The Fascinating History of Human Sanitation

We don’t like to have to get sewer repair, but it’s a necessary part of life. We take plumbing service for granted sometimes and don’t think a thing of it when we have to call for kitchen sink plumbing help or get someone to install a water heater.

It wasn’t always like this, however, and as bad as a clogged drain and a call for sewer repair might be, we’re blessed to live in a time when professional plumbing is easy to find and standards are high. If you’ve ever wondered about how we got where we are with the state of our sewers, read on.

Earliest History

We have evidence of drains in the streets of ancient civilizations of the Near East and the Far East. These drains are from at least 4000 BC, and that means sewers and sewer repair have likely always been a concern for humans. But we don’t know a lot about these ancient drains. We have to fast forward 1,000 years to get the first true sewers.

Elaborate and extensive sewer structures were in use in Crete and the Indus Valley by 3000 BC. The Minoans actually had a complicated hydraulic system that moved rainwater in to drink and took sewage water away. The Egyptians had copper piping that rivals anything we use today. In China there were equally elaborate systems, though only in certain cities.

Sewer Dark Ages

The civilizations that followed improved on the sewer systems regularly. The Greeks and Romans had even more sophisticated and wide-spread sanitation systems than the Minoans and the Indus Valley peoples. But all that advancement came to a screeching halt around 300 AD. At that point, the world entered what might be called a sewer system Dark Age. Things would actually regress in certain places until around 1850, though there was never a period when people weren’t interested in public hygiene, even if they had forgotten some of what ancient peoples knew about sewers.

France On The Move

It was in Paris that the first modern sewers were born. There had been a terrible cholera epidemic, and people were aware that poor public sanitation was to blame. An elaborate system was designed that not only revamped the city’s entire system but also allowed for easy sewer repair and cleaning. The Germans had comprehensive systems installed in most of their major cities by the end of the 19th century, and the same was true of Italy.

Modern Times

Things have changed very quickly in modern times, particularly as human understanding of pathogens and microbes have increased and the connection between an effective sewage system and clean drinking water has become clear. It was in the 21st century that governments began to pass laws regulating the development of sewage systems and implementing sewers not only in large cities, but even in the smallest towns. This spurred the rise of technicians and plumbing professionals, regulated by the state, trained to maintain sewer systems and carry out sewer repairs.

We continue to innovate our sewer systems and are likely to keep doing so as long as we exist. Population growth, climate change, urbanization, and aging infrastructures are all big questions that sewer innovation must address. If the past is any indicator, though, we’ll come up with a way to deal with them.

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