CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Archaeologists May Have Unearthed the Oldest Toilet in Denmark

iStock
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]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
13-Year-Old Amateur Archaeologist Discovers the Buried Treasure of a Danish King
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

In January, amateur archaeologist René Schön and his 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnitschenko were scouring a field on an island in the Baltic Sea when something small and silver triggered their metal detector. What they initially thought was aluminum trash turned out to be a coin from a 10th-century treasure hoard that once belonged to a Danish king, AP reports.

Schön and Malaschnitschenko discovered the site on the eastern German island of Ruegen, but it wasn't until mid-April that state archaeologists uncovered the hoard in its entirety. Both of the amateur archaeologists were invited back to take part in the final dig, which spanned 4300 square feet.

The treasure trove includes pearls, jewelry, a Thor's hammer, and about 100 silver coins, with the oldest dating back to 714 CE and the most recent to 983 CE. Experts believe the collection once belonged to the Viking-born Danish king Harald "Harry" Bluetooth, who abandoned his Norse faith and brought Christianity to Denmark.

Pile of silver coins.
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

Threatened by a rebellion led by his son, the king fled Denmark in the late 980s—around the same time the silver hoard was buried—and took refuge in Pomerania, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. He died there in 987.

Harry Bluetooth derived his nickname from his bluish dead tooth. Today his legacy lives on in the Swedish Bluetooth technology that bears his name. The symbol for the tech also uses the runic characters for his initials: HB.

According to the archaeologists who worked there, the dig site represents the largest trove of Bluetooth coins ever discovered in the southern Baltic region.

[h/t AP]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios