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Archaeologists May Have Unearthed the Oldest Toilet in Denmark

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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]

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]

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