Look Out Below! Antique Bone Telescopes Found in Toilets

Cesspits – those ancient toilets/garbage dumps where the lowest-ranking archaeologists get to spend their time digging – are not typically the site of many cool historic discoveries. But that’s exactly where five fascinating 18th century telescopes were found in Amsterdam. The scopes are so interesting partly because they are made of bone – cattle metatarsal bones, to be exact. While four of the dual-lens scopes are made of a single bone, the fifth is made of two parts held together with a screw thread.

The scopes would have been luxury items when they were constructed, likely used to look at faraway items on land or at sea – or even to take in stage shows or operas. All five of the objects were excavated at different times over the last 40 years, but it wasn’t clear at first just what they were. They looked like simple pieces of bone, but upon further inspection they turned out to be far more interesting. Researchers aren’t sure why the telescopes would have been thrown into toilets, but they figure that either they broke and their wealthy owners simply threw them away…or even sadder, they may have been dropped and their owners didn’t want to reach into the toilet to retrieve them. Kind of like the 18th century version of the toilet-phone.

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See more in Antique Gadgets or under Vintage & Retro. April, 2012.