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Archaeology without convenience

What will future archaeologists see as the earliest indication of the beginning of the end of Western civilization? My theory is that it will be revealed in the way we go to the loo.

Using sophisticated remote sensing and dating techniques, future archaeologists will be able to explore a vast amounts of complex and rich data relating to our abandoned cities, towns, villages and countryside. They will investigate our military sites, our transport systems, our supermarkets, our hospitals, our technology, our dress, our shopping centres, our cinemas, our landfill sites, our drains and our cemeteries. They’ll even investigate the internet!

Among all of this, where will the earliest signs of decline be registered?

If you think about it, there is only one answer. Civilization can be defined in many ways, but the management of civic amenities and hydraulic engineering are key. Hence, my guess is that future archaeologists will find the earliest indications of decline in the late 20th and early 21st-century closure of public toilets.

Here is a blurred glimpse of the recent past that I think heralds the beginning of the end. This public toilet isa well-built slate construction, well maintained and well-positioned to support leisure activities at Llyn Brenig, Denbighshire. In actual fact, it is at the beginning of the Brenig Archaeological Trail! It is now out of use.

It isn’t simply the fact that it is shut, it is the fashion by which its closure is articulated: a wooden board as a replacement door and a typed notice stated it is closed ‘until further notice’. The nearby signposts still denote an active Ladies and Gents toilets at this location.

Visiting with a family of five kids and another adult, this was less than convenient. It feels like a post-apocalyptic scene and perhaps it will be. I hope I’m wrong, but it felt like I was looking into the abyss as I was denied a glimpse of the toilet bowl and urinal.

This is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the last 30-40 years, I’ve seen many abandoned public toilets, some subsequently bulldozed away. What makes this one eerie is the superb quality of its construction and its apparent newness.

Death by toilet?

At least I didn’t find an bog bodies!

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