Romans had a recycling system, evidence suggests

Hyperaxion Apr 30, 2020

Archaeologists have found evidence of a recycling system in a city destroyed by the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

A discovery by archaeologists at Tulane University in the United States suggests that, among so many innovations that emerged in Rome, recycling may have been one of the techniques invented by that civilization.

The Houses and Monuments of Pompeii, by Fausto and Felice Niccolini, 1854-96.
The Houses and Monuments of Pompeii, by Fausto and Felice Niccolini, 1854-96. (Credit: DEA/G Dagli Orti/De Agostini).

Led by archaeologist Allison Emmerson, researchers analyzed piles of rubbish accumulated beside Pompeii walls. At first, they were thought to be created during an earthquake that hit the city in AD 62, 17 years before the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius. Apparently, however, they were purposely stacked in strategic points of the city, where they were sold and reused in new buildings.

“We found that part of the city was built out of trash,” said Emmerson, in an interview with The Guardian. “The piles outside the walls weren’t material that’s been dumped to get rid of it. They’re outside the walls being collected and sorted to be resold inside the walls.”

Soil analysis

To find out how garbage was moved around the city, the researchers analyzed soil samples and found that some had more traces of sand, while others had more organic materials, depending on where the garbage had accumulated.

The Porta Ercolano suburb outside the northern wall of Pompeii. (Credit: Allison Emmerson).

“The difference in soil allows us to see whether the garbage had been generated in the place where it was found, or gathered from elsewhere to be reused and recycled,” explained Emmerson to the British newspaper.

Among the most reused materials were pieces of broken tiles and amphorae, which were “hidden” with pieces of mortar and plaster. The material was used as the basis for several buildings at the time.

Basilica in Pompeii. City wreckage was analyzed by researchers at Tulane University, USA.
Basilica in Pompeii. City wreckage was analyzed by researchers at Tulane University, USA. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

According to the researcher, the inhabitants of the extinct city had a different relationship with cleanliness than the archaeologists of the 19th century imagined. “We tend to assume things like that are universal, but attitudes toward sanitation are very culturally defined, and it looks like in Pompeii attitudes were very different than ours,” she told Live Science in 2012.

To The Guardian, Emmerson adds: “For the most part, we don’t care what happens to our trash, as long as it’s taken away. What I’ve found in Pompeii is an entirely different priority, that waste was being collected and sorted for recycling.”

Related topics:

Roman Empire

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