Pompeii Poop

Pompeii Poop
Pompeii Poop
Pompeii Poop
Pompeii Poop
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  • 8/9/2019 Pompeii Poop



    90 discovery ch a nnel ma g a zine.com jun




    everybody does it,

    but no one wants

    to talk about it.

    PooP, that is.

    but thanks to

    some scientific

    detective work,


    digging in Pom-

    Peiis latrines are

    revealing new

    secrets about the

    citys lifestyle.

    by rachel sullivan


  • 8/9/2019 Pompeii Poop


    92 discovery ch a nnel ma g a zine.com june

    kitchens so most Pompeiians ate out.

    Latrines were few and far between, and

    in many houses and eateries were locat-

    ed right next to the kitchens so that all

    of the kitchen refuse could be thrown in

    the pit together with human waste.

    They must have been pretty stinkyat the time, but today they are just dry

    pits, Fairbairn says with a laugh. He

    is quick to admit that while they still

    have an earthy aroma, any poop smells

    are long gone. But the archaeological

    evidence is still there, rich and fertile.

    Its these unsavoury morsels that have

    Pompeiis archaeologists so excited. In

    the past 30 years, archaeology in Pom-

    peii has moved away from the big t icket

    items of temple excavations and the like

    to the minutiae of what life was like forordinary people, says Fairbairn.

    cHAnGinG TAsTes

    There was a revolution in archaeolo-

    gists techniques in the early 1970s



    when most people step

    in poop, they just

    scrape it o their

    shoes and move on.

    But to archaeologist

    Dr Andy Fairbairn

    with the University

    of Queensland (UQ), Australia, poop is

    good news, especially when it comesfrom the latrines of the most famous

    ruins in the world.

    Say Pompeii and everyone thinks

    of the eruption of Vesuvius that buried

    the city in AD 79, says Fairbairn. But

    the eruption didnt just bury exciting

    things such as sumptuous villas and

    richly jewelled female visitors to gladi-

    ators quarters, it also preserved the

    more mundane artifacts, like oerings

    to Roman household gods. And cess-

    pits, or latrines.

    In 2005, excavations in the Porta

    Stabia (Stabian Gate) area uncovered

    latrines and their perfectly preserved

    contents. The dig team, led by Dr Steven

    Ellis, Assistant Professor of Classics at

    the University of Cincinnati in the Unit-ed States and director of the Pompeii

    Archaeological Research Project: Porta

    Stabia, knew the material in the latrines

    was important, but needed someone

    who could help determine what long-

    buried poop might reveal. Fairbairn,

    who studied ancient agriculture and

    plant use at University College London

    in England before joining UQ as a senior

    lecturer in archaeology, had previous

    experience teasing out nuggets of infor-

    mation from prehistoric human rubbishsuch as middens and old cooking pots.

    He tted the bill perfectly.

    The dig site is adjacent to the main

    entrance to the theatre district and

    gladiators quarters, explains Fair-

    bairn. This was a much less salubri-

    ous part of Pompeii than that usually

    described with images of grand villas

    and the like. It was full of food joints

    selling staples like at loaves and pies,

    says Fairbairn, who has now spent four

    years excavating and analysing dozensof Pompeii latrines.

    We hear a lot about Roman stan-

    dards of plumbing, but in this part of

    Pompeii the arrangements were fairly

    basic, he points out. Few houses had

    oile reading 1890: The dea o tolet paper o a roll wa populared. 1710: The earlet kow wrtte reeree to a bdet. 123 ully-ladd 747 wh pp: Volume the ewer ytem the Uted state deal wth eah day. 1.5 m: Legth o large

    a rare glimPse into the daily life of a long-dead civilisation

    h uxpc, mssv up Vsuvus bu Pmp h by cs, v v bu su b uh by hss chss v hus ys .

    excv s s cusm shs py psk m-c

    Pss ay Fb, whspcss h chy hum ws y hscs ks bk PSb, Pmp (bv).

    Picking uP thspaag h

    avag Pmp la

    ad a k

    bag maal

    ad ak bak

    hy a ally m

    wa. Th l

    al ad haa

    ad a aly km

    uh aaly. Th h maal p

    -mhd v

    h mall pal

    agm 0.5

    dam. Th

    xamd ud a l

    dg m

    At a p h

    t ly paal

    ad 2,000 ya

    h agm a

    amd, D A

    algal aha

    Pug hm bak

    b a dv j


    hmal aaly

    pal, a by-pdu ha u

    mak huma

  • 8/9/2019 Pompeii Poop


    94 discovery ch a nnel ma g a zine.com june

    when some archaeologists realised that

    there were many preserved items that

    hadnt been systematically studied.

