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2,500-year-old toilet full with ancient parasite-ridden turd from posh family
May 27, 2023
An 'elite' family were riddled in fatal parasites according to faecal matter from a newly-discovered 2,500-year-old toilet examined by scientists.
The limestone slab with an access hole, which is reminiscent of a toilet seat, was found in an ancient part of Jerusalem, Israel, in a mansion thought to have belonged to a wealthy high-ranking family.
The good news is that the fact that the toilet had a seat and a cesspit shows that sanitation was important to the iron age folks, but it is likely they were affected by one of the main problems of the time: dysentery.
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Poo-scouring boffins examined ancient plop from below the bog and found the earliest known evidence of a disease called Giardia duodenalis.
The dysentery-causing parasites cause diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and weight loss. They affect children mostly, and can lead to impaired growth and development.
“Dysentery is spread by faeces contaminating drinking water or food, and we suspected it could have been a big problem in early cities of the ancient Near East due to over-crowding, heat and flies, and limited water available in the summer,” said Dr. Piers Mitchell.
Mitchell is the lead author of the study published on Thursday, May 25, in the scientific journal Parasitology, and an honorary fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.
On the limestone slab with the hole for defecation was also a separate gap for male urination.
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The researchers found one seat south of Jerusalem in the neighbourhood of Armon ha-Natziv in 2019, and another in the Old City of Jerusalem at a seven-room building known as the House of Ahiel, which would have belonged to an elite family.
CNN reported that the eggs of four types of intestinal parasites — tapeworm, pinworm, roundworm and whipworm — had previously been identified in the cesspit sediment.
The new study honed in on the microorganisms that cause dysentery, which are harder to detect.
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“While they did have toilets with cesspits across the region by the Iron Age, they were relatively rare and often only made for the elite,” the study noted.
“Towns were not planned and built with a sewerage network, flushing toilets had yet to be invented and the population had no understanding of existence of microorganisms and how they can be spread.”
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