Archaeologists May Have Unearthed the Oldest Toilet in Denmark

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iStock

The excavation of a Viking settlement in Stevns, Denmark has yielded an unexpected find: a 1000-year-old toilet. The latrine could be the oldest toilet in Denmark, reports ScienceNordic (via Real Clear Science) and might reshape how we think about Viking bathroom habits.

Researchers from the Museum Southeast Denmark were in search of pit houses (partially underground buildings that might have served as workshops) when they found the long-buried feces in a 6.5-foot-deep hole. They found fly pupae in samples from the bottom layer of the pit as well as mineralized seeds, which would be in line with the phosphate-rich, oxygen-poor environment of a giant pile of poop. Pollen analyses in the pit also indicate that the poop came from someone who ate honey—that is, probably humans.

This is what it looked like before lead researcher Anna S. Beck and her team dug in:

A before image of the pit covered in dirt
Museum Southeastern Denmark

While Viking cities may have needed toilets to deal with the high volume of human waste in concentrated areas, scholars have previously thought that out in the country, people didn’t need formal toilets, instead using the farm’s general refuse heap or taking care of their business in the stable with the livestock. But this pit seems to have been bounded by two posts that could have held poles, so it could have had a closed structure of some sort above it—which, judging from the burnt material found near the top of the pit, probably burned down.

A dug-out pit that could be Denmark's oldest toilet showing dark spots of feces
Museum Southeastern Denmark

This discovery could change that notion, although not all researchers are on board, according to ScienceNordic. Just because this area had a toilet doesn’t mean that every rural farmer did—someone in Stevns could have just been really into new technology. But at the least, this shows that this one subset of rural Vikings decided to forgo pooping in the stable for a stand-alone toilet.

"It is easy to think about people in the past as more primitive than us," Beck told Mental Floss in an email, "but things as combs, needles, tweezers—and now also toilets—show that the Vikings cared much about personal care and maybe even hygiene (though not in our sense of the word)."

And if outhouses like these were, in fact, a normal part of rural Viking life, it’s possible that archaeologists have just overlooked them in the past, thinking they didn’t exist. The new find could open up new avenues for research into the bathroom habits of Denmark's rural Viking populations.

[h/t Real Clear Science]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park

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iStock

Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]

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