First Temple period toilet reveals poor sanitary conditions of the elite

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Researchers in Israel have revealed through a study details of stone toilet of a magnificent private estate and remains of 2,700-year-old intestinal worm eggs below the toilet giving us a glimpse of sanitary conditions of the elite wealthy residents of Jerusalem at that time and the diseases and epidemics they might have suffered from.

The study by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority shows that the egg remnants belong to four different types of intestinal parasites: roundworm, tapeworm, whipworm, and pinworm. The article was recently published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

Researchers collected sediment samples from underneath the stone toilet, where the cesspit was located. Next, in her laboratory, she chemically extracted the parasite eggs, scrutinized them under a light microscope, and identified them. The egg remains were discovered as part of a salvage excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Researchers believe that intestinal disease at the time might have been due to poor sanitary conditions that caused fecal contamination of food and drinking water. Or, it might have been due to a lack of hygiene awareness, such as a failure to wash hands. Other possible sources of infection were the use of human feces to fertilize field crops and the consumption of improperly cooked beef or pork.

In the absence of medicine, recovery from intestinal worms was difficult to impossible, and those infected could suffer from the parasites for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is quite possible that the findings of the study indicate a bothersome and long-lasting infectious disease (comparable to lice and pinworms in the kindergartens of today) that affected the entire population. Researchers point out that these parasites still exist today, but the modern Western world has developed effective diagnostic means and medications, so they don’t turn into an epidemic.

Researchers identify microscopic remains of intestinal worm eggs to learn about the history of diseases and epidemics. This area provides new information regarding human health, hygiene, lifestyle, and sanitary conditions.

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