Ring-Pull Beer Cans Now Count as Historic Artefacts in the US

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Today’s junk can be tomorrow’s history. Now, fifty years after it was first introduced, the ring-pull beer can is already considered an historic artefact by US convention.

Archaeology site Western Digs explains that the humble ring-pull design has passed the 50-year threshold after which it is eligible to be recorded as an archaeological find. “This means that even beverage-can pull tabs are eligible for protection under state and federal laws,” explained William Schroeder, an archaeologist at firm Reiss-Landreau Research, to Western Digs.

Schroeder came to the realisation when he was involved in a dig that unearthed some refuse — much of which appeared to be “vintage,” in his words. While he identified some of the packaging, dating the objects to 1968 — a little shy of the 50-year cut-off — he realised that provision must be made so archaeologists could actually use pull-tabs to date sites more accurately over the coming decades.

Indeed, there’s a surprisingly rich history of mapping out the changing style of can ring-tabs, so Schroeder has assembled existing evidence into a “key card” that archaeologists can use when they’re out in the field. The earliest style described on the card was manufactured in 1965, which makes it old enough to be considered an archaeological artefact.

Those first ring-pull tabs were in fact discontinued in 1975 because their design — a solid aluminium tab with no ring — saw many people accidentally swallow them. Fortunately, history has changed the little piece of metal's design for the better. [Western Digs]

Image by Shawn Bagley under Creative Commons license