Analysis of medieval Jerusalem latrine suggests syncretic ‘clash’ of cultures in the city


Pertaining to Jerusalem’s long and bloody history – the city had been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, changed hands (between ruling factions) 44 times, and had been destroyed and rebuilt twice! This scope of ‘clash of cultures’ also did have a syncretic side to it, as is surprisingly evident from the analysis of a 500-year old medieval toilet inside the city’s Christian quarter. To that end, researchers have found more than a thousand eggs of human-residing parasites from the latrine, and their detailed examination have revealed the original ‘hosts’ to be from different parts of the world, including locals and Northern Europeans.

The stone-walled latrine (with a vaulted roof and an earthen floor) was probably built during the late Mamluk period (in the latter part of 15th century), when Jerusalem was governed by the so-called viceroy of Damascus. As for the analysis in question here, the researchers from University of Cambridge examined the age-old sediments inside the toilet. This led to the discovery of what is known as mineralized coprolites (basically fossilized stool), which contained the aforementioned parasite eggs.

Image credit: Hui-Yuan Yeh

Image credit: Hui-Yuan Yeh

To that end, the scientists identified six variant types of parasites from 13 samples, and four of them (including whipworm and roundworm) were found to be common biological elements of native Jerusalem. However, the researchers also found fish tapeworm specimens which were mainly prevalent in the seaborne diet of the Northern Europeans. Interestingly, such parasites were found in the first place because of Europe’s relatively archaic style of food preparation that entailed consumption of both raw and pickled fish. This scope of health predicament was even more exacerbated because of regressive practices of medical science during the medieval period.

And beyond just fossilized excreta, the researchers have also found Italian pottery pieces inside the latrine. This further hints at the global trade network that must have had its ties in the Levant. In that regard, the latrine location might have been in proximity to the residences of Jerusalem merchants who had traveled to Europe, or close to hostels frequented by European pilgrims and travelers.

Image Credit: Christa Clamer

Image Credit: Christa Clamer

The study is published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

Via: Live Science

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