Plumbing The Past: A Tour Of The Sewers Of History

Posted on the September 30th, 2013 under Friends by Jamie Grant

Civilizations have strived, flourished and thrived or faded, withered and perished with the tides of their sewerage systems.

You may scoff at this bold statement. But, see how long you remained civilized should your neighbour refuse to fix their broken sewer pipe that leaks.

The neighbour should do the right thing and call an emergency plumber, but it does illustrate a point, that when waste is not managed life quickly gets uncivilized.

Some civilizations unable to cope with the population increase have produced more waste than their sewerage systems could manage, thus allowing breeding grounds of pests and disease causing wide spread plague and death amongst the populace, as with the Justinian Plague of Constantinople where up to ten thousand citizens died daily from the horrible bubonic plague.

Plumbing has also allowed for the greatest of achievements, where the humble trade of plumbing is raised to the rarefied air of high Art. If only we were still able to ramble about the ramparts of Babylon and gaze upon the Hanging Gardens, which were fed an estimated 37,000 litres of water each and every day up to a garden that soared up to 170 feet in the air. We would have witnessed one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world and all made possible through the amazing art of Plumbing.

Harrapan Hydration.

Harrapa was an ancient city situated in what is now Pakistan. The Indus Valley was the cradle for this very advanced civilization, comparable to the Egyptians of the time, with a few exceptions. The one that is of interest in this article is the high level of sophisticated plumbing the Harrapans had access to.

Harrapa was an ancient city situated in what is now Pakistan.

Harrapa was an ancient city situated in what is now Pakistan.

Copper piping was discovered during digs conducted by the British in the 1920’s. Dating methods estimate the tubing to be around 5,500 years old, which makes it the old copper tubing in the world. Further excavation by archaeological anthropologists discovered a great deal of evidence that the Harrapan people revered water and rivers as a God, or perhaps Gods, depending on the theory. Over 700 finely crafted wells were discovered, and houses had relatively advanced plumbing systems, utilizing fired clay pipes that had flanges to assist with seam less joining. These flanged clay pipes were connected with pitch to seal the sewerage in and transport it to central cess pits that would have been cleared periodically. Drinking water was carried through a completely different set of piping and was separated from any effluent that was also carried around the city in an extensive pipe network.

The great bath-house

The great bath-house

Perhaps the most impressive of the Harrapan constructions was the great bath-house. This enormous public bath was 40 metres long and thirty metres wide and was carved an incredible eight metres deep in to the bedrock. The great bath was lined with fired clay bricks and set with gypsum plaster acting as a mortar. The entire surface was covered with bitumen to seal it and ensured no seepage. A façade of bricks was said to cover the bitumen that were finely crafted and decorative in purpose.

It is still unknown why this great civilization faded in the desert, some anthropologists believe the warlike Aryans from the north whittled them away, others believe that internal unrest was the final demise of this ancient culture.

However they were to have passed into distant memory, the artifacts that remain show us a people whose veneration of water enabled them to be master plumbers far ahead of their time.

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Harappan Civilization – Indus Valley Civilization



Jamie Grant.

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