Irene de Craen

Cesspit treasures

A cesspit is a deep waste pit that used to serve as a toilet and for the disposal of garbage. They are important sources of information for archaeologists. The finds that are found herein give a tangible picture of the daily life of the former residents of a building. On, nearly 400 cesspits investigated in Amsterdam have been mapped.


Amsterdam cesspit - garbage/rubbisch from Renbrandt, Renbramdthouse Amsterdam

Cesspits are important archaeological sources of information that give us a glimpse into the kitchen and dining rooms of Amsterdam households of the past. Before the water closet was introduced at the end of the 19th century, most households had an outhouse located in the courtyard because of the unbearable stench. This sanitary facility was on a chute that led to an underground reservoir where the faeces and other waste was collected; the cesspit. 

Contrary to contemporary use, the toilet was also used for general waste disposal. Large amounts of household waste ended up here, ranging from kitchen waste to crockery. Cesspits were often used by one household, but it was also possible that it was used through multiple chutes from different plots. The finds in such a cesspit consist of utensils, but also of bones, seeds and peels. In this way one person's waste, really is another one's treasure.