At the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, store shelves were quickly emptied of toilet paper, revealing the important, but unspoken, role of merchandise in modern society. Although humans have cleaned their bottoms for as long as they have walked on Earth, “three-ply” and “extra-soft” did not always describe toilet hygiene. Before the introduction of mass-produced, commercially available toilet paper in the mid-1800s and the continuous improvements made in the early 20th century, people relied on less luxurious ways to wipe their buttocks.
Seashells with common sponges
Throughout history, local customs and the climate often dictated how anal hygiene was practiced. Social hierarchy also had an impact on toilet habits. What is clear is that humans, at all times, have used a variety of natural tools and materials to clean themselves. In ancient times, wiping with stones and other natural materials and rinsing with water or snow were common. Some cultures have opted for animal shells and furs.
“The most famous example of ancient” toilet paper “comes from the Roman world [during the first century A.D.] and Seneca’s story on the gladiator who committed suicide by entering the toilet and pushing the common sponge on a stick in his throat, “says Erica Rowan, environmental archaeologist and professor of classical archeology at the University of London. Sponges, called tersoriums, may have been used once or cleaned in a bucket of vinegar or salt water and reused, or they may have been used more like toilet brushes than toilet paper.
Beyond the common sponge, the Greco-Romans also used foam or sheets and pieces of ceramic called pessoi to perform cleaning. Pessoi pieces may have started like ostraca, broken pieces of pottery often inscribed with the names of enemies – a proverbial way to smear opponents.
Small pieces of tissue found in a sewer in Herculaneum, Italy, one of the cities buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, could have been used as another form of toilet paper, although Rowan points out: ” The fabric was handmade in Antiquity, so using a cloth to wipe your buttocks would have been a pretty decadent activity. It is the equivalent of using the softest and most expensive triple ply today. “
In 1992, archaeologists discovered 2,000-year-old hygiene sticks, known as salaka, cechou and chugi, in the latrines of Xuanquanzhi, a former Han Dynasty military base in China that existed along the Silk Road. The instruments, carved from bamboo and other woods, looked like spatulas. The ends were wrapped in tissue and contained traces of preserved fecal matter.
Introducing paper like a wipe
Although the paper originating in China in the 2nd century BC, the first recorded use of paper for cleaning dates from the 6th century in medieval China, discovered in the texts of the scholar Yen Chih-Thui. In 589 AD, he wrote: “Paper on which there are quotes or comments from the Five Classics or the names of the sages, I dare not use them for the toilet.”
At the beginning of the 14th century, the Chinese made toilet paper at the rate of 10 million packs of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets per year. In 1393, thousands of scented sheets of paper were also produced for the imperial family of Emperor Hongwu.
Paper became widely available in the 15th century, but in the Western world, commercially available modern toilet paper was not born until 1857, when Joseph Gayetty of New York marketed a “Medicated paper, for the Water-Closet ”, sold in packs of 500 sheets for 50 cents. Before his product hit the market, the Americans improvised intelligently.
Barry Kudrowitz, associate professor and director of product design at the University of Minnesota, studied the history and use of toilet paper. In the 1700s, corn on the cob was a common alternative to toilet paper. Then newspapers and magazines arrived in the early 18th century. “The” legend “is that people mainly use the Sears catalog in outbuildings, but when the catalog started to be printed on glossy paper, people had to find a replacement,” says Kudrowitz. The Americans also nailed the Farmers Almanac on the walls of the outbuilding, which led the company to pre-drill the legendary “hole” in their publication in 1919.
The first rolls of perforated toilet paper were introduced in 1890, and in 1930 the toilet paper was finally made “flake-free”. Today, softer, stronger and more absorbent describe the toilet paper found in American homes.
Hoarding of toilet paper
Changes in attitudes and practices over time, including those associated with toilet habits and hygiene, can help explain why people in modern society feel compelled to have toilet paper on hand , especially during a crisis. For example, in the Middle Ages, people considered human waste to be both good – valuable and worth money (excellent for crops) – and bad – dirty and disgusting (excellent for humor and insults).
“The property is little accepted today, despite the efforts [re]use excrement for energy, “says Susan Signe Morrison, professor at Texas State University and author of Feces at the end of the Middle Ages: the sacred dirt and fecundity of Chaucer.
In ancient Rome, public toilets consisted of stone or marble slabs with a series of holes. There were no dividers and therefore no privacy. People found themselves (literally) sitting next to each other and sharing the common sponge. Now, most Americans would be embarrassed at the mere thought of running out of toilet paper.
“It’s psychological,” says Morrison. “We collect toilet paper because we fear we will face our poop. If we run out of toilet paper, how will we wipe our stockings? “