Archaeologists at a Roman fort more used to finding coins, weapons and tools have found a 2,000-year-old perfectly preserved wooden toilet seat.
Dr Andrew Birley, one of the experts at Vindolanda fort on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, believes it is the only find of its kind.
The site has previously revealed gold and silver or artefacts which relate to the military might of the Roman army, as well as everyday items like letters, shoes and babies’ booties.
Dr Birley, who is director of excavations at the fort, made the discovery himself in a muddy trench which was previously filled with historic rubbish.
It was well preserved by the anaerobic, oxygen-free conditions among the refuse.
There are many examples of stone and marble toilet benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat – perhaps preferred to a cold stone seat given the chilly northern location.
It was dumped from a fort which stood at the site before Hadrian’s Wall was started in the early second century.
Dr Birley said: “There is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before and this discovery is wonderful.
“We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat.
“As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found.
“It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable.
“Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate – their drains often contain astonishing artefacts.
“Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy.”
It will go on show at the museum once it has undergone a preservation process.