the urban rubble with the same fascination as the excavators of ancient civilizations, making discoveries that connect us to a more immediate ancestry.

Decaying dolls and peeling lawn ornaments take on totemic significance as emblems of an imagined urban mythology. Busted tennis balls and discarded photographs become omens and auguries of an uncertain future, or enigmatic artifacts of an unknowable history. More palpably, each object holds a fleeting connection to the lives of the anonymous masses — everyday New Yorkers who, in losing a wallet or dropping a slip of paper, contribute to a stock of materials that boils down to the very essence of the city…

Or maybe it’s all just garbage.