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About a century before the fall of the Byzantine Empire — the eastern portion of the vast Roman Empire — signs of its impending doom were written in garbage.
The researchers discovered that trash disposal — once a well-organized and reliable service in outpost cities like Elusa — ceased around the middle of the sixth century, about 100 years prior to the empire's collapse. At that time, a climate event known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age was taking hold in the Northern Hemisphere, and an epidemic known as the Justinian plague raged through the Roman Empire, eventually killing over 100 million people.
Fossil - Site - China - Types - Marine
At a new fossil site recently uncovered in southern China, numerous types of soft-bodied marine invertebrates were astonishingly well-preserved.
Together, disease and climate change took a devastating economic toll and loosened Rome's grip on its lands to the east a century earlier than once thought, according to the study.
Seeds - Elusa - Trash - Mound
Seeds recovered from the Elusa trash mound.
Elusa was already partly excavated, but the new investigation was the first to explore the site's long-ignored trash heaps, lead study author Guy Bar-Oz, a professor of archaeology at the University of Haifa in Israel, told Live Science in an email.
Architecture - City - Landfills - Time - Records
Unlike the architecture of an ancient city, which could be repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, landfills steadily accumulated over time, creating continuous records of human activity. Clues found in preserved garbage dumps could thereby reveal if a city was thriving or in trouble.
"For me, it was clear that the true gold mine of data about daily life and what urban existence in the past really looked like was in the garbage," Bar-Oz said.
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