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A huge spoil heap of pottery in Rome 8/14/2015 •

A huge spoil heap of pottery in Rome

Have you ever wondered why the Monte Testaccio, a mound in Rome, is so big? Surprisingly, this time Mother Nature had nothing to do with it.


In the times of ancient Rome, people used to rely heavily on olive oil. The only containers they had were the amphoras, which were ceramic containers that were mostly used to carry liquid products, such as oil, wheat and wine. Oil is known to have a chemical reaction with lime, which was a component of concrete used to create the amphora, making the amphora non-reusable. However, if wine or wheat was transported, the container was fine and could be used again.

Because of such high demand of oil and the problem with containers, all the amphoras, after one or two uses had to be disposed. That is when they decided to dedicate a single spot where all the used amphoras would go. However, Monte Testaccio was not a simple waste dump; the authorities organized the disposal process. All the amphoras were stacked as a series of levels and later on, the new containers had to be carried to the top of the hill on a mule just to dispose of a few amphoras.

It is hard to say when exactly the process started because the examination of the bottom level of the mound could not reveal a specific date. The approximations range from AD 140 to 250, but it might be that the dumping begun even earlier than that.

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