Archive for the ‘Ancient World’ Category

A Clean History Of The Shower

By: The Scribe on January, 2016

The world is filled with two types of people. There are those who love the idea of relaxing in a hot bath or shower. Then there are those who like to procrastinate until the last minute of the day…or day of the week. It’s all-to-often that we take taking a shower for granted. Showers might seem modern with their massaging sprays and swiveling heads, but, in truth, they have been around for quite some time.

Technically speaking, waterfalls might be considered the very first showers. They may not have all of the features we are used to having today, but they performed basically the same job with a similar level of efficiency. The water wasn’t always warm and occasionally you might drown beneath it, but all that aside, it was often preferred over taking a bath in a bucket or basin.

It didn’t take long for people to realize that water raining down overhead was a little more hygienic than sitting in a pool of your own bath water. Unfortunately, the early ancient civilizations didn’t quite have the technology needed to reproduce this natural occurrence. Instead, they just had someone dump buckets of water on their head while they scrubbed themselves clean.

These early, indoor showers were more often reserved for the wealthy who could afford a servant to dump the water. Not too many people were willing to help their friend take a shower, even if they were the best of friends. Wealthy Egyptians, on the other hand, could spare a servant or two to keep a constant flow of water pouring over them while they cleaned.

There were very few similarities between these early showers and the showers of today. Some of them did have a form of drainage used to remove the falling water, but it was very rudimentary. Water also wasn’t pumped into the room via pipes. It was carried in a bucket at a time by the servants.

It wasn’t until the Greeks arrived with their technological prowess that sewage, running water, and more modern showers could become more commonplace. They are regarded as the first people to truly utilize efficient indoor showers.

Water pressure was combined with lead pipes to carry large supplies of water to shower rooms designed for all people to use. No longer was showering reserved for only the wealthiest. Pergamum was one of the first of the ancient Greek cities to implement public shower rooms.

As per usual, the ancient Romans followed and utilized the same technology as the Greek. However, the Romans took things a step further. The Greeks saw taking a shower as something fun or social to do, but the Romans saw the true hygienic value in the process. They believed that people should take multiple showers every week. Many Romans even took showers on a daily basis.

The mechanical shower didn’t arrive for quite some time after this. It was in the 18th century that the first mechanical shower made its appearance. It was operated entirely by a hand pump, which seemed like a step backward from the Greek model, but it still got the job done.

This original mechanical shower had many flaws and because of this, it was never very popular with the wealthy. For starters, it had to use the same water over-and-over again during a single shower. The user would pump the water into an overhead container, pull the chain, the water would fall down, and then they would pump the same water back into the container. This wasn’t any more hygienic than taking a bath.

The design was improved in the early 19th century. It had some of the same flaws, such as recycling the same dirty water, but it also had many improvements. It would continue to be improved upon throughout the following century. It wasn’t long after this that nozzles capable of dispensing water in different patterns were introduced.

In the 1850’s plumbing came back into style. This meant that new, clean water could be continually pumped into the shower head. This changed the game forever. Bathhouses featuring mechanical showers soon became commonplace. Shortly after, the world would return full-circle to the ideals of the Romans: “Take a shower every day or stay away”.

From the Archives: A Brief History of Toilet Paper

By: The Scribe on December, 2013

In 2007, the Ancient Standard put together a brief history of an important household item we take for granted… toilet paper!

The funny thing is, toilet paper isn’t a daily item everywhere in the world – it’s really something that’s more common to “First World” countries, instead of simply washing up after “doing one’s business.”

Which is more sanitary? We’ll leave that up to you!

Follow this link to revisit The Dirty Truth — A Brief History of Toilet Paper (6th-Century AD and onward… hopefully)!

ancient toilet paper


Fun bonus fact: In Japan, a handmade paper called washi is often used in disposable paper products. It’s made up of water and paper-mulberry, and is a softening agent for Japanese toilet paper. The papermaking technique for washi was introduced into Japan in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333)!

