Today, as we live in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, it is interesting to ask the question – when did all this actually start? When did humanity first produce standardized consumer goods, created with standardized materials, … When did we set out on the road to modernity?
The answer is: surprisingly early. And an impressive example of this can be found on a shipwreck found in the Rhone river near Arles in France. This wreck was an almost complete transport ship from Roman times and dated from the first century AD. Its oak hull was found, together with big parts of cargo in a muddy river environment with almost no visibility.
What was found on this wreck is however amazing.
In addition to amphorae and utensils, there were metal ingots of iron, copper, zinc and lead, the exact composition of which was noted on them. From these ingots it could be seen whether they were intended for the production of swords or ploughshares or for cooking materials and tools…
if the end product had to be hard or could also be more fragile. The standardized ingots could then be used by the blacksmith without further examination.
It was the same with the amphorae. There were standardized types of amphorae which showed the origin, century and – of course – the contents of the amphorae. They were so much a commodity that one did not bother to transport them back, but threw the used amphorae away, like our plastic bags today. At a breakage site in Rome, close to the Tiber, the fragments were so many that they even created a hill now named Monte Testaccio, which is 45 m high and more than 1 kilometre in circumference.
So, our ancient ancestors did not only start globalization and standardization early, but, alas, also pollution…