Main content area

Cesspits and the P-P-P-P-problem: The pitfall of the Pompeii premise and the palimpsest

van Oosten, Roos
Quaternary international 2017 v.460 pp. 22-29
archaeology, cleaning, stratigraphy
Given their high yield of artefacts and ecofacts, cesspits are afforded much time and effort in urban archaeology. While historical sources reveal that cesspits were emptied at regular intervals every few years, archaeologists still treat cesspits as closed contexts where artefacts lie fossilized and undisturbed by subsequent cultural or natural processes. This ‘archaeological blind spot’ results from the application of traditional archaeological methods without sufficient attention being paid to cesspit cleaning activities.This article calls for a re-evaluation of the formation processes associated with archaeological examples of cesspits and for an integrated analysis of the different materials—ceramics, organics, etc.—that are present. These may have entered the cesspit at different times as a result of successive episodes of use and cleaning, resulting in different dates for the cesspit, all of which may be valid in defining its history. If artefacts and ecofacts are studied in isolation from the other materials in the cesspit without a full understanding of its formation and stratigraphy, the result may be quite misleading.