A First Temple-era private toilet has been unearthed in Jerusalem. While in itself the toilet is an exceptionally rare find, surrounding it evidence w
A First Temple-era private toilet has been unearthed in Jerusalem. While in itself the toilet is an exceptionally rare find, surrounding it evidence was unearthed of a rich fruit garden within a “lush” royal residence.
The term “toilet humor,” describes a whole set of jokes and puns about the human bodily functions and even extending into sex. This fact indicates that in today’s society toilets are most often associated with the dirty and lowly, but in history, the very opposite was the case.
While the masses in history defecated wherever privacy could be sought, most often regardless of hygiene, according to Yaakov Billig, an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologist, 2,700 years ago in Jerusalem “only the rich used toilets.”
Digging Up The Stone ‘Thrones’ Of Jerusalem’s Ancient Elite
Time of Israel report that the “limestone toilet cubicle” was unearthed in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. It was found during construction works at a new tourist complex in the area. Dating back to the First Temple Period (1200-586 BC), Yaakov Billig, director of the IAA excavation, said the 2,700-year-old private toilet cubicle was “very rare in antiquity.”
The excavation area near the City of David, Jerusalem. (Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority)
The archaeologist explained that only a handful of private toilets belonging to the rich have ever been discovered in the City of David dating to the First Temple Period. An article on PHYS says 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.” A report in J-Post quotes Eli Eskosido, director of the IAA, saying “Jerusalem never ceases to amaze.” The archaeologist added that he found it fascinating to see “how something that is obvious to us today, such as toilets, was a luxury item during the reign of the kings of Judah.”
A Bowl Designed To Catch Gold-Plated Poo
The private toilet comprised a carved stone bowl with a hole in the center. This was located over a deep, stone built septic tank. Inside the septic tank the IAA archaeologists discovered pottery shards and animal bones. Professor Billig said these items could potentially teach about the lifestyles and diets of the First Temple people, “as well as ancient diseases.”
The stone, First Temple Period toilet was a real rarity at the time, and probably used by the elite and dignitaries. (Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Beside the actual toilet contraption, the archaeologists uncovered stone capitals that once topped columns. They also found smaller architectural columns that once supported windows. Evidence has also been discovered of a garden surrounding the toilet that featured plants and fruit trees. For all these rich adornments and architecture features to have been used as early as the First Temple Period, the toilet is believed to have been used within “a 7th century BC, ancient royal estate.”
Ornate capitols were also found at the site. (Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority)
It Was The Pits For The Poor, But Cesspits For The Rich
While it’s perhaps not obvious, the discovery of this rare stone toilet is iconic of First Temple Period archaeology. This is when the legendary Solomon “had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s [Temple’s] foundation that be laid with hewn stone.” ( I Kings 5:2025 .)
As early cultures around Jerusalem rocketed out of the Neolithic period, stone technologies reached new levels, and this toilet was at the time state of the art living technology. However, the rich in Jerusalem were not the first people to enjoy stone toilets.
An article in Discover Magazine speaking with University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Jennifer Bates (who taught a university course on the archaeology of toilets) says the origins of the toilet can be traced back about 4,500 years ago, to Mesopotamia. Elites there built elaborate brick chairs coated with water-repellent bitumen over dedicated pipes leading to sealed cesspits. While the Jerusalem toilet is not nearly as advanced as this predecessor, in term of Israeli archaeology, it’s still exceptionally rare.
Top image: A rare First Temple Period toilet in Jerusalem dating back more than 2,700 years. Source: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ashley Cowie