Ancient Excrement Gives Clues To Daily Life of Romans

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Archaeologists have been given a lot of information about what the daily life of Romans was like by unearthing the Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The two sites continue to be excavated today in order to find out what life was like approximately 2,000 years ago. Now Herculaneum is the site of a new find that has helped answer a lot of the questions which previous digs brought up.

Scientists have been able to excavate a cesspit that was located beneath the town. It has unearthed ten tones of human feces and ancient Roman garbage. The garbage came from both residential apartment blocks and from shops. It is believed that much of the garbage dates from around 79 CE. That was the year that Mount Vesuvius erupted burying both Herculaneum and Pompeii in a thick layer of volcanic ash.

The cesspit was located beneath a district inhabited mainly by artisans and shop keepers. In addition to the remains of food and human waste, scientists were also able to find coins, semi-precious stones, broken lamps, pottery and lost jewelry. The cesspit measured approximately 230 feet (70 m) long, three feet (one meter) wide and seven to ten feet (two to three meters) tall.

When scientists first discovered the cesspit they thought it was simply another part of the town’s drainage system. They did find, however, that the area did not have an outlet. It was then that archaeologists began studying the area in greater detail. They found that by putting the mixture through a series of graded sieves that they were able to separate out objects ranging from pottery and bone fragments to the nuts and seeds that made up part of the Roman diet.

From this mixture they were able to determine that the Romans who lived in Herculaneumimage had quite a varied diet. They found evidence that the Romans of Herculaneum consumed meat such as chicken and mutton, seafood such as fish, mollusks and sea urchins and other foods such s fennel, figs and olives. Scientists are also hoping that they will be able to find microscopic evidence of disease or to be able to find microscopic evidence of parasites that may have affected the people of Herculaneum.

Herculaneum has been a rich source of archaeological information simply because the town and its residents were well preserved by the fast moving mixture of ashes and hot gas. Remains were well preserved because the layer of ashes was so thick. It created an air tight seal which was not broken until 1738 CE. It is a valuable archaeological site as it is one of the only areas where Roman bodies were found. It was difficult for archaeologists to find evidence of Roman bodies anywhere else as cremation was a popular way of disposing of dead bodies. While Herculaneum did give archaeologists a lot of information about ancient Roman life it has been largely unexcavated. This was because archaeologists preferred the Pompeii site as it was much easier to find bodies and excavate the city.


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