Intestinal Giardia, which causes diarrhea, was found under the stone toilets used by the nobility of ancient Jerusalem. This indicates that people in the Middle East suffered from dysentery regardless of income level, the study said. published in the journal Parasitology.
During excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, archaeologists from the University of Cambridge in 2019 discovered the remains of two stone toilets that were in houses dating back to the 7th century BC. At that time, Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, under the control of Assyria, whose borders stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, including the territories of modern Iraq and Iran. . Then Jerusalem was a prosperous political and religious center, in which, according to various estimates, lived from 8 to 25 thousand people.
Both toilets were cubic stones with a concave seat, “with a central defecation hole and an adjoining hole, most likely for male urination,” according to the study. “The toilet seats probably fell to the bottom of the cesspool after the floor gave way.”
A toilet was found during the excavation of a richly decorated house in the area of Armon a-Natziv, one of the lookout points south of the Old City. The second is in a residential building, consisting of seven rooms, which most likely belonged to a noble family of the time. “Toilets of this period with pit latrines are relatively rare and were made exclusively for the elite,” explained author Piers Mitchell.
Scholars believe that both houses were destroyed in 586 BC. when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem for refusing to pay tribute.
In the medical texts that archaeologists have previously found in Mesopotamian clay tablets dating from the 1st to 2nd millennia BCE, there were descriptions of diarrhea, which often affected people in the Middle East. It was recommended to get rid of them, for example, by spells.
“These early sources don’t tell us what causes diarrhea, but they prompted us to use modern technology to find out what pathogens might be causing it,” Mitchell said. Scientists examined the remains of the cesspool contents using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which is an antibody-based testing method.
The research targeted three organisms that cause diarrhea in humans – the dysenteric amoeba Entamoeba, Giardia duodenalis and Cryptosporidium cryptosporidium. Tests for amoebas and cryptosporidium were negative, and several positive results were obtained for Giardia.
According to scientists, the found remains of Giardia duodenalis are the oldest found on the planet. “The fact that these parasites are present in the sediments of two Iron Age Jerusalem cesspools indicates that dysentery was ubiquitous in the Kingdom of Judah,” Mitchell said. “Dysentery is spread through faeces contaminating drinking water or food, and we suspect this may have been a major problem in the early cities of the ancient Near East due to overcrowding, heat, flies and lack of water during the summer.”
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