What did the ancient Romans use as portable toilets? - study

The recent discovery confirmed for the first time that parasite eggs have been identified inside a Roman pot and were likely to have contained feces.

Ancient Pottery (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Ancient Pottery
(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

Ancient Romans from the 5th century CE needed to relieve themselves just as people do today, and a study conducted by researchers from Cambridge University and the University of British Columbia may have identified what items they used for portable toilets.

According to the peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports on Friday, they used chamber pots, which are one of the more difficult ceramic items to identify in Roman pottery studies, the report says.

"Pots of this type have been recognized quite widely in the Roman Empire. The discovery of many in or near public latrines had led to a suggestion that they might have been used as chamber pots, but until now, proof has been lacking." according to Roger Wilson, a professor at British Columbia's department of classical, Near Eastern and religious studies.

At Cambridge, researchers studied the inside of a ceramic pot dating back to the Roman period, specifically analyzing the crusty material. Microscopy was used to identify intestinal parasites - which researchers then identified as whipworm eggs, confirming that the pot once had human feces. 

Whipworms are parasites about five-centimeter long that live on the lining of people's intestines, where their eggs get mixed with human feces. 

Roman-era statues discovered near burial site in Beit Shean (credit: EYTAN KLEIN/IAA)Roman-era statues discovered near burial site in Beit Shean (credit: EYTAN KLEIN/IAA)

And the recent discovery by Cambridge researchers confirmed the first time that parasite eggs have been identified inside a Roman pot and were likely to have contained feces.