Monday, 15 July 2013

Digging Deeper: A Load of Old Rubbish? A Quantitative Study of the City-Dump of Early Roman Jerusalem

View of Early Roman Jerusalem city-dump looking south-west
Following the discovery of a stone head - thought to be of a god worshipped by people in the north east of England - at an ancient rubbish dump at the Binchester Roman Fort in County Durham, UK, I took a look in the Maney Publishing online archive for other examples of when the every day waste of over 1,000 years ago can hold the key to further understanding ancient civilisations.

"Holy Garbage": A Quantitative Study of the City-Dump of Early Roman Jerusalem" published in the June 2007 issue of Levant details the chance discovery of an Early Roman city dump (1st century CE) in Jerusalem that has yielded for the first time ever quantitative data on garbage components that introduce us to the mundane daily life Jerusalemites led and the kind of animals that were featured in their diet.

Most of the garbage consists of pottery shards, all common tableware, while prestige objects are entirely absent. Other significant garbage components include numerous fragments of cooking ovens, wall plaster, animal bones and plant remains. Of the pottery vessels, cooking pots are the most abundant type. Most of the refuse turns out to be “household garbage” originating in the domestic areas of the city, while large numbers of cooking pots may point to the presence of pilgrims. Significantly, the faunal assemblage, which is dominated by kosher species and the clear absence of pigs, set Jerusalem during its peak historical period apart from all other contemporaneous Roman urban centers.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction:
Dismemberment cut mark on an axis and a long bone of a sheep-goat specimen.
"During the Early Roman Period (63 BCE to 70 CE), Jerusalem was a large metropolis (ca. 170 hectares) with a resident population of over 30,000 people. It was a temple-city housing the only shrine where the God of Israel could be worshipped. Large numbers of pilgrims gathered in the city three times a year for the main Jewish festivals. The city’s prosperity largely derived from its religious status; produce was brought to the city from the many small farms in the Judaean Mountains surrounding the city (e.g. Baruch 1998). Pilgrims brought animal- and plantbased food provisions to the city, part of which was sacrificed on the altar, part given as tithe to the priests and part consumed by the pilgrims themselves.

The greater part of the ‘second tithe’ was consumed by the pilgrims themselves, within the boundaries of the city. From the animal offerings the Pessah offering was consumed completely by the pilgrim, as well as greater parts of the Zebah Shelamim offering. Due to activities associated with the Temple and its animal sacrifice rites, Jerusalem’s population, whether native or foreign, was a major consumer of meat. While historical and archaeological records have given us a wealth of insights into Jerusalem’s religious rites and practices, we know virtually nothing about how people in the city spent their daily lives and the kind of animals that were featured in their diet."

>> Read the full article for free

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