Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Jorvik: In Rude Health

Enjoying the wickerwork facilities in York

Continuing our probing of historical toilets, today we brace ourselves, reach for a lavender handkerchief, and take a glance at Viking toilets! If you haven’t yet seen the Toilet Man at the Jorvik Centre, go at once! Stop not to tie your shoelaces, nor to tell loved ones where you have gone, but hasten, hasten! One of our fondest childhood memories is buying a score of “scratch’n’sniff” postcards and sending them to friends and relatives. Is there any greater joy than having a postcard with a picture of a man on the bog, that you can smell? Well, quite.

While we don’t wish to perpetuate stereotypes, nonetheless it must be admitted that the Vikings, though admirable in many ways, were not renowned for their hygiene. The Norse population in York was no different. The archaeological records reveal some horrifying truths. At the excavation at 16-22 Coppergate, the volume of human faecal matter has been estimated[1] as over 45 m³. This means that the total volume of Viking poo in the city could be as much as 45,000m³. (It is believed that the Norse population ate plenty of fibre, keeping their digestive system in good working order.) However, with cess pits happily dug next to wells, hygiene suffered. Archaeologists have found large amounts of eggs of intestinal parasites, mainly whipworm and roundworm, in human faeces. One report states that “The numbers of eggs were sometimes so large that individuals may have carried heavy burdens of parasites at times”[2]
Lovely. We feel humbled, and vow to abstain from complaining about toilets today.

Related Reading
World Toilet Day - Taking Our Baths and Our Women
The Historic Toilet Tour of York
Þorsteins Þáttr Skelks: A Medieval Toilet Anecdote

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...