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Did older civilizations use Humanure?

 
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I wonder if older civilizations used Humanure and if there were any side effects from using it.
 
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I believe Terra Preta from the Amazon Basin included human waste in the process.
I guess it also depends on your definition of "humanure" - in areas of China excrement has been used fresh on fields for 1000's of years and in the area it is, the culture cooks all its food to protect people. I believe effort is being made to compost it nowadays, since we know more about microbes. (Where they haven't switched to chemical fertilizers which is *not* an improvement!)

 
pollinator
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Aztecs used it on their floating gardens. I don't know how much it was decomposed.
 
pollinator
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The first book I ever read on humanure (if I can summon the name from the depths of my memory I'll link it) talked extensively about humanure use in Japan. They described elaborate roadside toilets built by farmers to entice the weary traveler to deposit their goods there instead of further down the road.
Farmers of 40 Centuries also discusses extensive human waste composting in preindustrial China
 
pollinator
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That's an interesting question! I heard Paul talk about the use of 'night soil' in Japan in his podcasts about a book called 'Just Enough'
https://permies.com/wiki/23097/Podcast-Review-Part
I would love to know if any form of humanure (composted or not, with or without urine) was used in the past, also in European or Middle-Eastern countries. The only historical way to deal with it I know is what's written in the Bible (Deut. 23:12,13)n which is NOT about using it, but burying it in the sand. Although in many ways I want to follow biblical principles, my opinion is that in this particular case there is a better way ...
 
pollinator
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I am told that human waste. known as night soil, is still used (at least as recently as the '60's) in Korea and is an important commodity.  However, Humnaure is unique.  It is composted and sterile before being applied to fields.  Due to the smells reported with the processes currently practiced in Asia, I don't believe it is being therompyllicly processed.

I don't know of any current or ancient practice that adapted the 'humanure process' to treat waste before using it as fertilizer.  However, those efforts may have just been lost to history.  



 
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I don't know about ancient cultures, but I know examples from the more recent past.
My SIL is from rural China, and when I visited her village in ca. 1998 there was no sewer system but only one public outhouse for the whole village. The farmers used urine for fertilizing but I am not sure how it was collected. It sounded as if the farmers used only that from their own family.

In Germany, public sewer system were installed only in the 19th century to combat epidemics that thrived in densely inhabited cities. I have read somewhere - years ago - that the cabbabe plantations of one city were installed near the open drainfields (Rieselfelder) which did contribute to fertilization but also had a negative impact on the taste (apparently too much nitrogen throws the taste "off").

Today, some of the Rieselfelder have been converted to agricultural farmland, some remain functional with pure water afflux (not waste water) to provide habitats for different birds.
Some functioned until 50 or 60 years ago (in East Germany until 1990) and accumulated toxic waste like heavy metals.

To my knowledge, this system was not used in my part of Bavaria.

 
pollinator
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The new world had no domesticated manure-producing livestock, so any manure they used was human.

Humanure needn't be sterile. In fact, I would prefer that mine not be. I would consider a process that used heat and dessication to kill pathogens before composting, but if subjected to a proper hot-composting, humanure should be perfectly safe.

To be clear, night soil is unprocessed human waste. This isn't the same as using fresh herbivore manure of different sorts, as herbivores' manure is less pathogenic in terms of danger to humans.

I think the only animal manures I would be as cautious about as human feces are omnivore feces, especially pig manure, as they are prone to many of the same pathogens as we are. It is suggested that the disease environment of the New World during and just after the Columbian Exchange was most impacted not by Spanish conquistadores, but rather the sounders of pigs they drove before them for food, who readily went feral and adapted to their new situations.

The japanese roadside composting crappers are news to me, but not really surprising. I could see that type of innovation arising out of the Edo period.

-CK
 
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In the upper Himalayas, ie Tibet and Ladakh, human manure has always been an essential part of farming, and is still today.

In much of India people just "went out into the fields" so I guess that was getting the nutrients back into the cycle, though the hygiene was not good. The current government claims to have completely ended the practice.

Actually if I think about the fact that there wasn't plumbing in most places until quite recently, and plumbing is the main way I can think of to remove the human manure from the nutrient cycle, the question is really "Did any older civilizations NOT use humanure? And if so how did they manage to remove the nutrients from the ecosystem?" Pooping in the river or below the high tide line, or over the edge of a cliff, are some of the only ways I can imagine that to accomplish modern humanity's remarkable daily feat of removing all the nutrients needed to produce our food from our ecosystem, and converting them into a noxious pollutant instead.
 
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Gene Short wrote:I wonder if older civilizations used Humanure and if there were any side effects from using it.



This is discussed in detail in the 4th edition of the Humanure Handbook.

https://humanurehandbook.com/store/Humanure_Handbook.html

Joe Jenkins
 
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