Parasites, Poos and Portable Loos

What can we find out about the Roman's living conditions?...
09 March 2022


portable toilet


Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of Roman portable loos...

Prior to the luxury of the fully-functioning toilets of today, the Romans nevertheless had their own portable loos, a new study has found.

Using microscopy to identify particles of matter trapped in crevices on the surfaces of a series of conical pots, Cambridge University archaeologist Sophie Rabinow has found evidence of 5th Century faeces! These pots were found near public latrines but had been incorrectly designated as storage jars. In some respects they were, but the new findings reveal that their actual purpose was as chamber pots.

Rabinow and her colleagues analysed crusty material from these chamber pots in search of any remnants of minerals or material that could help identify what they were used for. 

They discovered eggs from intestinal parasites known as whipworms. Whipworms commonly colonise the human bowel and can sometimes cause vomiting, anaemia and diarrhoea. Close to a billion people worldwide carry them today.

Apart from identifying the true purpose of these Roman potties, this other exciting aspect of this study is that the parasitic eggs the team identified have survived for over 1500 years. Rabinow suggests that the reason for this is as whipworms have a “a tough external shell, similar to that of insects.” Not only that, but the minerals that were excreted in the faecal matter preserved these parasitic eggs, and in this case for a seriously long time.

So, what can this tell us about the Romans and their living conditions? Rabinow explains that the Romans probably would have not washed hands between episodes of excretion and eating, which would have led to these parasitic infestations. In this regard, some people are not much different today!


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