Affluent ancient Jerusalemites suffered infectious disease


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View of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on November 30, 2021.
Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90View of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on November 30, 2021.

Intestinal parasite eggs discovered beneath toilet of First Temple period luxury villa

Wealthy residents of Jerusalem during the First Temple period suffered from infectious disease due to poor sanitary conditions, a new Israeli study reveals.

A recent archaeological excavation at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade unearthed remains of intestinal parasite eggs from 2,700 years ago in a cesspit beneath a stone toilet in the garden of a luxury estate.

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The Israel Antiquities Authority carried out the dig funded by the Ir David Foundation. The article was jointly published with Tel Aviv University in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

The study was led by Dr. Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University’s Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.

"The findings of this study are among the earliest observed in Israel to date," Langgut said. 

"These are durable eggs, and under the special conditions provided by the cesspit, they survived for nearly 2,700 years. Intestinal worms are parasites that cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and itching. Some of them are especially dangerous for children and can lead to malnutrition, developmental delays, nervous system damage, and, in extreme cases, even death."

According to Langgut, the intestinal disease could have been a result of poor sanitary conditions that caused fecal contamination of food and drinking water. 

Other possible causes include lack of awareness of proper hygiene practices such as washing hands; fertilizing field crops with human feces; or consuming undercooked beef or pork.

The same parasites exist today, but the modern Western world has developed effective means to ensure that they don't turn into an epidemic.

According to the researchers, private toilets from the time period were a privileged possession that only the rich could afford.