Monday, January 23, 2017

Rubbish archaeology

THE TRUTH IS IN THERE: The truth is in the garbage: New research examines ancient Roman trash (Traci Watson, USA Today).
When workers began digging out the Roman cities torched by Mount Vesuvius, the exquisite wall paintings, sumptuous villas and golden jewelry they found quickly grabbed the spotlight. But archaeologists are now looking to a less glamorous feature of these cities: the garbage.

Over the last few years, a team of researchers has taken a systematic look at street trash, buckets and even storage containers from Pompeii and other ruins to understand the relationship between ordinary Romans and their stuff. The extraordinary preservation of objects by volcanic debris allows for extraordinary insights into humdrum possessions, the researchers say.

There's nothing specific about ancient Judaism in this article, but the basic principle — that ancient people's trash preserves important information for historians — is widely applicable. A couple of premier examples for our purposes are the Cairo Geniza and the Oxyrhynchus papyri (on which more here and here and many links). But there are endless more mundane examples like the Pompeii project. This analysis of day-to-day trash contributes much our knowledge of details that we would otherwise never have known.