Recycle Those Mammoth Bones!

By: The Scribe on October, 2013

recycleTurns out that all those reminders for us to recycle, recycle, recycle aren’t quite as modern a phenomenon as we’ve believed! While it sure seems like environmentalists have turned up the heat these past few decades, the truth is that there’s mounting evidence that prehistoric humans were excellent recyclers—and they didn’t even have a Blue Box.

An international conference of researchers in Israel, entitled “The Origins of Recycling: A Paleolithic Perspective”, saw presentations and discussions on prehistoric recycling habits. In the same way that we recycle items like plastic and paper in order to create new items, people in ancient times collected broken tools or items made of flint and bone in order to create new things.

Archaeologist Ran Barkai said that this recycling behavior “appeared at different times, in different places, with different methods according to the context and the availability of raw materials.”

That said, it’s likely that Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and other hominids weren’t driven by a desire to “save the environment” or protect the planet, the way we tend to think about recycling in modern times, but the concept of energy conservation isn’t new either. If you recycle a piece of broken flint to create something new, you don’t have to find more. If you recycle a piece of bone to create a utensil or weapon, you don’t have to find another one that’s the right shape and size.

It’s possible that this behavior began unconsciously, and then began happening on purpose after the benefits became clear. A dry pond near Rome has apparently yielded Neanderthal bone tools from 300,000 years ago, many of which show various levels of reuse and recycling—for example, “the bones were shattered to extract the marrow, then the fragments were shaped into tools, abandoned, and finally reworked to be used again” (Giovanni Boschian, University of Pisa; geologist). 

qesem_BarkaiAt Qesem cave near Tel Aviv, archaeologists have found flint chips that were reshaped as small blades capable of cutting meat—a possible early form of cutlery! And for the skeptics who wonder whether the flint chips were a natural phenomenon: scientists have methods to determine natural vs. man-made alterations to a particular material, looking at things like the object’s patina (progressive discoloration) or surrounding evidence of reuse.

While the evidence for recycling in ancient history was certainly driven by different reasons than modern-day recycling, one thing is clear: No matter when or where in history, humans “appear to display similar responses to the challenges and opportunities presented by life over thousands of years” (Norm Catto, Memorial University of St. John’s; geographer).

The Ancient Art of Weather Predictions

By: The Scribe on July, 2013

weathervaneAnd just like today’s meteorologists, people in the past didn’t always get things right either.

Attempting to predict the weather is a task that’s been around for millennia. As far back as 650 BC, the Babylonians used astrology and cloud patterns to try and figure out what to wear that week, and a few hundred years later, Aristotle wrote about weather patterns and predictions in his 340 BC work Meteorologica.

While the obvious answer to “how’d they do it?” is certainly “looked up,” a more unconventional (to us) method was to observe animals and insects. Folk belief stated that roosters and frogs made noise in the evenings to predict rain the next day, and that whole business about a groundhog seeing its shadow and “predicting” another six weeks of winter? That’s a holdover from this old way of weather forecasting.

We do have evidence that around 300 BC, both Indian astronomers and the Chinese were developing their own methods of weather forecasting. Some of these methods relied on observed patterns of events, also known as pattern recognition. Over time, the accumulated data of pattern observation would develop into weather lore, which became the standard by which weather was predicted in a society.

During the Arab Agricultural Revolution, an Iraqi alchemist and agriculturalist named Ibn Wahshiyya translated a book called Nabatean Agriculture from Babylonian Aramaic, which was a treatise on the subject that included information on ancient Babylonian weather and agriculture. For example, it discussed how the observation of planetary astral alterations could assist in forecasting atmospheric changes; how observation of lunar phases could predict rain; how wind direction and movement could help forecast the weather.

It was a significant work on weather and agriculture for 904 AD, and it greatly contributed to scientific development in the Muslim world at this time—and it really wasn’t until 1835 and the invention of the electric telegraph that the modern age of weather forecasting as we know it truly began!

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