Faeces from early toilets indicates dysentery in Kingdom of Judah

A new study of ancient faeces from latrines excavated in Jerusalem has revealed traces of the single-celled microorganism Giardia duodenalis, a common cause of debilitating diarrhoea.

The latrines date from around the 7th century BC during the period when Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah. The faecal samples came from the sediment underneath toilets found in two building complexes excavated to the south of the Old City.

Both latrines have carved stone seats with a shallow curved surface for sitting, and a large central hole for defecation along with an adjacent hole at the front for male urination.


One of the latrines was excavated by archaeologists at the Armon ha-Natziv estate, a lavishly decorated complex from the period of King Manasseh during the mid-7th century BC. The other latrine comes from the House of Ahiel, a domestic building of an upper-class family from the 8th century BC.

According to a paper published in the journal Parasitology, the researchers investigated the 2,700-year-old faeces by applying a bio-molecular technique called “ELISA”, in which antibodies bind onto the proteins uniquely produced by particular species of single-celled organisms.

In their investigation, the researchers conducted tests to detect the presence of three parasitic microorganisms: Entamoeba, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. These three organisms are known culprits responsible for causing diarrhoea in humans and have been associated with outbreaks of dysentery. The results revealed negative findings for Entamoeba and Cryptosporidium, whereas Giardia consistently tested positive in multiple samples.

Dr Piers Mitchell from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, said: “The fact that these parasites are present in sediment from two Iron Age Jerusalem cesspits, suggests that dysentery was endemic in the Kingdom of Judah.”


“Dysentery is spread by faeces contaminating drinking water or food, and we suspected it could have been a big problem in early cities of the ancient Near East due to over-crowding, heat and flies, and limited water available in the summer,” added Mitchell.

University of Cambridge

Header Image Credit : F. Vukasavovic

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Markus Milligan
Markus Milliganhttps://www.heritagedaily.com
Markus Milligan - Markus is a journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,000 articles across several online publications. Markus is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW).



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