Ancient Toilets and A Little Inconvenience

In 1827, Englishman Charles Masson was a soldier for the East India Company, though not a particularly dedicated one. In that year, he deserted and began what became a several year journey of exploration through parts of India, and what is today Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he collected coins and artifacts, and became the first European to stumble onto the ruins of the city of Harappa.

Officially excavated for the first time in 1920, Harappa is one city within a very large prehistoric civilization known as the Indus Valley Civilization that stretched across the northern portion of South Asia and may have at one time supported a population of 5 million people.

Harappa_Ruins_-_I
Ancient well at Harappa. By Hassan Nasir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This civilization had well-planned cities, a system of measurement, established trade, a thriving art scene, and a possible form of writing. It also had a system of wells, public and private baths, and the earliest known household flush toilets. All somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 to 4000 BC.

Here is perhaps where it should be noted that the men who excavated the site at Harappa came from a civilization that had at this point been enjoying the widespread (though still not mandatory) use of in-home flush toilets for about seventy years.

I realize that sanitation and water supply isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. There’s no greater advancement in all of human history that has more profoundly influenced health and safety, and there are still many parts of the world in which safe drinking water and the safe disposal of waste is still sadly lacking.

It’s a huge privilege to live someplace where I can pretty much take the clean water flowing from my faucet for granted. And this week, my town has been experiencing a reminder of just how amazing that privilege is.

outhouse
Anytime I start to think it might have been fun to live in the 19th century, I picture this. photo credit: Midnight Believer Outhouse via photopin (license)

Early this week we received a call from our water district explaining that the city had issued a mandatory water conservation order. It seems a large 36-inch water main supplying our town took some damage. While repairs were underway, our little town was expected to receive about a third to a half of our normal water supply. In order to avoid depleting reserves and losing pressure in the system,  the city asked its citizens to aim for a reduction of water usage by 50%.

What that meant was no grass watering, car washing, or clothes laundering. I couldn’t hose down my thirsty garden and my neighbors couldn’t top off their swimming pool. The kids couldn’t run through the sprinkler on a hot day or whoosh down the slip ’n’ slide. With later updates the city attempted to lighten the harsh tone of the conservation order by expressing that if citizens really, really needed to do a load of laundry, they should forego taking a shower and washing their dishes.

shower
So you’re saying I CAN’T do the dishes? Darn. photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry Hot and Cold via photopin (license)

I don’t know if you’re very familiar with my neck of the woods, but here along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, where occasional and sometimes catastrophic flooding is a legitimate worry, we don’t often have to deal with having too little water. So this was a bit of a shock to the system.

But I’m happy to report that late last night we got the okay to resume our normal water usage. We might have been a little smellier and our lawns are maybe a little less green and lush than they were a few days ago, but for the most part, we came through the ordeal unscathed. And despite a few snarky comments on the city’s Facebook page that were all in good fun, the people of our city didn’t really complain.

We know we’re the lucky ones. It’s thought that one of the major contributing factors to the eventual failure of the once thriving Indus Valley Civilization was drought and shifts in river flow.  

We continue to thrive here in our well-planned city where we have tape measures, a Walmart, a thriving art scene, and bloggers who practice a possible form of writing. And we have clean running water and flush toilets in our homes. Yes, life is pretty good here, even when it’s a little inconvenient.

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9 thoughts on “Ancient Toilets and A Little Inconvenience

  1. “It’s a huge privilege to live someplace where I can pretty much take the clean water flowing from my faucet for granted.”—So very true.

    Glad your water is back to full force. I feel for the people in California who have to ration regularly, not to mention those in foreign countries who struggle just to get clean water.

  2. I couldn’t cope having to go back to putting tonic in my gin instead of water. Glad things are back to normal, but glad also that this city inconvenience created yet another treasurable posting!

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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