Plumbing inventions of early civilisations

We all take the ability to use clean water from our taps for granted. It provides us with great public health and keeps the many water-borne diseases out of society. Plumbing is the cornerstone of the clean water that we use, and the process by which it reaches our homes was born way back in the time of the ancient civilisations. They recognised that access to water from rivers and underground watercourses was essential to the success of their societies and empires.

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The first evidence that we can find of attempts to channel water into a city is that of the Indus Valley Civilisation. This is in modern India. The Indus river is directed into the city via earthen baked troughs and gullies of clay. This brought fresh water to the homes and public buildings of the people living there. It also used the troughs to irrigate field systems for agriculture, further helping people in the city to thrive. One of the most important elements of the system was the provision of water for the removal of human waste.

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The example of the Indus Valley people spread out to the others. As Babylon and the City-states of the Hittites, Sumerians and other Mesaptomian Civilisations all follow the same model. All of them realise that food and water are key to the development of their respective Empires. As soon as the provision of food and water was secured and key military battles were won, it gave time for leaders and people to think about life and how to improve themselves.

As the ancient Empires receded and fell away, stronger societies were formed. Ancient Greece and Egypt were the next to really establish themselves. They had all learnt from the Ancients how to set up the supply of water. However, as the centuries had rolled by, the improvements made to the systems were even greater. Gravity fed systems and the use of bronze and copper for piping were becoming more and more common. As the water reaching the societies became cleaner and fresher, it allowed for a more healthy population. This meant that people began to live longer. Although they did not have water pumped directly to their homes, it did mean that wells and even fountains were more readily available to the public. It reduced the amount of time that the people had to go to get water. This meant more time for other pursuits.

The Romans are the last of the ancients to make use of plumbing. The use of lead pipes became almost universal in the Empire. It’s where we get the name plumbing from. Plumbum is the Latin word for lead. The art of plumbing is considered a great skill, as it still is today. The main difference is that we use copper pipes as they are less prone to rust and discolouration. Copper Pipe Fittings from are a great example of this. Lead can be dangerous if it breaks and gets into the water system.

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