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Archaeology/Tribes and where they did their business



On another forum we were talking about gender-neutral bathrooms and one guy was saying that gender-segregated bathrooms were a lunatic modern invention. What did hunter-gatherer tribes generally do when they defecated?Did they all go, regardless of gender,  and shit in the same spot reserved for the tribe or did they do it wherever they could, or did they have gender-specific areas where they excreted? Thanks , and I apologise for this awkward question.


Hi Geoff,

Most humans as well as some primates prefer to "do their business" in private.  Since these waste products are an indication of presence to predators,  humans tended to "hide" their waste in a hole.    In tribal societies, a "latrine" area was generally designated away from food stores and water for doing one's business.  These were often unisex in nature much like an outhouse may be but when in use, would be by a single sex.  

The notion of privacy also tended to extend to couples having sex.   In today's society we have separate bath rooms, but not always.  In some places where space is limited or in homes, there may only be one bathroom in which case both genders will use that one facility on a first come first serve basis.  Generally these bathrooms also have locks indicating that they are in use.  In modern western societies and some eastern as well, women are given to "needing" their own space.  This resulted in having separate facilities.  To help women preserve their more "delicate" nature.

So it is a hold over from Victorian times.

As with outhouses, to dig a latrine is time consuming and must be maintained.  This was generally the duty of both to ensure the "best" environment for the two genders.   Once you made your deposit, ash from a fire would be sprinkled on top to reduce the stink.

Hope this answers your awkward question.  


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Ralph Salier


Archaeologist for the last 30 years. Norh American generalist and Hopwell culture/Red Ocher culture specifically. Lithics Expert and Ground Stone tools.


Past/Present clients
Numerous museums in US and Canada. Several University Anthropology Departments.

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