A new study of objects lost down the drains in the bathhouses from the Roman Empire reveals that people got up to all sorts of things in these gathering places. They bathed, of course, but they also adorned themselves with trinkets, snacked on finger foods and even did needlework.
"For the Romans, the baths weren't just a place to get clean, but this larger social center where a variety of activities were taking place," said study researcher Alissa Whitmore, a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Iowa
In the Roman Empire era, baths proliferated all over Europe for both military and civilian use. Many were quite ornate, with huge colonnades, decorative mosaics and pools ranging in temperature from frigid to steamy.
Ancient texts give some clues as to the variety of activities that took place in bathhouses, Whitmore said, but the texts are maddeningly vague on some details.
This early plumbing offers good insights, Whitmore told LiveScience, because it fairly certainly contains items lost or thrown away during the era of bathing. The Romans eventually abandoned the majority of their baths, leaving the structures to crumble, she said. Squatters moved in, leaving behind objects on floors and in other spots that wouldn't represent the items used when the baths were still functioning.