December 31, 2009

So anyway, back to toilets

Filed under: Biblical archaeology — acagle @ 12:26 pm

I spent much of yesterday morning investigating the old Essene/Qumran story from a couple of years ago. The upshot of that was that Zias and Tabor, based on some research done by Albert Baumgarten in 1996 on Essene toilet practices, found an area northwest of the Qumran village that seemed discolored. Soil samples contained parasites suggestive of use of the area as a latrine. Hence, if seemingly Essenian toiletry practices — contrasted with “normal” Jewish practices of the time — were apparently in evidence at Qumran, then the inhabitants must be Essene. There are (potential) problems with this work. They did not, apparently, look at all areas around the village so we aren’t completely sure that this is the only place possibly used as a latrine. The date of the sediment isn’t clear either, so we don’t know if the, well, poop, is from the same time anyway. (my library doesn’t have the Zias and Tabor journal online so I haven’t been able to read the original paper yet)

The Baumgarten paper is interesting though. The text that points to a particular Essene toilet practice is from Josephus (Jewish War 2, 147–149):

[On the Sabbath] they do not even go to stool. On other day they dig a trench a foot deep with a mattock – such is the nature of the hatchet which they present to neophytes – and wrapping their mantle about them, that they may not offend the rays of the deity, sit above it. They then replace the excavated soil in the trench. For this purpose they select the more retired spots. And though this discharge of the excrements is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it as if defiled.

The Temple Scroll also describes appropriate practice for setting up latrines although it differs somewhat:

You are to build them a precinct for latrines outside the city. They shall go out there, on the northwest of the city: roofed outhouses with pits inside, into which the excrement will descend so as not to be visible. The outhouses must be three thousand cubits from any part of the city. (11QT 46:13–16)

Both of these seem to get their basic idea of sanitation from Deuteronomy 23:

You shall have a place also without the camp, to which you shall go out [to relieve yourself]: And you shall have a paddle with your weapon; and it shall be, when you relieve yourself outside, that you shall dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which comes from you: For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy: that He should see no unclean thing in it, and turn away from it. Deuteronomy 23:12–14

Baumgarten goes into some detail on the cultural significance of the “mattock”; presentation of it was part of the ritual associated with becoming a member of the community and signifies the acceptance of the ritual practices of the group. This is all wrapped up in the notion of “defilement” of the body and whether certain behaviors made the individual ritually unclean or not. Was defecation an act that defiled the body and required purification? It seems that in the Jewish tradition at the time (note: I am a total neophyte here) some regarded defecation as an act of defilement that required some amount of washing afterwards where others did not. There is also the matter of how private evacuation is supposed to be. The text above indicates toilet facilities should be far outside the settlement, which seems to be in accord with other texts, a difference being in the amount of privacy: the Essenes apparently just squatted over a hole they’d dug with their mattock, while other texts (e.g., the Temple Scroll above) seem to require a special building (i.e., a single common facility as an outhouse). The difference is between permanent holes for common use, as opposed to a special trench excavated for each, uhhh, event.

IIRC, Zias and Tabor also made some comment on how this practice affected the health of the community. Here’s why: First, a wide area is being used by many people thus making for a wider area of potential contamination (i.e., walking across it). This opposed to a single or multiple outhouses with contamination restricted to the immediate area. Second, in an arid area, fecal matter left on the surface will quickly dry out and kill the various microorganisms, whereas buried material will not dry out and remain contaminated. Zias and Tabor made this argument in explaining why their samples a few centimeters down were contaminated. Third, they argued that the Essenes practiced complete immersion in a pool of water after coming back from defecating, which relates back to the business about the extent of defilement and what needs to be done to become ritually pure again. Obviously, tramping around on contaminated ground and then dunking oneself in a pool with a couple hundred other people is ripe for disease transmission. I don’t recall offhand what their evidence was for health effects on the population.

Aha, I do remember: This article was linked to in an earlier post. Doesn’t seem like really good evidence for parasite-driven disease/death, just speculation based on the demographic profile of a burial population. So pretty indirect. Also, another post links to a (now missing) article stating that a toilet was found within the Qumran settlement so apparently at a minimum emergencies (heh) were taken into account.

