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Ancient Toilet Uncovered in Israel Shows Jerusalem Elite Suffered From Intestinal Parasites

Upper-class residents of Jerusalem in ancient Israel suffered from intestinal parasites and their associated symptoms, including abdominal pain and diarrhea, malnutrition and developmental delays in children, according to a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The researchers studied the remains of 2,700-year-old intestinal worm eggs found in a cesspit beneath the stone toilet of a First Temple-era, or seventh-century BCE private luxury estate uncovered at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem. Toilet facilities were extremely rare at the time of the First Temple and were regarded as a status symbol; a small number of ancient toilets have been uncovered in Israel. The study was recently published online in the International Journal of Paleopathology and will appear in its March issue. Dr. Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University’s Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, who led the study, said the intestinal disease at the time might have been due to poor sanitary conditions that caused fecal contamination of food and drinking water. Or, it might have been due to a lack of hygiene awareness, such as a failure to wash hands. There were no medicines for such ailments, so recovery from intestinal worms was difficult to impossible, and those infected could suffer from the parasites for the rest of their lives.