Excavations at Pompeii: the Ancient Romans Recycled!

The ancient Romans were master engineers. Archaeologists have discovered this for some time, thanks to excavations in the southern Italian city of Pompeii. The city was extremely well preserved by a thick layer of ash, and researchers have learned that the first steps of underfloor heating were already taken more than two thousand years ago. And apparently recycling is also nothing new.

Archaeologists have been excavating in and around what was once Pompeii for years. The city in the south of Italy was buried under a gigantic layer of ash in 79 BC. The eruption of Vesuvius Volcano killed at least 2,000 people, but also ensured that the entire city was extremely well preserved.

Masterful engineers

As a result, we have known for some time that the ancient Romans were master engineers. For example, they are taking the first steps towards underfloor heating, using concrete as the building material for the first time and are still world famous for their aqueducts.

But there’s more. Scientists have discovered that the ancient Romans already recycled! Garbage was collected around the walls of the city. Archaeologists have known this for some time. The big difference is that they have now discovered that the rubbish was not just dumped, but sorted and resold.

Garbage dumps and suburbs

Archaeologists found whole piles of waste just outside the walls of the city. They long believed it was the result of an earthquake about 17 years before the fatal eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These stacks were sometimes meters high and have already been exposed for the most part. But with every dig, new “waste piles” are discovered.

One of the researchers, Allison Emmerson, had concerns about rubbish dumps just outside the city walls. There the Romans had created a kind of suburbs. And so she decided to take soil samples.

Built with waste

From these samples she could deduce whether waste was left in that place or collected elsewhere and then reused. “We have discovered that much of the city is built with waste,” said Emmerson. For example, some walls are built with recycled tiles and broken amphorae.

“Almost all those walls were given a final layer of mortar to hide the chaos of building materials inside.” The piles outside the city were therefore not just rubbish dumps, where waste was dumped. The rubbish was collected, carefully sorted and eventually reused. Recycle? So we learned from the ancient Romans!


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