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Ancient toilet discovery lifts the lid on life of the rich 2700 years ago

AP and staff writers, October 7, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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The 2700-year-old toilet found in Jerusalem, Israel, was carved out of limestone and was designed for comfy sitting. Picture: Israeli Antiquities Authority/AFP media_cameraThe 2700-year-old toilet found in Jerusalem, Israel, was carved out of limestone and was designed for comfy sitting. Picture: Israeli Antiquities Authority/AFP

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Israeli archaeologists* have found a rare ancient toilet in Jerusalem dating back more than 2700 years, when private bathrooms were a luxury.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the smooth, carved limestone toilet was found in a rectangular cubicle that was part of a sprawling* mansion overlooking what is now the Old City of Jerusalem. It was designed for comfortable sitting, with a deep septic tank* dug underneath.

“A private toilet cubicle was very rare in antiquity* and only a few were found to date,” said the excavation’s director, Yaakov Billig.

“Only the rich could afford toilets.”

Professor Billig added that a famed rabbi* once suggested that the definition of a wealthy man was “to have a toilet next to his table.”

media_cameraArchaeologist Yaakov Billig uses a trowel to clear dirt around the 2700-year-old private toilet found at the dig site in Jerusalem. Picture: Israeli Antiquities Authority/AFP

The cubicle has a carved stone toilet with a hole in the centre, positioned over a deep septic tank.

Inside the cubicle, the team found 30 to 40 bowls. Professor Billig said it was possible the bowls might have held aromatic* oils or incense* – early air fresheners for those using the facility.

The antiquities authority said the toilet find dated back to the First Temple Period* and was believed to be part of an “ancient royal estate” that operated in the 7th century BCE*.

A number of pottery shards* and animal bones were discovered in the septic tank underneath the toilet, which the antiquities authority said could potentially “teach us about the lifestyles and diets of the First Temple people, as well as ancient diseases”.

Archaeologists working at the dig site have also uncovered stone capitals* that once stood on top of columns, as well as small architectural columns that once served as railings for windows.

Evidence has also been discovered of a garden with fruit trees and other plants that once stood near the toilet cubicle, other signs of the once “lush mansion.”

Archaeologists have previously found a small number of ancient toilets in Jerusalem.

Prior to the invention of the modern flush toilet in 1596 and its widespread adoption in the 19th century, people relied on a variety of toilet types, including communal* outhouses*, chamber pots* and basic holes in the ground.

GLOSSARY

  • archaeologists: people who study ancient people and their cultures by examining remains including tools and buildings
  • sprawling: spread out over a large area
  • septic tank: an underground tank where sewage is collected and decomposes
  • antiquity: the ancient past
  • rabbi: a Jewish religious leader and teacher
  • aromatic: having a pleasant smell
  • incense: substance that is burned to make a nice smell
  • First Temple Period: a period of time in Jerusalem from 1006-586 BCE
  • BCE: stands for Before Common Era. This is the period before CE or the Common Era, which is year 1 on the Gregorian calendar that we use to measure years
  • shards: pieces of broken ceramic, metal, glass, or rock, typically having sharp edges
  • capitals: the decorative carvings that sit on top of a column
  • communal: shared by members of a community
  • outhouses: a small building that is joined to or near to a larger building and that contains a toilet
  • chamber pots: a bowl kept in a bedroom and used as a toilet at night

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New type of ancient human discovered

QUICK QUIZ

  1. How old is the ancient toilet?
  2. In which city was it found?
  3. What type of stone was the toilet carved out of?
  4. What were the 30-40 bowls found in the cubicle thought to be used for?
  5. What year was the modern flush toilet invented?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What Would You Miss?
Imagine that you could travel back in time to ancient history. What modern conveniences (like flushing toilets) would you miss the most? Write a paragraph explaining the things that make modern life easier (and maybe better).

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History

2. Extension
It is 2000 years into the future, archaeologists have uncovered your bedroom. It is perfectly preserved, everything is there. The archaeologists have never seen any of the things in your room before, so they have to work out what they are. Write a report on three items, or artefacts, that the archaeologists have found in your room.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History

VCOP ACTIVITY
Wow Word Recycle
There are plenty of wow words, (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.

Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words, and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.

Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.

If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.

Extra Reading in history