Hsc ancient History Health, baths, water supply and sanitation

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HSC Ancient History - Health, baths, water supply and sanitation

To assume knowledge about previous concepts in ancient civilisations can be quite a controversial issue and the accuracy will always be sufficiently limited. However with the use of sources the knowledge one may discover about ancient civilisations can be improved as evidence has been preserved for later research to take place. Certain sources uncovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as other cities surrounding Mt Vesuvius, can provided detailed evidence about what life consisted of all those years ago. By looking at human remains, one can understand the level of health at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Other sources such as the floor plan of baths and infrastructure of aqueducts and streets allows in depth discoveries about baths, water supply and sanitation.


Image 1) Plaster cast of a victim Image 2) X-ray scan of Lady of Oplontis – Human Remains left by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius

Health at Pompeii and Herculaneum around 79 AD was viewed in the one dynamic state, being the absence of physical illness. This meaning of health can be explored through the human remains left by the volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Archaeologists Dr. Estelle Lazer and Dr. Sara Bisel have produced remarkable knowledge through the studies of human remains and consequently due to plaster casts which Giuseppe Fiorelli had developed. These casts of people and their bones which they left behind indicate that the level of health at Pompeii and Herculaneum was remarkably good. The citizens had access to a wide variety of food sources due to their location and ability to import certain ingredients as transportation was easily accessible due to the positions of each city. The bones found in the sites were still in good condition and the dimensions of the bones indicate sufficient information to support the statement that people had high standards of health as they were able to grow to their full potential. The average height of a male was around 167cm whereas the female average was at 155cm. Therefore it can be viewed that individual’s were able to grow to an acceptable height when compared with other people from various cities across the continents. This sufficient supply of nutrients, lead to the understanding that citizens were able to maintain their dental quality also. Bisel’s studies reveal that the teeth were in quite excellent condition as they benefited from the high seafood diet and combination of high calcium intake. However there was indication of tooth decay and gum disease which may have been from the causation of basalt grindstone which was used in flour and commonly consumed in bread.

Lazer had uncovered evidence that various bodies had once encountered a hormonal disease or HFI (hyperostosis frontalis internal) found commonly in menopausal women. This was due to an increase in the bone density of the skull behind the frontal bone; around 11% of bodies resembled this disease. An x-ray of a skeleton also known as Lady of Oplontis, showed that there was a fracture in the left radius and had healed in an irregular state with some prominent arthritic occurrences. It can be observed that medical intervention was not a common occurrence when one becomes injured in Pompeii or Herculaneum and people may have been inclined to aid themselves in order to recover. Further archaeological evidence showed many houses contained tools that could be associated with medical appliances. This supported the notion that people were self inclined to treat themselves.

The water that ran into the fountains and basins at Pompeii and Herculaneum were supplied through lead pipes. This became a health hazard as promoted by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence that lead poisoning may have affected the overall health of a citizen at Pompeii or Herculaneum. Another health problem that was discovered through human remains was ‘Malta fever’ which is a sort of typhoid that was found in goat’s milk. This spread from the goats of Malta through trade to Italy therefore affecting the health of citizens at Pompeii.

Therefore the knowledge of health at Pompeii and Herculaneum was not incredibly advanced by today’s standards, however if they had knowledge of it or not they consumed the accurate intake of nutrients and were able to sustain a relatively healthy aspect of life.

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