This got me thinking about some of these large dense urban settlements and how waste was disposed of. I can’t imagine everyone walking from one end of town to the other every time they had to take a dump, so I assume there were either public or household facilities available within the city, which had to be subsequently disposed of elsewhere. Was sewage transported to the same location as latrines? Was there even a central location for sewage disposal or was it just all dumped on the periphery along with other garbage? What cultural/religious differences controlled this? This also brings up the difficulty of siege warfare for walled inhabitants that I hadn’t really considered before: not only do they need a supply of food and water, they also need some way to dispose of the resulting waste and the potential disease associated with it.

I may be remiss in not creating a specific tag for this topic, but that doesn’t really bother me right now.

December 30, 2009

Lara Croft update

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 8:20 pm

Vaguely interesting Facebook application that I cannot quite figure out: Frases de Lara Croft. I stumbled across it while poking around amongst the Fans of ArchaeoBlog (not to be confused with the Friends of Carlotta). Spanish language. Attractive women seem drawn to it, so any of y’all single males out there (or married ones, whatever) may wish to check it out.

Speaking of public health

Filed under: Public Health — acagle @ 9:45 am

Ancient Mayans Likely Had Fountains and Toilets

The ancient Mayans may have had enough engineering know-how to master running water, creating fountains and even toilets by controlling water pressure, scientists now suggest.

Perhaps the earliest known example of the intentional creation of water pressure was found on the island of Crete in a Minoan palace dating back to roughly 1400 BC. In the New World, the ability to generate water pressure was previously thought to have begun only with the arrival of the Spanish.

Scientists investigated the Mayan center at Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico. At its height, this major site, inhabited from roughly 100 to 800 AD, had some 1,500 structures — residences, palaces, and temples — holding some 6,000 inhabitants under a series of powerful rulers.

I link this because of the, well, toilet angle. I just downloaded the paper and am about to read it. I recall seeing something about this on a TV show a while back (I think it was the Engineering an Empire series which is narrated by Peter Weller (Robocop) who is supposedly working on a PhD in art history) so the article piqued my interest. I’ve started to become interested in the practices and potential effects on health of, well, waste disposal systems or lack thereof. When I first started investigating public health in antiquity I started wondering “Just where did the ancient Egyptians do their duty?”

Great, I’m on my way to becoming the Toilet Guy.

It did get some attention a few years ago when a couple of guys argued that the toilet practices of the Essenes (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame) contributed to fairly unsanitary conditions within the settlement. This was part of a larger argument trying to determine whether the Qumran community was really Essene or not. I’ve been doing a bit of research in this area and there are some scattered references here and there. I shall, of course, inform you, gentle readers, of my eventual findings in exacting detail.

Back to blogging

Filed under: Blogging update, Non-archaeology — acagle @ 9:31 am

Yeah, yeah, light posting lately. I have so much time to kill I end up wasting it! The ArchaeoWife is still home (3 weeks of vacation) so we end up going out and doing fun things instead of me sitting here working on junk. Yesterday we watched the new Star Trek movie. I didn’t see it in the theater when it was first released (and I really wanted to) so I got it on Blu-Ray instead. Can I say, it was awesome? With some exceptions. (spoilers ahead) I think they captured the essence of the original very well, and the actors did a fine job with them. Zachary Quinto is a perfect Spock; when they announced him as the character — I knew him from Heroes — I thought he was perfect for it. The backstories were pretty good, and the reboot/altered timeline worked well to go in a different direction from the original(s). And I really liked bringing back some of the old old characters, mostly Christopher Pike, who was the original Enterprise captain in the TV show pilot (did you know that Pike was played by Gary Lockwood, who was Frank Poole in 2001? Now you do) So mostly, I loved it.

Exceptions: There were way too many happy coincidences getting the original crew together. Kirk got ejected onto the exact same planet the Romulans put Spock on? Which just happened to be the exact same planet that Scotty was on? Who just happened to have worked out a method for beaming people to moving ships? And the original Romulan ship just happened to show up at the right time in history? And the way they got Spock to step aside so Kirk could be captain was just plain weird. So, eh, kind of like a lot of cool stuff in the beginning, cool stuff at the end, and a bridging middle that was blehh. Still, a great flick and worth watching even if you’re not a Trekkie.

