December 30, 2009

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.

1 Comment

  1. A few years ago, I was helping some colleagues read an old French map of an Assyrian palace excavation. They were baffled by what a “pissoir” was because it wasn’t in their dictionary.

    Comment by Lugal — December 30, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

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