Biblical Archaeology Review 28:5, September/October 2002

The Puzzling Channels in Ancient Latrines

By Hershel Shanks

In the previous article Ronny Reich and Ya‘akov Billig told us that the strange-looking grooves in the stones amount to nothing more that a flushing channel. But how does this channel work? It is, after all, the most important evidence that the stones had been used in a latrine.

I admit my first thought was that somehow people relieved themselves into the flushing channel. But my friend Ronny Reich insists that this could not be: The flushing channel was on the floor—not under, but in front of a person sitting on the toilet. Yet Reich could not give an answer that satisfied me completely, so he suggested that I research the question myself.

My chief research tool is the telephone. I try to find an expert in a subject and then consult that person. In this case I quickly found Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, or AOKO as she is known at Brandeis University, where she teaches classics and is sometimes called “the toilet lady.”1 She sent me two of her articles that, I think, when examined with the work of other scholars, reveal an evolution in thought on the subject during the past decade.

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