Eli5 – Why are we finding entire homes and streets in archaeological digs? doesn’t anyone notice a street or building starting to get covered in dirt and dust? at some point someone must notice the old plato theatre is knee high into the earth?


Eli5 – Why are we finding entire homes and streets in archaeological digs? doesn’t anyone notice a street or building starting to get covered in dirt and dust? at some point someone must notice the old plato theatre is knee high into the earth?

In: 2940

You are assuming people are living there and maintaining it. Go into a Chicago suburb and you will see collapsed houses and overgrown streets and foundations. Even though there are a few people still living there they do not have the time or resources to take care of everything. Even things like theaters, why should the neighbors or the city care about cleaning an old abandoned arena? We have lots of overgrown disbanded sports arenas even today that gets covered in dirt and dust from just a few decades of disuse.

Whole structures do get abandoned sometimes.

Pompeii was famously buried in a single day from a volcanic eruption and perfectly preserved.

Settlements along the Nile were routinely abandoned when the river changed course.

Floods, wars, major earthquakes. The collapse of the government and associated trade. Mines ran empty. Wells ran dry. Sea route replaced the old overland route.

House burned down.

The planet is littered with settlements that didn’t work out for some reason or another. Sometimes people come back eventually and build over the top, sometimes they never return.

There’s also a significant survival bias for buried ruins – structures that didn’t get buried for some reason were eventually torn down or weathered away.

Here are two of the many ways

– They are purposely filled in. An impressive example is Pot Belly Hill, on of the oldest sacred sites on earth. The best explanation is that they were being invaded by some hostile forces and may have feared the destruction or abominations of their sacred temple. Over some time the entire thing was filled with dirt. It worked! Either future invaders never found it or didn’t care to unearth the whole thing all over again.

– Here’s something that still happens, even to this day but someone simply wanted to build a new house. The old one wasn’t filled with dirt but new landowners didn’t like it and/or it sucked. they’d kick in the top floor(s) into the middle while packing in good old handy dirt and rocks until, voila, a real nice foundation. Build new home on top of the ready-made easy-build foundation. I forget the textbook name for this kind of thing.

It’s worth noting that a lot of old stone and brick buildings became easy-quarries. So it may not have been a new place built on it but instead next door. They took a wall or two apart and used them in their new home. Soon that old home is just a kind of salvage pit and it can be filled with all the dirt they want. Hell, it may even be a great dirt-storage unit where they like to keep their dirt.

– I can only think of one warfare example but my memory is too foggy to think of details. Somewhere I read about some force that filled something with dirt. Assyrians? There was a temple which seems to me was in a cave or maybe a theater? The conquering army did not want it being rebuilt, used again or turned into a shrine etc. They had the entire thing filled in with dirt. So the opposite of preserving it but to bury it and disappear it as a ‘thing’ altogether.

I’d also say I’ve seen the power of a local flood able to dump stunning amounts of mud and silt and dirt into corners. If nobody was living there anymore (which isn’t uncommon over centuries many places were simply abandoned or large sections were) but I could easily see a local flood, say every century, over 10 centuries yes you really could find buildings pretty much encased in mud, add some odd earthquake, add 1000 years of wind, dust and rain and nobody lives there and I could sure see how that happens.

Think about it from another direction:

You’re not building over a priceless 2000 year old antique mosaic floor.

You’re building over a tacky mosaic floor from 30 years ago, which is totally out of style now.

You even see this in older modern homes, where you’ll often find beautiful hardwood floor under tacky vinyl tiles under brown wall to wall carpet – each thing was installed when it was new, covering up something considered outdated.

Mostly we don’t find anything like this. We tend to just find remnants like the foundations of buildings. The intact buildings that have survived from hundreds or thousands of years ago usually weren’t buried at all – they were actively preserved, often by being given a new purpose. E.g. some ancient Greek & Roman temples were repurposed as Christian churches.

Excavating intact buildings is incredibly rare and restricted to exceptional cases like Pompeii and Herculaneum which were buried within the space of a day or so under volcanic ashfalls.