How old is bathing?

Just how important was washing and personal hygiene to people in the past?

A group of girls taking a bath as part of a contest to see who can wash the fastest.

Humans have probably been bathing since the Stone Age, not least because the vast majority of European caves that contain Palaeolithic art are short distances from natural springs.

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By the Bronze Age, beginning around 5,000 years ago, washing had become very important. Ancient Egyptian priests were fastidiously clean, but arguably the greatest washers were the Harappan people living in the Indus Valley, in modernday south-east Asia. Their city of Mohenjo-daro (Mound of the Dead) boasted a ‘Great Bath’, covering over 80 metres in area, which was likely a ritual space for religious bathing.

This was perhaps not open to all ranks of society, but throughout Harappan cities, there were also wells and bathing platforms for the masses. At Mohenjo-Daro, one building was discovered with an underground furnace, possibly so baths could be heated. Indeed, the Harappans were obsessed with water, and had sophisticated hygienic infrastructure to deliver it to and from their homes.

Find out the historical origins of more phrases from history

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This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine