Today’s junk can be tomorrow’s history. Now, fifty years after it was first introduced, the ring-tab beer can can already considered an historic artifact.

Archaeology site Western Digs explains that the humble ring-tab 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.

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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 realized 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—making it old enough to be considered an archaeological artifact.

Those first tabs were in fact discontinued in 1975 because their design—a solid aluminum tab with no ring—saw mane people accidentally swallow them. Fortunately, history has changed the pull-tab for the better. [Western Digs]

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Image by Shawn Bagley under Creative Commons license