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7 Reasons Why Your Ancestors Were Totes Gross

Updated on February 18, 2016

The saying has always been “the best thing since sliced bread” but I call bullshit. Bread? Of all things sliced effing bread was the milestone in inventions? How about having a toilet instead of digging holes in your back yard and covering up your digested dung with dirt and leaves?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure no one would pick sliced bread over a Brondell Swash Luxury toilet. I mean, it has heated seats and a bidet. Whhhaaaaat?

So as you step outside the sliced bread box, have you ever found yourself unrolling your soft, quilted Charmin toilet paper and as you’re cleaning your undercarriage think “I wonder what people used to wipe before toilet paper?” Or as you’re brushing your pearly whites think “Did people even clean their teeth before toothpaste?” If not-you’re weird.

For those who aren’t weird, here’s a list of things people actually did before we became a ‘clean’ species.

Dude, can I use your shit stick?
Dude, can I use your shit stick?

So, what did they wipe with?

Corncobs. Yep, I said it. Having the imagination of a stone, they used corn cobs. Not old material or paper, nope…and I’m not talking about ancient times like 2000 BC…I’m talking around 500 years ago! No lie. Great Britain used cobs o’ corn to ‘clean’ their arses, painfully, until they realized old newspapers and print could be used.

Well, what else to use the news for than to wipe your sitting cushion, you clearly weren't using newspapers to fine tune your intellect.

Ancient Romans were way more advanced using sponges on a stick…unfortunately they were communal. Yep, Can I borrow your shit sponge? Ew.

During the Greco-Roman period, a sponge fixed to a stick (tersorium) was used to clean the buttocks after defecation; the sponge was then replaced in a bucket filled with salt water or vinegar water.

Actual toilet paper wasn’t invented until 1857. How are we the most intelligent species again?

Ew. I can't. But we must keep reading....

Did they clean their chompers?

Fortunately, research shows tens of thousands of years ago people cared about getting grime off their teeth and having fresh breath.

Using water and cloths to clean their teeth (but never thinking to use cloths to clean their backdoors?). They used ash or other gritty substances to assist with removing food and plaque. Even the Egyptians chewed on minty twigs to keep a fresh food chute.

If they were so concerned about this hole, why not the other? Seems like false advertising. Yeah, I have white teeth and fresh breath, but be careful of the dingle berries down under. Whaaat?

The first toothbrush was made of pigskin in the 1400’s in China, but the kind we see today was invented in the 1700’s. A full 100+ years before toilet paper. But it wasn’t until after WWII that Americans started regularly brushing their teeth. Hence why so many of our Grandparents have false teeth.

“Sometimes a powder was made of the ashes of ox hooves and burned eggshells" (Washington Post, 2009).

Um…pretty sure burnt egg breath is not on the top 100 ways to score .You're hoping things are getting better from here....but they aren't. You want to stop, but you can't.

Bloody Hell, what did they do before pads and tampons?

I know men are trying to skip over this one, and there are a ton of women who would love to skip over their monthly periods until their uteruses give up hope on another fertilized egg. So if they have to go through it, so do you. Keep reading, boys.

In Egypt, softened papyrus was stuffed up in the baby chute. In Greece, with the assistance of sticks, they would gag it with lint.

In Africa grass was used. Japanese women used paper pulp. And, although we sue doctors who accidentally leave this material in us after surgery, pacific islanders use SPONGES from the sea. I'm sorry, what? Shyeah.....Talk about a breeding ground for death by bacteria. Eck.

And if you think “She’s on the rag’ has some significant meaning? You win! You get a one of my unfertilized eggs I’ll surely shed this month.

In the 1700’s Americans used rags they would wash and reuse. Some had nifty little embroidering on them. Awww, how bloody cute.

Tampons were first marketed in the 1800’s and to my surprise, weren’t immediately embraced. I guess rags, grass, and sponges seemed a little safer.

And pads weren't only used to stop the bleeding...No. Women are creative little creatures;

"Menstrual pads have been mentioned in history as early as the 10th century in Ancient Greece, where a woman is said to have thrown one of her used menstrual rags at an admirer in an attempt to get rid of him."

Jeez, how persistent were these 'admirers' that a woman had to chuck her uterus lining at him? Listen, just keep telling yourself how much we've evolved....we have. Right?

Before condoms and birth control......

“Oh wait, do you have the sheep intenstines we saved last night?”. If that’s not a mood killer, you’re a freak.

Yes, people used animal intestines to bag it up.

Women also used spices mixed into a homemade douche to prevent pregnancy.

Some used sponges to block the microscopic Michael Phelps from breast stroking their way to the prized egg.

Even worse, some used crocodile dung. I'd say our ancestors were resourceful. But I don't think that's the right word...Oh what am I looking for....dumb. Yes, that's it.

Then, Lysol made its debut in the 1950’s. Yeah ladies, Lysol. Clean your counter tops and your cooch with Lysol's new completely safe birth control spray. Wait, what?

Women used to squirt harmful chemicals inside them. I’m sure it killed sperm…and probably the first 3 layers of their cervical lining. Ironically, condoms were invented a full 100 years before Lysol. Maybe Lysol’s owner had a secret deep hatred for women.

