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Ancient Excrement Holds Unearthed Secrets

A 2,000-year-old toilet was among the recent archeological discoveries in Qumran, West Bank. Researchers believe that the toilet proves that the people inhabiting the area were in fact, the Essene, the same sect that penned the Dead Sea Scrolls since … Read More

By / January 4, 2007
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A 2,000-year-old toilet was among the recent archeological discoveries in Qumran, West Bank. Researchers believe that the toilet proves that the people inhabiting the area were in fact, the Essene, the same sect that penned the Dead Sea Scrolls since the ancient latrine was found at the proper distance from the inhabited area, in accordance with the Essene's laws of ritual purity. Adds The Tribune:

Thanks to an Israeli anthropologist, an American textual scholar and a French paleo-parasitologist, researchers can now add another find: human excrement. The discovery is more significant than it may seem. The nature of the settlement at Qumran is the subject of a lively academic debate.

Zias and Tabor identified an area behind a rock outcropping, took soil samples and sent them to Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue, a French scientist specializing in ancient parasites. The samples tested positive for pinworms and two other intestinal parasites found only in human feces. Samples from locations nearer the settlement tested negative.

The excrement traces were found underground–meaning the feces had been buried, as required by Essene law–a nine-minute walk uphill from the settlement.

"A lot of people were concerned with what went into the body, but the Essenes were perhaps the only group in antiquity concerned with what came out," Zias said. "No one else would have gone to the trouble of walking this far."

Consequently, a latrine was also found within the confines of the Essene's living area, but researchers believe this was used in cases of emergency, only. Like when cholent was served on Friday nights, perhaps.

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