December 22, 2010

Egyptian toilets and other paraphernalia

Filed under: Abandonment, Egypt, Public Health — acagle @ 10:38 am

I’m slogging through The City of Akhenaten, Part II The North Suburb and The Desert Altars by Frankfort and Pendlebury (1933) for seasons 1926-32 at Amarna. Specifically, I’m looking for, well, descriptions of toilet and other sanitary facilities. Unfortunately for me, that means reading endless ruminations on the significance of colored plaster in nearly every room and detailed descriptions of rafter decorations and arrangements. Any mention of lavatory facilities is incidental and so I have to read everything to find them. Well, I’m also trying to get a feeling for how residences were structured in general, so it’s not a waste of time or anything.

Interesting stuff. They’re Brits so I had to recall that “bathrooms” were for bathing, not for. . .’evacuation’ purposes. The latter they tended to refer to as lavatories (oddly, in my view, since the ‘lavare’ root means ‘to wash’). They haven’t yet described why they call certain areas lavatories, that is, no description of what objects or features need to be present to identify them as such. They also don’t identify them in all houses/residences either. The photos provided also don’t show anything in particular that would cause one to think ‘lavatory’. The bathrooms seem to be represented by sunken areas with some sort of outlet (maybe not always?) for water to drain out of, presumably as more of a shower stall. In a couple of places they note that a drain channel or in one case a pipe-like thing:

“The outlet from the bath pierces the outer wall of the house; at the outside a pot is sunk into the soil to take the wastewater”
. . .

“a pottery tube, no doubt an outlet for the bath or lavatory, which is found piercing the small screen wall in the northernmost room to the east of the vestibule, and to the west of the screen wall a pot is dug in where the tube ends” (p.27 for house V.36.5)

So it seems that for either the bath or lavatory, at least in one instance some sort of plumbing was added to drain the water to the outside where it collected in a pot or a dish (mentioned elsewhere). I’ve seen this mentioned on the Interwebs before, that some kind of crude plumbing was employed, though apparently not extensively. I wonder about the pot it drains into, and also from another area where the “ladies’ toilet apartment” had a “pot dug in”. Were they secured into the earth and not moveable, or placed in a depression to remain stable but able to be moved/emptied? If it was for bath water, why was it held in a pot? Was it later used for some purpose? How big was the pot? A couple of sources I’ve come across mentioned that pots were used for toilet duties inside buildings that were then emptied in some location on the outskirts of town with the rest of the trash. It also occurred to me that, at least in the case of bath water and perhaps even sewage, if the drain pots were large and porous enough, could they have been some sort of primitive septic system where water would slowly drain out? I’m hoping that when I get Petrie’s volume on his Amarna excavations he will have more detail on what exactly constitutes a bath/toilet facility.

Some other odds and ends are kind of interesting. One building (U.35.6 I believe) was apparently used by a painter since all sorts of pots with colored residues were found and in this one several human bones were found at the base of a wall: Two skulls (1 male, 1 female), 2 femurs, 1 scapula, 2 vertebrae, 1 tibia, and two pelvii which were apparently from two different people (or two halves from different people?). Odd that.

Although in the main Amarna was only used for a few years during Akhenaten’s reign, there seem to have been additional habitations afterwards (before as well?). Trash dumping occurred in common ground behind houses that were on the outskirts of town, but as the town expanded these were used as foundations for new buildings. In one case, an owner (building T.35.18) needed a storage pit (for grain, presumably) and dug it into old trash deposits and sterilized it by burning the base deposits and building above that.

They also argue that the place was initially abandoned, but it was unclear whether the owners thought it was permanent or not, as many houses had their doors bricked up as if they thought they might be returning at some point. They note that the richer houses seem to have been cleared out, while poorer ones had more stuff in them, which they hypothesize could be because the richer folks had the means to return and clear their junk out, while the poorer people just left their stuff there. Parts were also reused later, after the initial abandonment so it’s not quite a Pompeii-like situation.

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