Analysis of Garbage Reveals Pompeii Residents Are Recycling

Nareeta Martin / Unsplash

Garbage or used materials are collected and sorted. Then it is used as a building material.—Recycling stuff rubbish not something that is done in modern times alone. Before the Mountain Vesuvius envelop Pompeii with volcanic ash, the waste is used as building material.

Archaeologists have found evidence that the inhabitants of Pompeii did the recycling rubbish. They piled up trash on the wall the city then sorts them out for reuse in new projects.

For researcher, led by Tulane University archaeologist Allison Emmerson, analyzed the soil samples. This soil is taken from the garbage dug in and around the city. Soil in garbage varies depending on where it is dumped. The sewage pit leaves traces of organic soil. Meanwhile, garbage dumped on the streets or piled up outside the city walls is covered with sandy sediment.

“Soil differences allow us to see if waste has been generated where it was found. Or collected from elsewhere for reuse and recycling,” said Emmerson.

The team found signs of the same sandy soil that was in the mounds of trash on some of the walls of Pompeii’s buildings. The core of this structure is made of reused materials. Materials found ranged from crushed tiles to amphora (a type of urn) and lumps of mortar and plaster. The outer surface of the wall is covered in a layer of plaster that hides the ‘mess of materials’ found within, according to Emmerson.

“This evidence shows that piles outside the walls are not materials to be removed,” said the archaeologist. The trash or used materials are outside the walls to be collected and sorted. Then they will be used as building materials.

Team findings refute theory earlier about the origins of the piles of garbage found in Pompeii. 19th century archaeologists suspect the pile represents debris cleared from Pompeii after earthquake. An earthquake rocked the city in AD 62, 17 years before a volcanic eruption killed the town’s inhabitants. The majority of the mounds were actually removed by archaeologists during the 20th century.

“While working outside Pompeii, I saw the city extend into the neighborhood beyond the walls. So it doesn’t make sense to me that the suburbs are also used as landfills,” Emmerson added.

Emmerson argues that the ancient Romans viewed suburban mounds of garbage differently. Not what modern people think of landfills. The sites were found in the busiest areas on the outskirts of the city. Instead of functioning as a landfill, it is used for recycling and reuse.

“In modern times, many don’t care about trash, as long as it’s out of sight and taken away,” says Emmerson. What was found in Pompeii was very different priorities, garbage collected and sorted for recycling.


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