Indoor plumbing is definitely a modern convenience that has played an innumerable role in improving human health and eradicating horrific diseases like cholera from many parts of the world. However, the origins of modern plumbing go back thousands of years to ancient civilisations who recognised the crucial importance of clean water early on and completed extraordinary feats of engineering in order to achieve it. This week, we take a look at 3 ancient civilisations that pioneered plumbing technology.


Skara Brae

A Neolithic settlement in Northern Scotland is the site of the world’s first indoor toilet. Thought to have been occupied between 3180 BC and 2500 BC, Skara Brae is often called Scottish Pompeii due to its excellent state of preservation. The ancient seaside village had a sophisticated two channel drainage system made of stone and lined with tree bark, and each house also had a cell like enclave that is thought to have been a primitive indoor toilet.

Indus Valley Civilisations

The civilisations of the Indus Valley in what is now modern Asia pioneered a number of advanced plumbing technologies. All houses in the city of Lothal (built around 2350 BC) had a private toilet which was connected to a covered sewer network constructed of bricks and mortar. Other urban areas had both public and private baths, step wells, drainage channels, rainwater harvesting mechanisms and street ducts as well as devices called shadoofs and sakias which were used to lift water up to ground level.



The Romans are by far the most famous historical pioneers of plumbing technology. During it’s reign, the Roman Empire virtually mastered the art of covered sewerage systems, waste management, and fresh water delivery through their aqueduct systems. Their sophisticated drainage systems started out as a method for draining marshes and underground water and eventually evolved into enormous covered sewer systems like the Cloaca Maxima (built in 4BC). Drainage was also used in an agricultural context to divert rainwater so it would not wash away topsoil.


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