Monday, June 6, 2016

The History of Ancient Toilets -II

ancient toilets
Credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, OP, CC BY-NC-ND

Gardrobe – Small Chamber with Platform over Hole in the Floor

Toilets seemed to be one of the most important features of medieval castle and medieval toilets was an experience which several today would fight with. The public medieval privy had been the cesspit which was only a hole in the ground that was at times lined with stone or wooden planks. It was not better in castles and though the wealthy and the powerful could afford a much sophisticated toilet, the gardrobe, it was a far cry from the simple modern toilet.

The gardrobe was a small chamber with platform over a hole in the floor. Koloshi-Ostrow at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts and Jansen an independent archaeologist based in the Netherlands are among the rising number of archaeologists, infectious disease specialist together with other experts who have been making attempts on the history of the lost loos, from ancient Mesopotamia to the Middle Ages with a specific focus on the Roman world.

Their studies have shown a new way of learning about diets, habits and disease of the past populations, particularly those of the lower classes that had received scarce attention from archaeologists. It has been concluded by the researchers, that Roman residents went to their toilets with some fear, due to superstition and also because of very real dangers from rats and other pests lurking in the sewers.

Ancient Rome – Sophisticated Plumbing System

Though ancient Rome is well-known for its sophisticated plumbing system, latest research of old faeces indicates that its sanitation technologies were not good for the health of the residents. An archaeologist at Hunter College in New York, Hendrik Dey, had stated that `toilets have a lot to tell about, far more than how and where people went to the bathroom. Koloski-Ostrow has said that `one has to have a strong sense of self and of humour to work on this topic since one who works on it is going to get ribbed by friends and enemies’.

She had begun the topic almost a quarter of a century ago when Nicholas Horsfall, a classicist had called her over in the library, at the American Academy in Rome. Invention of some of the first modest toilets is attributed to Mesopotamia in the late fourth millennium BC. The non-flushing matters were pits around 4.5 metres deep that were lined with a stack of hollow ceramic cylinders about 1 metre in diameter.

Romans Extraordinary in Adoption of Toilets

Individuals would have to sit or squat or the toilet and the excrement may have stayed in the cylinders with liquids leaking outwards through damage in the rings. The Romans were extraordinary in their adoption of toilets and towards the first century BC, public toilets had become a main feature of Roman infrastructure like bathhouses, according to Kolosi-Ostrow.

 All city dwellers had access to private toilets in their residence. She adds that the however, very little is known about how these toilets functioned and what people thought of them. One reason could be that during the Roman times, few of them wrote about toilets and when they did so; they were frequently ironic thus making it hard to understand their meaning But Koloski-Ostrow as well as Jansen think that it is worthwhile taking up the topic seriously.

 They together with some two dozen other archaeologists analysed over 60 toilets all over the city most of which had not been described earlier, for their forthcoming book on toilets in the Roam capital.

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