A museum which kept ancient artefacts on display believing they were early gaming pieces has discovered they were actually used as a primitive form of toilet paper.
The Roman artefacts, deliberately shaped into flat discs, have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace since the 1960s.
And up until now the museum thought the items were used for early games, such as draughts.
But, a British Medical Journal article has now proposed they have a very different function.
The broken pieces range in size from 1 inch to 4 inches in diameter and were excavated near to the museum in Chichester, West Sussex in 1960.
It is well publicised that Romans used sponges mounted on sticks and dipped in vinegar as an alternative to toilet paper.
Yet, the idea these ceramic discs might also have been used is a revelation.
Museum curator Dr Rob Symmons said: “When pottery like this is excavated it is someone’s job to wash it clean.
“So, some poor and unsuspecting archaeologist has probably had the delight of scrubbing some Roman waste off of these pieces.
“It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could still find some further signs of waste or residue.
“However, these pottery pieces have no monetary value because we are essentially talking about items once used as toilet roll.
“The pieces had always been catalogued as broken gaming pieces but I was never particularly happy with that explanation.
“But when the article produced the theory they were used to wipe people’s bums I thought it was hilarious and it just appealed to me.
“I love the idea we’ve had these in the museum for 50 years being largely ignored and now they are suddenly engaging items you can relate to.”
Symmons, who has been at the museum for seven years, added: “We will obviously have to think about reclassifying these objects on our catalogue.
“But we hope the pieces will make people smile when they learn what they were used for.
“They would have probably been quite scratchy to use and I doubt they would be as comfortable as using toilet roll.
“But in the Roman era it was that or very little else.”