A Stone ‘Throne’: 8th Century Toilet Unearthed at Korean Palace Complex
Archaeologists in South Korea have unearthed the remains of a royal bathroom. The discovery provides insight on what high-end hygienic services would have looked like for royals over 1000 years ago.
The Korea Herald reports that the toilet is comprised of two rectangular slabs with an oval drain in between. The toilet was tilted to allow for better flow and water was probably manually added to wash down the waste.
According to KBS Korea, this is the first time a bathroom structure, toilet, and draining system have been found at an ancient site in South Korea. But it isn’t the first time Ancient Origins has reported on discoveries related to ancient toilets and unexpected objects found within them.
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Artifacts including jewelry, books, and organic matter have all been uncovered in old latrines. But perhaps one of the most surprising finds to date was made in 2015. April Holloway wrote on an unexpected discovery found within the latrine of an old school of swordmanship – a 250-year-old sex toy. That artifact dates from the second half of the 1700s, measures eight inches long, and was made of leather, filled with bristles, and constructed with a wooden tip.
The 18th century sex toy unearthed in a Polish latrine. (Regional Office for the Protection of Monuments)
Apart from analyzing the objects left within them, examining the toilets themselves may have an appeal for some people interested in archaeology. Also in 2015, archaeologists examining the ancient medieval port of Burgos in Bulgaria discovered a 6th century latrine. Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional History Museum called the discovery '"one of the most attractive finds" from the excavations at that site.
It may seem a bit unconventional, but toilets can tell a lot about their owners and society. Returning to the current discovery in South Korea, an official from the Cultural Heritage Administration explained the importance of the find to the Korea Herald: “We can imagine what a high-end bathroom used by the royal family looked like, from the facilities made out of granite -- a luxury at the time – the flush method that was employed and tile-like-bricks used.”
Example of the ruin of a second-century public toilet in Roman Ostia. (Fr Lawrence Lew/ OP/ CC BY NC ND) Ancient toilets can tell a lot about society.
KBS Korea reports the bathroom was used during the Silla Kingdom (57 BC to 935 AD). The Silla Kingdom was one of the world’s longest sustained dynasties. A great number of Silla tombs, which took the form of a stone chamber surrounded by a soil mound, can still be found in the center of Gyeongju, now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.
Researchers have been excavating the site where the toilet was found at Donggung and Wolji Pond in Gyeongju since 2007. The site was built in 674 by King Munmu and the first excavations took place at the site in 1975 when over 30,000 artifacts were unearthed.
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Example of a Silla tomb – the Royal tomb of King Heongang located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, South Korea. (CC BY SA 4.0)
Two other recent discoveries around Gyeongju have shown evidence of human sacrifice during the Silla Kingdom. In 2015, archaeologists found a tomb dating to between the 5th and 6th centuries containing the remains of a man and woman in their 20s or 30s. The woman’s remains were covered in golden adornments, however the man had none, and researchers believe he was sacrificed to be added to her tomb.
More recently, in May 2017, two skeletons from the 5th century were discovered under the walls of the Wolseong Palace in Gyeongju. As senior researcher Park Yoon-Jung said, “Judging from the fact that there are no signs of resistance when they were buried, they must have been buried when they were unconscious or dead. Folklore indicates humans were sacrificed to appease gods and plead with them to ensure the structures being built lasted a long time.”
The Silla dynasty tomb containing the bones and artifacts associated with a woman and man. Credit (Left): Cultural Heritage Administration, South Korea. Credit (Right): The Chosun Ilbo
Top Image: Remains of what appears to be a flush toilet made during the Unified Silla Dynasty in the 8th century have been discovered in a secondary palace in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. Source: Cultural Heritage Administration