‘Urine vials’ to drink, diagnosis discovered on the site of the former hospital

ure-ally brave for this, ancient Roman physicians.

Archaeologists in Rome have unearthed a trove of light fixtures at the site of a former hospital, including “urine jars,” which doctors used to diagnose various ailments.

A study describing the diagnostic tool was published last month in the journal Antiquity, in which researchers claimed that the “assembly” of objects, including “glass urine vials,” are indicative of an ancient “medical dumping ground.” “.

The fact that these artifacts have been “potentially infected” with pathogens helps shed light on the “urban waste management practices” of Roman society, the researchers also noted.

Initially excavated in 2021 by an international team of archaeologists, the 16th-century deposit was discovered in the area of ​​Caesar’s Forum in Rome, Science Alert reported.

Caesar’s Forum today
Project Sovrintendenza Capitolina/The Caesarâs Forum

This sanctuary was completed in 46 BC. C. and was dedicated to Julius Caesar before it was turned into a hospital during the Renaissance, a millennium and a half later, which came with its own dump.

Excavation of this repository yielded a large amount of medieval medical waste, including a cistern containing ceramic vessels, broken glass jars, and even a ceramic figurine of a camel. Scientists suspected these were part of a patient toolkit provided by the hospital.

Most notable among the garbage dump were what was known in medieval Latin as matula — urine vials.

These urine vessels were used for the practice of uroscopy, a diagnostic technique that involves examining the patient’s urine.

Dating back to the days of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, this was the eminent method of detecting disease in medieval Italy.

Of course, at that time the methodology required a more practical approach than it does today.

According to the study authors, “the patient’s urine would be poured into a flask,” after which the medical examiner would analyze the sample for color, opacity, odor, and even taste.

Using this crude urine test, doctors could detect conditions ranging from jaundice to diabetes, known for making urine taste sweet due to excess glucose.

Some of the artifacts exhumed by scientists.
Urine vessels shed light on the medical practices of the Romans at the time of the Renaissance.
Sovrintendenza Capitolina/Caesar’s Forum Project

The English physician Thomas Willis (1621-1675), credited with discovering this quality of urine, described the urine as “wonderfully sweet, as if impregnated with honey or sugar.”

The scientists deduced that urine containers and other items were disposed of in the cistern, which was then sealed with clay, presumably for hygienic reasons.

Despite being prohibited, depositing waste in basements and cisterns was a common practice, perhaps even the method of disposal for infectious waste, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the abundance of “custom” ceramic items indicates that physicians were aware of the antiseptic benefits of burning or cooking contaminated glass.

This “rare” discovery sheds light on infectious waste management during a time when other European cities were plagued by “repeated epidemics” due to poor hygiene practices, the study authors said.

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