Bronze Age link to first saunas

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The Independent Online
Keep-fit fanatics enjoy one after a work-out in the gym, the Finnish accompany one with a thrashing with a piece of birch and the Romans, somewhat typically, decadently whiled away hours enjoying their pleasures.

But, according to an archaeologist from North Yorkshire, it may have Bronze Age man who first hit upon the idea of the sauna.

Tim Laurie believes that Bronze Age man may have enjoyed nothing better than a good sweat in the sauna after a day's hunting. The amateur archaeologist has discovered 64 mounds in the Yorkshire Dales which he says are the remains of prehistoric steam baths and which date between 1000BC and 1500BC.

As well as hot baths, the ancient people would have used "dry" sweathouses made from sticks and animal skin, which they filled with hot rocks, he believes.

For a bath or sauna, rocks would be placed on a fire before being rolled into troughs which could also have doubled as cooking pots for large kills such as deer and pig.

Mr Laurie said that 100 gallons of water could have been heated to boiling point using heated stones.

All the mounds, ranging from 8 to 15 metres across and 1.5 metres high, are near moorland springs, which may also have been used as places of worship. "In pre-history a hot bath would have been really appreciated," said Mr Laurie. "They had few pleasures and this was one of them.

"For those not well or with rheumatism, a hot bath would make them feel a lot better. I believe these mounds were bathing places, perhaps medicinal, and for cleansing."

Mr Laurie also said they could have been used "apres-hunt" for those who had been in search of game over rough country.

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