    Field techniques changed, and now

    rubbish, previously ignored, is collect-

    ed, notes Fairbairn. The development

    of new methods of chemical analysis in

    addition to the growth of biomolecular

    archaeology (an interdisciplinary eld

    involving chemistry, bioinformatics,

    biomechanics, immunological assaying

    and mass spectrometry, among others)

    has provided fresh insights into the his-

    tory of human civilisations, diseases

    and agriculture.

    The archaeology of food and drink

    is also expanding, driven by advances

    in forensic and other analytical tech-nologies in the 90s. Fairbairn says this

    type of archaeology was originally de-

    veloped for studies of prehistory that

    lacked written records, and has led to

    some very interesting nds that illumi-

    nate life in ancient settlements.

    Sera Baker, an organiser at the Uni-

    versity of Nottinghams annual Food

    and Drink in Archaeology conference,

    agrees. She is currently studying ma-

    terials from more than 100 shops in the

    ancient city of Pompeii.

    The archaeology [of food and drink]

    has risen to prominence in recent years

    towards exploring areas traditionally

    unexamined by classicists and archae-

    ologists of the 19th and 20th centu ries,

    she says. The early diggers understand-ably preferred the magnicence of

    monumental and imperial arch aeology,

    like temples and palaces, but lacked

    diligence towards the understanding of

    everyday ancient lives.

    In the 250 or so years that archae-

    ology has been developing as a science,

    understanding has progressed by leaps

    and bounds, adds Baker. Todays ar-

    chaeologists can explore sites non-

    invasively and unlock secrets of diet

    through microanalysis of organic mate-

    rials coming from e xcavation.

    Some ancient cities give up their se-

    crets readily. Herculaneum, which was

    also buried in the Vesuvian eruption,

    had beautifully preserved food stores,

    including ash-encrusted loaves of bread

    and bowls lled with peas. Meanwhile,

    Pompeiis food clues were preserved ina more primitive way down the loo.

    LoADs o rUBBisH

    According to Fairbairn, the excavated

    latrines were originally lled with or-

    ganic material mixed w

    ter. That water contain

    of minerals in solution

    helped to fossilise and p

    serve leaves, fruit, seeds

    sh scales, bone ends,

    frogs and even dor-

    mice a Roman cui-

    sine speciality, he


    The archaeolo-

    the eruPtion didnt just bury exciting things ...it also Preserved more mundane artifacts

    roman remaiTh rma a

    h aa y

    hlp mba d

    ad wh ama

    Aqudu ad

    wdd ,

    la wa d

    amu rma bah

    h publ l.

    b bh gl (latr

    mul-a (orawa ad away h

    m pp h du

    v. Alhugh dd

    phad wa

    ulk may h r

    Pmp dd hav

    ym. iad m

    had la ha

    lad u m m

    el hu uually

    b p ha lav

    h l h

    aa ad kh. H

    upa l hav

    d by ahalg

    ampl mal

    ak m h dw

    mg ha huma pad hugh.



    hs sss p

    s, whch wsu Pmp, ws kym p by s hcy jus b hvcc up.

    h m m Pmps s uhuh mch sp ss,bs h sm ms m h s.

    150 gam: Amout o poop produed by a hld eah day. appx. 200 gam: Amout o poop produed by a adult eah day. a 2,6001,900 Bce: The world rt fuh tolet were veted by people lvg Pakta idu Valley.

    ac Pmp ws m cy sm, wh ss h w bu hy busss jus s w y. hfs Pmp c h; mh scvs pf bs hss h cy hush mssuch s bws vs.

  • 8/9/2019 Pompeii Poop


    96 discovery ch a nnel ma g a zine.com june

    gists have also found a good cross-sec-

    tion of dierent rubbish that has given

    an interesting picture of what was go-

    ing on in Pompeiis economy prior to

    the eruption.

    In earlier periods, such as the4th century BC, people were using ev-

    eryday agricultural products cha and

    grains that you normally nd in cities

    where people are engaged in local agri-

    cultural production and are using those

    things everyday, Fairbairn says. But

    over time we nd dierent products

    cherries, grapes and dates, suggest-

    ing wide trade networks, and lumps of

    bread, but not the raw grains used to

    produce the bread.

    Other things such as garum a pun-

    gent sh sauce widely used in Roman

    cooking that was usually made in back-

    yard pits was still being consumed,

    but the evidence seems to indicate that

    it was no longer being locally manufac-

    tured. Researchers discovered the rawm