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Oops! Down the Drain

Monday, April 08, 2013

Augusta-Raurica-ObjectsThe next time you lose something valuable down the drain, don’t feel too bad—it’s been happening for 2,000 years. In a recent study, Alissa Whitmore of the University of Iowa examined the broad range of activities that took place in Roman public baths. According to Whitmore, the ancient Romans lost all sorts of precious items, including jewelry, hairpins, and pendants, while bathing. But she also found that they deliberately discarded other things in the baths, such as broken ceramics and glass. Many of the artifacts that have been discovered in bath drains, such as perfume jars, oil flasks, nail cleaners, and tweezers, were related to hygienic behaviors. However, other artifacts indicate that less hygienic activities also took place there. Cups, seashells, animal bones, dice, gaming pieces, and needles suggest that feasting, gambling, and sewing occurred in some baths. The discovery of human teeth and a scalpel also imply that dental and medical procedures may have taken place in some facilities. “The wide variety of finds really drives home that the baths weren’t just for bathing,” says Whitmore, “but a major social center, in which people performed a number of different activities while spending time with friends.