The world has received a blast from the past, as an excavation performed in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem revealed a toilet from more than 2,700 years ago, or seventh century B.C.E. The excavation was initiated by the City of David and conducted by the Israel Antiques Authority (IAA).
A statement released by the IAA gave some more details into the finding. The toilet, which was located above a septic tank in bedrock, was crafted out of high-quality limestone, features a circular hole in the middle, and was designed for comfortable sitting (or as comfortable as a rock could be).
The toilet, along with the bathroom it resided in, were found in what used to be a mansion that Yaakov Billig, Director of the excavation, speculates belonged to one of the kings in the Kingdom of Judah.
Speaking to Haaretz, Billig notes that the toilet’s area was about 1.5 by 2 meters, or 5 by 6.5 feet, and contained about 30 to 40 bowls that could have held air-freshening substances.
Billig explained just how uncommon this type of relic is, and how it can give us a glimpse of what kinds of utilities were entitled to those who held high, wealthy statuses during the time period.
“A private toilet cubicle was very rare in antiquity, and only a few were found to date, most of them in the City of David. In fact, only the rich could afford toilets. A thousand years later, the Mishnah and the Talmud raised various criteria that defined a rich person, and Rabbi Yossi suggested that to be rich is ‘to have the toilet next to his table.'”
The Armon excavation also revealed additional artifacts, such as ornate stone capitols and small columns from a handrail window. Excavators also found evidence of a garden near the toilet that hosted a variety of vegetation, from fruit trees to aquatic plants.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the toilets we’ve become accustomed to today were first invented in 1596, but didn’t become widespread until 1851, almost 255 years later. Prior to those centuries, latrines consisted of chamber pots, communal outhouses, or—perhaps not the most sophisticated method, but definitely the simplest—holes in the ground.
Billig told Haaretz that the septic tank was discovered to possess numerous remnants of the old age, such as animal bones and broken pottery. Those findings signal that the latrine had multiple uses aside from just holding bodily waste, and also had to be manually cleaned by workers or slaves.
As Smithsonian Magazine explains, there have been a number of instances where toilets have been found in Jerusalem, such as one in a building that was known as the House of Aheil. Another was excavated outside of Jerusalem, in the former city of Tel Lachish, although that specific toilet’s intended purposes are still debated by historians to this day.
IAA Director Eli Eskosido expressed his feelings on the kinds of perspectives excavation findings bring with them.
“It is fascinating to see how something obvious to us today, such as toilets, was a luxury item during the reign of the kings of Judah. Jerusalem never ceases to amaze.”
While uncovered treasures certainly help us to better understand societies in biblical times, they should also provide us with a little appreciation for modernity. Next time you head to the store to purchase a new toilet seat, be thankful you aren’t making a trip to the quarry instead.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.