Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Potty archaeology Toilets may be clue to texts
The latrines that the presumed writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls used to show their religious devotion may have led to their early deaths, according to a new study co-authored by UNC Charlotte religion expert James Tabor.

The discovery of the ancient toilets also gives more evidence that the scrolls were written by a small Jewish sect called the Essenes, said Tabor, who chairs UNCC's Department of Religious Studies.

. . .

In keeping with ancient ritual, the Essenes likely took a paddle or shovel with them to bury their waste. That differs from cultures like the Bedouins, who dumped their waste on the ground where sunlight would have killed the parasites or wind would have blown the feces away.

But the study said the Essenes used the same latrine for nearly 100 years, meaning the men walked over the buried parasites, which could stay alive for a year. "It's like a toxic waste dump," Zias said in the release. "And if you have any cuts on your feet ..."

There's really not enough there to do any judging and, frankly, I'm not an expert on Jewish toilet activity during this period. Or any other.

UPDATE: Way more information here. Not so far-fetched after all. Though the hypothesis that they had a somewhat lower life expectancy than other places isn't really supported directly by this. The lack of running water could certainly have contributed to the disease load as well as other lifestyle choices. Still, read that whole thing and it answers many questions.

I tried Google Earthing Qumran (which Wikipedia gives as near 31°45′N 35°26′E) but the resolution is bad in that area.