Archaeology about health and hygiene in old Gdańsk
Care for health and hygiene of old Gdańsk inhabitants has left numerous traces in the form of countless artefacts, found by archaeologists during excavations carried out in the historic part of the city.
The most common finds are containers used in former pharmacies, often containing remains of various ointments and oils. Pharmacists got rid of them throwing away used bottles and jars into latrines, where they have survived to our times intact.
Relics of the latrines themselves are also an evidence of past hygiene practices. Chamber pots discovered in them indirectly indicate that these primitive toilets were also treated as reservoirs for draining waste produced in the comfort of the bedroom.
From the 18th century, cosmetics already manufactured on a mass scale by factories from various European cities began to appear in the Gdańsk inhabitants’ households. Bottles bearing names of products prove that old city inhabitants used not only popular perfume brands, but also hair oils or skincare creams.
New inventions, such as glasses, toothbrushes or special shaving brushes, came to the widespread use equally quickly. The oldest hygiene items include bone combs, already discovered in early medieval layers of the Gdańsk stronghold. Frequently these are items of high aesthetic value, manufactured by specialized craftsmen. Medieval layers contain numerous finds of cosmetic tools used to remove dirt from nails, earwax and to remove unwanted hair.
Various types of brushes were used to maintain cleanliness in homes. They made of wood and animal hair. There were also brooms, tied from branches of deciduous trees , which, thanks to the specific Gdańsk soil conditions, despite the organic materials used, have survived to our times.
Finds of objects directly related to medical procedures, such as syringes or surgical instruments, although relatively rare, are a material evidence of professional healing practices performed by former Gdańsk doctors.
When looking for knowledge about healthy practices in old Gdańsk, it is worth paying attention to the discoveries of archaeologists, which significantly complement the available written sources, often bringing new facts to – as it may seem – well-recognised issues.
Edited by Ewa Trawicka, Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk