Many people in early civilizations did actually die from water poisoning. Also, the lack of pure water is part of what contributed to very very short life expectancies in early times. At the same time, however, their bodies were better equipped to drink unpurified water because they were able to build up some amout of defense towards the contaminatnts.
Some Ancient civilizations did know how to filter water. The earliest evidence we have is an ancient Sanskrit text from 2000BC, the Sus’ruta Samhira, that recommends purifying water by boiling or filtering it. Evidence from tomb wall paintings indicates that the Ancient Egyptians also knew how to purify water. In ancient Greece, the famous physician Hippocrates (460-354BC) instucted people to boil water and then strain it through a cloth bag.
In other cases, ancient people simply didn’t drink very much water, relying instead on beverages like beer, which was boiled as part of the brewing process.
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