Friday, June 24, 2011

Sacks of Human Waste Reveal Secrets of Ancient Rome

You might turn your nose up at sifting through hundreds of sacks of human excrement, but researchers are doing just that in Italy—and happily.

The unprecedented deposit is said to be yielding new insights into everyday life in the ancient Roman Empire.

Admittedly, at 2,000 years old, the feces "isn't remotely unpleasant," Roman historian Andrew Wallace-Hadrill said. "There's absolutely no scent. It's exactly like earth compost."

Ten tons of the stuff has been excavated from a cesspit beneath the ancient town of Herculaneum, near Naples.

Flushed down sewers from apartment blocks and shops, the deposit—the largest collection of ancient Roman garbage and human waste ever found, researchers say—dates to about A.D. 79. That year a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Herculaneum, along with its more famous neighbor, Pompeii.

More at National Geographic