New research examines ancient Roman garbage
While Pompeii is known for its exquisite wall paintings, sumptuous villas and golden jewelry brought to light during excavations since 1748, archaeologists are now examining a less glamorous feature of the site: the garbage.
|Researchers comb over the ancient Roman amphorae [Credit: Laure Marest-Caffey]|
“We’re actually starting to see evidence of people’s choices and how they dealt with their objects,” says Caroline Cheung, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, involved in the project. “We get a sense of how people were using them, how they were storing them, whether they were throwing them away or keeping them.”
Among the sets of materials analysed by the PALHIP team there is the in-use artifact assemblage from the Villa Regina a Boscoreale, a farmhouse situated 1.3 km to the northwest of the town; a warehouse/wine bottling facility on the outskirts of Pompeii; refuse from cesspits under the sidewalks and on the surfaces of the streets that flank the Insula of the Chaste Lovers (Insula 9.12); and refuse from large trash middens dumped against the exterior face of the town’s fortification wall between Tower 8 and the Nola Gate.
|Roman amphora with carbonized contents [Credit: Laure Marest-Caffey]|
The objects collected from the farmhouse led researchers to the conclusion that Pompeians “basically didn’t take out the garbage,” as Theodore Peña said.
In the same farmhouse, in a storeroom of the kitchen, shelves held gear that “had the hell beaten out of it,” Peña says. "These included a bronze bucket full of dents (possibly caused by its banging into the side of the well just outside the farmhouse), pots with bits of the rims broken off and a casserole so badly cracked that it was close to falling apart. Still, people had kept them to use again."
In the wine-bottling facility, there were more than 1,000 amphorae. Many were patched and waiting to be refilled, presumably with wine, Peña says.
As for the street rubbish, although researchers expected to find lots of broken glass, they found almost none, which is a sign that even shards of glass were being collected and re-used for something else.
Whether the people of Pompeii were passionately recycling humble objects cannot be confirmed yet. However, evidence found so far indicates that “ceramics and other types of objects were being reused, repurposed or at least repaired,” Cheung says, in contrast to today’s society.
Source: Archaiologia Online [January 23, 2017]