The Oldest Plumbing and Water Systems

oldest plumbing

When we think of our plumbing system today, it seems like no big deal. Most of us have functioning plumbing systems in our cities and homes that bring in a constant stream of fresh water and remove waste water. But for most of human history, plumbing either didn’t exist at all or was something of a rare commodity and not so common for everyone to have.

Let’s take a look at some of the oldest plumbing and water systems to see how our ancestors handled their water situation:

The First Water Systems in Egypt and India

One of the oldest known plumbing systems was created by the ancient Egyptians around 4000 – 2500 B.C. Since their lives depended on the ebb and flow of the Nile River, Egyptian engineers created and used a very intricate piping system to keep the water flowing where it needed to go.

These pipes were initially made from clay and were later upgraded to copper. They created this sophisticated system to help move water from the Nile to help people water their crops and even provide their homes with running water.

These systems were discovered in the excavations of ancient tombs, as the Pharaohs’ burial chambers were built complete with draining bathtubs and other lifestyle necessities for the afterlife.

Plumbing wasn’t unique to Egypt at this point in history, however, since some of the first water pipes were discovered from around 4000 B.C. in the Indus River Valley in India.

Old Plumbing Systems in Crete

Another old plumbing system that has been found was located on the Isle of Crete in The Minoan Palace of Knossos, dating to around 1500 B.C. Four separate draining systems were found that led to a mass sewer system constructed out of stone.

A terra cotta piping system was laid down beneath the floor of the palace that delivered water to fountains and faucets. This palace also had the first flushing toilets, also known as 'water closets.' These water closets held a wooden seat with a small water reservoir. These now common modern conveniences were lost for thousands of years and these examples deteriorated from years of decay, but you can still see the evidence of the plumbing system today!

Ancient Roman Aqueducts

The most impressive of old plumbing systems can be found in ancient Rome. The Roman Empire has been admired for hundreds of years due to its engineering ability, and you can see that in its sewer system. The first Roman sewer system was called the Cloaca Maxima and was built in sixth century B.C. What started as an open channel was eventually closed and vaulted. The Cloaca Maxima is the oldest plumbing system that's still in use today, and amazingly some of the original masonry work is still holding together!

The Romans also created aqueducts, adding a new level of ingenuity to the oldest known plumbing systems. Relying on gravity, aqueducts transported water from the mountains above the cities to public bath houses and fountains. The water used there was then drained to the Cloaca Maxima. This created a constant supply of running water that helped to clear waste and other obstacles from the sewer.

What we learned from the oldest plumbing systems, especially from the Romans, has helped us shape our modern-day plumbing systems. The remnants of these ancient plumbing systems can still be seen today and have made for some popular tourist attractions.

As you flush your toilet or run your bath water and easily drain it, just remember that the use of such a water system used to be hard to come by and was not as commonplace as it is now. If you want to learn some more history, check out Advanced Water Solution's blog on the history of water treatment here!