Archaeologists find 2,000-year-old wooden toilet seat used by Romans at Vindolanda fort

By Ben Miller | 29 August 2014

Archaeologists believe they have found the only surviving wooden Roman toilet seat at Vindolanda fort

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The former Roman fort of Vindolanda, to the south of Hadrian’s Wall, is known for the often-personal nature of its discoveries: letters, shoes, baby items, socks, combs, jewellery and tools have all told 2,000 years of history at the site, but a latrine toilet seat – thought to be the oldest wooden toilet seat ever found in Britain and described as “perfectly preserved” within a deep pre-hadrianic trench – is an exciting development even by those standards.

Numerous examples of stone and marble seat benches have emerged from the Roman Empire. Although their wooden counterpart is said to be less grand, it would have been more comfortable in the cool climate of ancient Britannia, as its well-used condition suggests.

A photo of people in hard hats digging through mud at a Roman excavation site
Director of Excavations Dr Andrew Birley discovered the seat in the trenches© Vindolanda Trust
“There is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before,” says Dr Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations, discussing the “wonderful” discovery left among rubbish in the final fort before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

“We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines, but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat.

“As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found.

“It is made from a very well-worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable.

“Now we need to find the toilet that went with it. Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate - their drains often contain astonishing artefacts.

“Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy.”

Experts are now hopeful of finding a “spongia” – the natural sponge on a stick used as toilet paper by Romans.

The seat will be shown at the Roman Army Museum following a conservation process which is expected to take up to 18 months.

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More from Culture24's coverage of Vindolanda:

Archaeologists hail "magical moment" as rare Roman gold coin found at Vindolanda

Ancient Roman loo legacy aims to inspire fundraising for facilities in toilet twinning plan

Game of Thrones star launches Wall Face - the faces who saved and preserved Hadrian's Wall
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While sifting through the Roman period toilet in Beth Shean (Israel of today), looking for evidence of parasites. I happened to run across a badly corroded coin, evidently dropped in the 'loo' by someone using the toilet.
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