The cess-pits of Herculaneum
I have to confess that I quite enjoyed filming the TV documentary in Pompeii. You, oh readers, may not be surprised at that (imagining that there would be nothing that the don would like more than preening herself in front of a camera). But the honest truth is that I hadn't expected to enjoy it at all. I thought it would be a combination of hours of waiting around and being made to say things, on the record, that I didn't quite believe. In fact there was rather little waiting and no one made me say anything I didn't want to. So if things are wrong, I (and you) only have myself to blame.
What is more, we saw lots of amazing stuff. I'm not going to give the secrets away now (you'll have to wait till the autumn and watch). But one of the highlights for me was a trip down the excavated sewers -- or more correctly "cess-pits" -- of Herculaneum, in the company of my old mate Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, who used to be Director of the British School at Rome, and is now Master of Sidney Sussex College, here in Cambridge (pictured in his hard hat above).
This particular cess-pit serves a three-storey apartment block in Herculaneum and it is now famous because underneath the settled volcanic deposit Andrew's team discovered loads and loads of the Roman shit remaining -- almost 800 large bags of it to be precise. And in this shit (which I can testify is well and truly composted, as I shoved my hand into one of the bags and found it the constituency of rather fine soil) was found precious traces of what had passed through the digestive tracts of the people living in the block. Not to mention all the other things that they chose to throw down their loos -- which seem to have functioned as waste disposal units/dustbins. A lot of the sieved organic remains are now being studied in Oxford, and they certainly show that the residents were consuming eggs, nuts, figs and sea-urchins.
I hadn't expected to be able to see the chutes coming down from the top storey of the apartment block, nor the smears of calcified Roman shit still clinging to the walls down which it had fallen. Nor had I expected the whole thing to be quite so well built.
Roman drainage just as we always imagine it.
(You can see better pictures of this expedition here, on the Blogging Pompeii site.)