From 1930 until 1960, the most popular female contraceptive was Lysol disinfectant -- advertised as a feminine hygiene product in ads featuring testimonials from prominent European "doctors." Later investigation revealed they didn't exist.
From 1930 until 1960, the most popular female contraceptive was Lysol disinfectant -- advertised as a feminine hygiene product in ads featuring testimonials from prominent European "doctors." Later investigation revealed they didn't exist.
These ads aren’t frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly.  According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism.   Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965. These were contraception ads.
These ads aren’t frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly. According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism. Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965. These were contraception ads.

STD cures

If it burned when you peed, you could have an additional burn—by that I mean treatment with a hot iron. At least, that’s what the Greeks did to cure Herpes. They’d place a hot iron all over your weeping pustules, and then ban you from kissing others…Because that’s how you got em, right?

They also used Arsenic and Mercury to treat STDs. Yes kids, some STDs kill, and so do some doctors…many patients died from poisoning, but at least they didn’t die from the Clap.

Faceful of urine=not a faceful of zits?
Faceful of urine=not a faceful of zits?

Got zits?

While your pants may not be on fire, your face was, but people thought that was a result of your dishonest disposition according to Ancient Egyptians.

But don’t fret, a daily clothful of your own urine wiped generously on your face could resolve the blistering pustules of lie custard.

The practice of using urine both internally and externally to help cure disease, including skin complaints like acne, can be traced to many countries and to many cultures, from the Peruvian Indians to the ancient Egyptians.

Others used sulfur, honey, x-rays, and arsenic. Yeah, they used arsenic. Thankfully with inventions like salicylic acid and benzo-peroxide, you no longer have to die to have a clear face.

“Cure my skin of zits and rash,
And make it smooth in a flash.
Blemish vanish, pot-marks too,
Magic make my skin anew.”

( ~Wiccan spell to cure those pesky pimples. Because if urine didn't work, a spell most def will.

Cholera was also a growing problem in filthy cities, especially if water was drawn from the same rivers into which human waste was thrown
Cholera was also a growing problem in filthy cities, especially if water was drawn from the same rivers into which human waste was thrown

Taking you back to the beginning, who cares what they wiped with, where did they go?

Before toilets, where did people drop their kids off at the pool? If they had a pot to piss in, guess what else they were doing in that pot? Yep, unloading 2 pound poo babies. In a pot. In the Middle Ages they chucked that shit out the window, literally. Bubonic Plague anyone?

Others dumped their dumps in the same water people drank from. I really feel like we regressed as a species considering Egyptians had functioning toilets…..

Before that, the nearest bush looked like a fine alternative to digging holes. Taking on a modern name of “earth closet” dumpers could pull a lever and cover up their processed dinners with dirt. How fancy!

Thankfully flushing toilets were invented in the 1850’s. Still look at sliced bread the same? Me thinks not.

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    • profile image


      2 weeks ago

      Bathing every day is over rated, It washes off the protective layer that keeps the big bugs eating the smaller ones so they don't eat you. The time tested way is to spot wash your privates and pitts /feet /face by this method you don't soak in soap and perfumes in your pores which lowers your immunity.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      2 years ago from Cincinnati

      Sheesh ValKaras, I'm a little late on this reply, huh? Sorry about that! I can't IMAGINE bathing every two months. People had to give off the most acrid stench! How did we not become extinct! ?

      I totally don't believe that you're as old as you pretend! And if you are, I'm kind of envious. I've always thought of myself as a walking anachronism....except now that I know how they took care of themselves, I'm not sure I'd fit in in the past quite as well as I had thought!

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 

      3 years ago from Canada

      Tara - I just love your sense of humor and your style. By the way, I read somewhere that one of the early English queens used to brag to the nobility about her taking a bath every two months. What a royal fragrance! Your hub should make people realize how these are the best times ever - and not just because of hygiene. I am an old timer and in my childhood there were mostly horses and carts seen on the streets - and the whole package of harsh conditions of life. Imagine, not even a TV! Hoe did we survive without TV news!!!

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thank you for reading Kailua-KonaGirl :)

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 

      3 years ago from New York

      Some of these I knew about, but many I did not. I have thought for years how we romanticize the Renaissance, without thinking on the hygienic practices of those days of yore. Well, I guess my Grandmother was right when she said, "a little dirt never hurt anyone" as we are not all dead from infectious diseases and have continued to overpopulate the planet. Great article Tara. I love your writing style. It gave me quite a few chuckles!

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thank you FirstCookBookLady! And thank you toilet paper creators! ;)

    • firstcookbooklady profile image

      Char Milbrett 

      3 years ago from Minnesota

      Wow, after reading this, I need a piece of toilet paper to wipe my eyes... thank goodness I have some, otherwise, I'd have to scout around for some leaves and such... Very funny!

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thanks Jodah, I hope you didn't read it during a meal! :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Um....what a gross but totally captivating history lesson Tara. Being one who has actually built my own composting toilet using a wheelie bin and pvc pipe etc I can totally relate. I even managed to read the tampon section...not bad hey? It's a wonder the human race didn't wipe itself out long ago due to poor hygiene :) loved this humorous approach to history. Great stuff.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Sponges were pretty versatile huh? You know, I would love to have a go at a castle water closet! The fact that it's a castle diminishes the crudeness. How regal! ;) I'm glad we've evolved, at least in hygiene, anyway! Thanks for reading!!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Great history lesson. The sponges caught me off guard! I saw plans for a castle with the toilet room placed in the upper wall so that the dump dropped outside the castle many feet below in either a stream or compost pile. Ewww. It had to have been quite a "breezy" hole to sit on. Loved it.




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