Oh, and I would drink Zoe Saldana’s bathwater.

UPDATE: Did I also mention that THE BADGERS BEAT MIAMI IN THE CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL last night? Ha! I thought they were gonna get blasted, but they comported themselves well. Almost blew it late by getting complacent defensively, but hey, a win’s a win.

December 29, 2009

Hmmmmmmm. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 10:30 am

Google, Dreaming lead to ancient crater

AN ABORIGINAL Dreaming story about a star crashing to earth with a noise like thunder has led to the discovery of an ancient meteorite crater in central Australia.

A Sydney astronomer, Duane Hamacher, found the bowl-shaped crater in Palm Valley, about 130 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs, by searching on Google Earth.

He was inspired to look there after learning of traditional stories told by the local Arrernte people about a star that had fallen into a waterhole called Puka in the valley.

I remain somewhat dubious. Obviously, the Aboriginals couldn’t have known about that particular crater from firsthand experience, but it suggests that they possibly witnessed other meteorites making similar craters and deduced from there. Trouble is, they’ve also had years and years of Western contamination that could go unrecognized.

Online paper(s) alert (updated)

Filed under: Egypt, Online publications — acagle @ 10:18 am

Egypt and Nubia in the 5th–4th millennia BCE:
A view from the First Cataract and its surroundings
(pdf). Academic paper, not just an article.

Also, Spectral Imaging of Ostraca

Fe-eling the burn

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 10:06 am

Handful of Iron Beads Offer Clues to Solve Mystery of Ancient Iron Forges

The iron beads that had piqued Øien’s interest were only 1 to1.5 millimetres in diameter. But they were sufficient to make her realize they might be residue from a smithy. It turned out she was right, but the number of forges on the small field surprised everyone.

“We found three different types of forges,” Øien says. “Some were small and circular, some were indoors, and a third type was in the shape of a figure eight. Findings suggest the smiths used one half of the figure-eight shaped forges for the rough work before refining the iron in the other forges.”

December 28, 2009

Hawaiian archaeology

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 9:38 am

Early ag lands identified

Combining technology and traditional archaeology, scientists have identified thousands of acres of land farmed by early Hawaiians.

The findings also have implications for crop self-sufficiency in Hawaii — that is, the possibility of ending the need for agricultural imports.

“At the peak of Hawaiian population, there were perhaps a million people,” said Samuel M. Gon III, ecologist, cultural adviser and senior scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “It takes thousands and thousands of acres to feed all those people. Where was all that farmland?”

I’m not entirely sure that this will have any impact on current ag in the Islands. One would think farmers will go for the cash crops over local subsistence although I imagine if some of the land isn’t currently under cultivation, maybe they can start something. Interesting the impact it will have on understanding Hawaiian history though, only briefly mentioned at the end.

Jesus house

Filed under: Biblical archaeology — acagle @ 9:31 am

Not really, of course: Jesus Era House Discovered in Nazareth

Just a few days before millions of Christians worldwide celebrate Christmas, Israeli archaeologists say they have discovered the first remains of a house in the town of Nazareth dating from the time of Jesus.

According to the New Testament Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which at the time was a small village of no more than 50 homes. Similar buildings have been uncovered elsewhere in the surrounding Galilee region but never in Jesus’ home town itself.

Nazareth Yardena Alexandre, head of the team that discovered the remains of the house told ABC News Monday, “This would have been a small house with several rooms and a courtyard. Since it was built on a hillside it may have been terraced and had more than one level.”

Sounds like a more wealthy residence.

Treasure update

Filed under: Antiquities Market — acagle @ 9:29 am

Staffordshire Hoard is wanted by the Pope and The Vatican

IT has been described as the “stuff of dreams”. It brought one archaeologist to tears at the very sight of it.

But the awe-inspiring Staffordshire Hoard, one of the most important discoveries of Anglo-Saxon treasure in British history, may be whisked away by the Vatican.

That is the fear of experts who believe the haul of 1,500 artefacts, made of gold and silver and decorated with precious stones, could be the lost treasure of King Edwin, a seventh century Christian monarch.

A new twist! Literally, a Lost Treasure. I imagine the Vatican at least has the money to buy it and museum expertise to house it. No big loss, except maybe for local pride, but at least it would be safe.

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