No one knows when the first handwashing device appeared. I would definitely argue with those who imagine our ancestors exclusively as unwashed and smelly people. The reality seemed to be much less terrifying. After all, the hand-washing device is a rather ancient invention.
Exploring the Intricate Designs and Materials of Antique Handwashing Vessels
Usually, it is a vessel that can hang on a wall or other vertical support. The past’s simplest devices were equipped with a hanging handle and a spout for water flowing out. Outwardly, antique items for washing hands resemble a kettle we are all used to. Water flows from the spout when the vessel is tilted. But these «kettles» typically had two, three, or even four noses often decorated with animal heads. Sometimes they were made in the form of figurines of real or fantastic animals and birds. These figurines have been encountered during excavations. Such vessels were often made of yellow or red clay, wood, ceramics, bronze, copper, and even cast iron. In peasants’ houses, they were usually hung in the corner, behind the stove, by the front door. A basin, placed under the vessel, collected dirty water. Aristocracy could afford bronze vessels, usually in the form of an animal, often a lion or a horse. Those water carriers are called aquamanile. Aquamanilas made by German craftsmen were considered especially valuable. The bronze dragon-shaped German aquamanile from an old private collection was put up for sale at Christie’s for 1.3 million euros! Nowadays, visitors can see it in Hildesheim’s museum.
The Ancient Practice of Handwashing and Its Spiritual Significance
From time immemorial, the handwashing ritual has preceded food and drink. By the most conservative estimates, this tradition goes back nine centuries. More likely that these habits were born as some magical action that cleanses from filth. The obligatory ritual was hand washing, prayer, and only then eating. At first, people washed their hands in a bowl with water. Then, they noticed that clean running water has advantages over stagnant water and transformed this observation into a particular device with running water. Of course, there should always be water in it. In Ukraine, the first bucket of water brought into the house was poured into the washbasin. From ancient times, water was considered a source of all living things and had a symbolic meaning of life, health, destiny, and happiness. It removes dirt, not only physical but also mental. The father, blessing the young bride, usually said: “Be healthy like water, be merry like spring, be rich like autumn, be fertile like earth”.
Handwashing Stations and Their Historical Evolution
I remember these hanging washbasins from my early childhood. An old metal washing station was always hung on the fence in my grandmother’s country house. And we used to clean our hands in the backyard before stepping into the house. We, children,
stretched our hands towards it, pushed the spout so that the water would flow, splashed with water, and were so happy!
The ancestor of such a washbasin originated from Ancient Greece. The vessel consisted of a bowl with a stand with a fixed spoon. It worked thanks to the principle of levers and counterweights and allows to control the flow, getting a metered dose of water.
How Handwashing Stations Enhance Homesteading Experiences
Now I own the house myself. And like most homesteaders, I have a vegetable garden. When I tinker in my garden, I feel the need to wash my hands, and more than just once. At first, I always put a bowl of water next to the beds. It was not very convenient, as the water quickly became dirty and had to be changed frequently. And then I remembered about grandma’s old metal washbasin hanging on the fence! Nowadays, these handwashing devices are made mainly of plastic. They are lightweight, do not take up much space, and are easily hung on a hook or even on a tree branch. Now I have several of these handwashing stations in different places in my backyard, and I feel happy! When I go camping, I never forget to put it in my backpack. Like so, my family and friends can always enjoy access to running water. Indeed, comfort and happiness are in the little things!