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  • On sunny days, the Roman citizens of Ostia

  • could be found on a long stone bench near the Forum.

  • Friends and neighbors exchanged news and gossip

  • while simultaneously attending to more... urgent business.

  • These public latrines could sit up to 20 Romans at a time,

  • draining waste in water conduits below.

  • Today, most cultures consider trips to the restroom to be a more private occasion.

  • But even when going alone, our shared sewage infrastructure

  • is one of the most pivotal inventions in the history of humanity.

  • While many ancient religious texts contain instructions

  • for keeping waste away from drinking water and campsites,

  • waste management took a more familiar shape as early as 3000 BCE.

  • Ancient Mesopotamian settlements often had clay structures

  • made for squatting or sitting in the most private room of the house.

  • These were connected to pipes which used running water to move waste

  • into street canals and cesspits.

  • Water infrastructure like this flourished in the Bronze Age,

  • and in some parts of the Indus Valley,

  • nearly every house had a toilet connected to a citywide sewage system.

  • Ancient Cretan palaces even offered a manual flushing option.

  • Researchers can't say for certain what inspired these early sewage systems,

  • but we do know that waste management is essential for public health.

  • Untreated sewage is a breeding ground for dangerous microorganisms,

  • including those that cause cholera, dysentery, and typhoid.

  • It would be several millennia before scientists fully understood

  • the relationship between sewage and sickness.

  • But the noxious odors of sewage have recorded associations with disease

  • as early as 100 BCE.

  • And by 100 AD, more complex sanitation solutions were emerging.

  • The Roman Empire had continuously flowing aqueducts

  • dedicated to carrying waste outside city walls.

  • Chinese dynasties of the same period also had private and public toilets,

  • except their waste was immediately recycled.

  • Most household toilets fed into pig sties,

  • and specialized excrement collectors gathered waste from public latrines

  • to sell as fertilizer.

  • In China, this tradition of waste management continued for centuries,

  • but in Europe the fall of the Roman Empire

  • brought public sanitation into the Dark Ages.

  • Pit latrines calledgongsbecame commonplace,

  • and chamber pots were frequently dumped into the street.

  • Castles ejected waste from tall windows into communal cesspits.

  • At night, so-called gong farmers would load up the waste

  • before traveling beyond city limits to dump their cargo.

  • Europe's unsanitary approach persisted for centuries,

  • but toilets themselves underwent some major changes.

  • By the late Middle Ages, most wealthy families had commode stools

  • wooden boxes with seats and lids.

  • And in the royal court of England,

  • the commodes were controlled by the Groom of the Stool.

  • In addition to monitoring the king's intestinal health,

  • the Groom's... intimate relationship with the monarch

  • made him a surprisingly influential figure.

  • The next major leap in toilet technology came in 1596,

  • when Sir John Harrington designed the first modern flush toilet

  • for Queen Elizabeth.

  • Its use of levers to release water and a valve to drain the bowl

  • still inform modern designs.

  • But Harrington's invention stank of sewage.

  • Thankfully, in 1775, Scottish inventor Alexander Cumming

  • added a bend in the drainpipe to retain water and limit odors.

  • This so-called S-trap was later improved into the modern U-bend by Thomas Crapper

  • though the termcrappredates the inventor by several centuries.

  • By the turn of the 19th century,

  • many cities had developed modern sewage infrastructure

  • and wastewater treatment plants,

  • and today, toilets have a wide range of features,

  • from the luxurious to the sustainable.

  • But roughly 2 billion people still don't have their own toilets at home.

  • And another 2.2 billion don't have facilities

  • that properly manage their waste,

  • putting these communities at risk of numerous diseases.

  • To solve this problem, we'll need to invent new sanitation technologies

  • and address the behavioral, financial, and political issues

  • that produce inequity throughout the sanitation pipeline.

On sunny days, the Roman citizens of Ostia

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B2 US TED-Ed sewage waste sanitation water public

A brief history of toilets - Francis de los Reyes

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    Jimmy posted on 2022/04/14
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