In the deep trenches at Vindolanda, which was once a Roman military fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, the team found the seat discarded among rubbish left behind at the site before the construction of the wall started in the early second century.
There are many examples of stone and marble seats from across the Roman empire, but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat.
The team says it “has clearly been well used”, and is almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen-free conditions at Vindolanda. Although not as grand as a marble or stone toilet seat, it would have been more comfortable to sit on in the cool climate of Britannia.
Dr Andrew Birley, director of excavations at the site, 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 about 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!”
The wooden seat will take up to 18 months to conserve. Once this process is complete, the seat will be put on display at the Roman Army Museum.
Archaeologists also hope to find a ‘spongia’, the natural sponge on a stick that Romans used instead of toilet paper.
Vindolanda was formerly a key military post – the most northern outpost of the Roman Empire. Artefacts previously discovered at the site include letters, worn shoes, baby booties, socks, combs, jewellery, tools and textiles.
To find out more about Vindolanda, click here.