Paleoparasitologists find eggs of intestinal parasites in ancient Roman chamber pot

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleoparasitologists examined samples of plaque formed inside an ancient Roman ceramic vessel, which was found in Sicily during the excavation of an ancient bath complex.

They found numerous whipworm eggs, which confirmed the initial hypothesis about the purpose of this artifact – visitors to the baths used it in the 5th century AD as a chamber pot.

A few kilometers from the Sicilian city of Enna, archaeologists discovered in 1994 a small villa of the late Roman period, which was built around 370-375 AD. One of the corridors of this structure was lined with polychrome geometric mosaics.

The floor of another corridor, according to the researchers, has always remained earthen. Apparently, this indicates that the construction of this complex was not fully completed.

Excavations have shown that this monument was destroyed by a fire that occurred between 450 and 530, as indicated by the discovery of a vault with thousands of charred grains.

Next to the villa, which was often visited by people in the 5th century, scientists found the remains of a bath complex. The walls of this building were faced with marble, and on the floors there was a geometric mosaic.

The bath complex included two tepidariums (warm dry rooms designed to warm up the body), a frigidarium (a cooling room with a cold water pool) and one hot water pool. According to archaeologists, these baths were destroyed by an earthquake, after which they tried to restore them, but abandoned them.

Paleoparasitologists find eggs of intestinal parasites in ancient Roman chamber pot 2                                                                  Monument locations

Paleoparasitologists find eggs of intestinal parasites in ancient Roman chamber pot 3                                                            Plan of the bath complex

Piers Mitchell from the University of Cambridge, together with scientists from the UK and Canada, examined a Roman ceramic vessel with mineralized sediment, found in 2019 during excavations of a bath complex in the Sicilian commune of Geraci.

This structure was built around 380 AD and was badly damaged in the second half of the 5th century by an earthquake. Given the fact that there was no toilet in the bath complex, archaeologists initially identified this vessel, as well as four others, as chamber pots.

The studied vessel, 31.8 centimeters high and 34 centimeters in diameter, was apparently made in Sicily. Judging by its shape, it was possible to sit on it, but, most likely, it was placed under a toilet chair. Inside the pot, scientists found traces of a whitish coating, which they removed for analysis.

                                    Paleoparasitologists find eggs of intestinal parasites in ancient Roman chamber pot 4

                                            Ancient Roman chamber pot discovered in Sicily

Paleoparasitologists find eggs of intestinal parasites in ancient Roman chamber pot 5

                                          Photomicrographs of whipworm eggs found by researchers

As a result of the study, paleoparasitologists found numerous eggs of whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) in the samples.

According to the researchers, the presence of eggs of intestinal parasites supports the hypothesis that the vessel from Sicily was used as a chamber pot.

The scientists noted that the whipworm is a parasite spread by the fecal-oral route, for example, when uncomposted feces are used as agricultural fertilizer or when food is eaten with unwashed hands.

The plaque found on the pot, according to the researchers, arose due to the prolonged use of the vessel for its intended purpose and its poor cleaning.

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