Taking Out the Trash in Ancient Jerusalem


Megan Sauter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 11, 2018)—One of the world’s oldest landfills was recently uncovered in Jerusalem. Explore this ancient landfill with Tel Aviv University archaeologist Yuval Gadot in his article “Jerusalem and the Holy Land(fill),” published in the January/February 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

From time immemorial, people have produced rubbish. Yet to an archaeologist, not even this discarded material is a waste! Just as archaeologists can glean information about the past by excavating ancient houses, streets, and temples, so too can they learn by studying ancient trash. What people discarded tells a lot about how they lived.

Situated on the eastern slopes of Jerusalem’s Southeastern Hill (the “City of David” or present day “Silwan”), Jerusalem’s ancient landfill dates to the Early Roman period (first century B.C.E.–first century C.E.). Through a systematic excavation of this landfill, Yuval Gadot and his team have been able to shed light on Jerusalem during a particularly tumultuous chapter of its history—when Rome ruled, the Temple stood, and Jesus preached.

In Biblical Archaeology Review, Gadot details some of the interesting discoveries from the landfill and how he and his team excavated this difficult terrain. They have successfully gathered information on the dietary habits, trading practices, and vocational diversity of the ancient residents of Jerusalem—and much more.

Further, digging through these ancient trash layers has illuminated how garbage was processed in the ancient world. The scale of garbage found at the Jerusalem site suggests that this enterprise was a public work. This is especially significant considering that not all ancient cities at this time had a trash collection system. Gadot explores why trash collection was valued and prioritized in Jerusalem.

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