Who of us doesn’t worry about whether or not the ancient Romans got enough fiber in their diet? Well, me for one. Regardless, that question is being answered by a team of intrepid researchers who tunneled down into a Roman sewer and unearthed not one – not two, but 774 sacks of millennia old Roman poop with the intention of figuring out what’s in it.
I’ll tell you what’s in it – poop. Mystery solved and I didn’t even get my hands dirty.
Of course, archaeologist are not satisfied with that answer. They aren’t about to let sleeping poop lie. They somehow convinced a check writer somewhere that it is vitally important to figure out what the average, every day Roman ate and what parasites ate the average, everyday Roman. Cash in hand, they wasted no time putting a team of researchers together to excavate roughly ten tons of what is described as “compacted excrement” out of a Roman sewer.
Of course, by “researchers” I am not referring to the archaeology professors who cooked up the project. If you think a bunch of middle-aged academics are about to roll up their sleeves and poke around inside an ancient septic tank, you are sadly mistaken. Instead, they deployed academia’s modern day equivalent of the Roman slave, otherwise known as the graduate student.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall (and I bet there were plenty) when the professor issued each graduate student a shovel, a bunch of sacks and explained to them what their free trip to Italy entailed.
“You want us to crawl in where and dig up what?” one graduate student says.
“It’s for science,” says the professor biting down on the stem of his pipe until the urge to snicker passes.
Another graduate student raises his hand. “Just one question.”
“Is it too late to change Majors?”
Eventually even the most reluctant of the graduate students gave in, which goes to show there are people in school a lot more interested in getting an ‘A’ on the mid-term than I ever was. A-shoveling they did go. Out came sack after loathsome sack of poop. Each sack was turned over to a team of poop sifters and, by “poop sifters,” I mean graduate students.
Side Note: Once again, I would have loved to be there when a professor stood before a group of weary, poop-caked graduate students and told them: “Have we mentioned the second phase of the operation?”
Apparently, ancient poop is a dry, dirt-like substance. It is also odorless, but that is according to the professors who stay topside while some mother’s son has to wedge himself into a deep, dark, poop-filled cesspool. To study old poop properly, you must sift it into piles based on size. Once sifted into the appropriate sized pile, the poop is handed off to a team of biologists and, by biologists, I mean one actual biology professor who stands behind a Plexiglas screen and directs a group of graduate students as they dig through the blackened mounds of crud trying not to inhale.
As distasteful a task as it was, those intrepid souls advanced the cause of trivia question writers, documentary makers and archaeology professors the world over. We now know what the average Roman ate: vegetables and meat.
Well worth the effort if you ask me, but, then again, I am not a graduate student.