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Did the Romans Ever Conduct Archaeological Expeditions In Search of Ancient Artifacts?

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Did the Romans ever conduct archaeological expeditions (in Egypt or Mesopotamia, for example) in search of ancient artifacts? Many of the civilizations in the Levant and the Middle East predated the Romans by as much as the Romans predated us. Did they ever try to dig up ancient ruins and catalogue them, the way we do?

Steve Theodore:

Not in the modern sense; the idea of systematically looking around for the unknown wasn’t really on their radar.

They were certainly interested in the past in a general sort of way—the famous image of emperor Trajan, wandering alone through the ruins of Babylon, comes to mind—but they didn’t have the notion of a sustained, deliberate effort to reconstruct the past from its physical remains.

Like many ancient cultures, they did have a lively interest in their own history (and, as their empire expanded, they patronized the antiquarian interests of their clients and subjects as well). A public-spirited Roman—or, later on, an emperor looking for good press—could always sponsor the renovation of an ancient shrine or the revival of a forgotten religious observance as an act of both piety and heritage preservation. Augustus, for example, was particularly fond of these kinds of projects because they fit in neatly with the conservative, patriotic gloss he put on his reign—he revived old rites (like the Lupercalia), refurbished sacred sites (one of the proudest boasts of his autobiography was the renewal of 82 different temples), and sponsored antiquarian research focused on the preservation of old traditions (like the works of Varro).

One of the most famous examples of this kind of antiquarian reverence is the Lapis Niger, one of the oldest surviving Latin inscriptions. It was part of a ritual complex of some kind built in the earliest days of the Republic, but the site was destroyed—probably during the Gallic sack of Rome around 390 BCE. The site seems not to have been rebuilt, but at some point in the first century BCE, it was protected with a pavement cover and a wall which protected it from the elements and from trespass. Later people weren’t certain what the site was—the majority opinion was that it was the tomb of Romulus, but there were many conflicting stories—but they clearly took care that the site be preserved and memorialized.


The site of the Lapis Niger. The “roof” is a carefully constructed covering from the 1st century BCE; underneath is the original monument from 500 years earlier.


The same site with the roof peeled away, showing the very ancient site under the Augustan pavements.

Plenty of other Romans undertook investigations of the mysteries of the past—from the emperor Claudius, who wrote a 20-volume history of the Etruscans, to obscure bureaucrat John Lydus, who wrote treatises on obscure Roman rituals in Christian Byzantium five centuries later. But the big difference between this interest in antiquities—what the Greeks called archaiologia—and the modern practice is that descriptive accuracy was a secondary concern at best. For example, no ancient source records or tries to make sense of the actual inscription on the Lapis Niger itself, even though it must have been visible when the site was rehabilitated. No modern archaeologist would document the existence of such an artifact without recopying the text.

The “revival” of an ancient rite or the rebuilding of an old site was a very public, political affair with an agenda that had little to do with anything we’d recognize as science. Debating the sources of an obscure custom or the meaning of a cryptic text was a fascinating hobby. But the people footing the bills for such enterprises always had the present, and not the past, foremost in their minds.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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