Old stone toilet reveals Jerusalem’s wealthy elite had intestinal parasites

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Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

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In the 7th century BCE the wealthy, privileged elite of Jerusalem were plagued by poor sanitary conditions and the resulting parasitic intestinal diseases, according to a recent paper Published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. Analysis of soil samples collected from a stone toilet found in the ruins of a stately villa revealed the presence of parasitic eggs from four different species. This work should help document the history of infectious disease in the area, providing additional insight into the daily lives of the people who once lived there.

“The findings of this study are the first seen in Israel to date,” The author Daphna Langguta said Tel Aviv University and the Steinhard Museum of Natural History, a leading researcher in the emerging field of archaeology. “These are durable eggs, and under the special conditions provided by the cesspit, they lived for about 2,700 years. Intestinal worms are parasites that cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and itching. Some of them can be found in children.” are particularly dangerous for cancer and can cause malnutrition, developmental delay, damage to the nervous system, and in extreme cases, even death.

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Yes, it sounds ludicrous, but archaeologists can actually learn a lot by studying the remains of intestinal parasites in ancient feces. For example, according to Langgut, prior studies have compared fecal parasites found in hunter-gatherer and farming communities, causing dramatic dietary changes, as well as changes in settlement patterns and social organization that coincided with the rise of agriculture. reveals. The domestication of animals in particular resulted in more parasitic infections in farming communities, while hunter-gatherer groups were exposed to fewer parasites and infectious diseases due to their nomadic lifestyles. This is also reflected in modern nomadic communities of hunter-gatherers.

Langgut wrote that there are references to intestinal parasites in several ancient texts from the Israel region, and that “the Fertile Crescent probably predates other regions in the presence of intestinal parasitic infections.” In 2019-2020, the Israel Antiquities Authority began excavating the ruins of a larger property, known as the Arman Huntziv, or Commissar’s Palace, that dates back to the mid-7th century BC – that is, the first The temple period was falling, possibly between the reigns of. King Hezekiah and King Josiah.

Artist's representation of the toilet room that once stood in the garden of the Armon Huntziev royal estate.
yaniv korman
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Architectural elements of the limestone structures reflected the “Porto-Aeolian” style according to Langgut, and included grand window frames and balustrades showing expert workmanship. Spectacular views from the site include the City of David to the north and the Judean Desert to the south. A preliminary pollen check showed that there was a garden of fruit trees and ornamental plants adjacent to the property.

When the garden was excavated, archaeologists found evidence of a dense limestone object with a large water reservoir and a hole in the center – possibly the remains of a primitive toilet seat. Air pollen from pine at the site suggests that the toilet was placed in a small room either with windows or without a roof for better ventilation, while the pine would help hide the pungent aroma.

According to Langgut, there is limited archaeological evidence of latrines in ancient Israel, of which the earliest three examples date back to the Late Bronze Age—all located in palatial areas, indicating that latrines were primarily a privilege granted to members of ruling groups. . But so far there have been only two studies examining possible parasite residue in any toilet found, of which only one reported the recovery of an intestinal parasite’s egg. Langgut saw a prime opportunity to link the scientific literature with the discovery of the toilet in Armon Huntziev.

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