For researchers who study the past, old toilets are treasure troves: There’s a lot to learn from leavings. Droppings hold hints about diet, disease, and more. When archaeologists excavate cesspits, they look for evidence of parasites that signal public health woes, and can sleuth out clues about recipes—and even the trade routes that made them possible—by analyzing the chemical fingerprints of seeds, grains, and other foods that linger in the waste. Not to mention all the little items that get dropped or discarded in the muck.
For those of us who can’t deduce much from deuces, there’s less to learn from these places, but they’re definitely cool to visit. Encountering them, we can get a sense of how our ancestors took care of their intimate business—sometimes cheek-to-cheek in more ways than one.
If you’re compelled to answer nature’s call, these old latrines won’t be much help; none are open for use today. But these six sites—from a 36-seat public loo in Turkey to a Mexican convent covered in odes to evacuation—will bring you a little closer to those people who copped a squat through the ages.