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Portable charcoal water filter, England, 1890-1902

This water filter could be easily assembled by inserting the metal rod into the charcoal cylinder. When not in use, the charcoal could be stored in the brass case. It is thought that this filter was intended for British troops during the Boer War (1899-1902) in Southern Africa. Filtering water had two benefits: water from dirty streams could be drunk when fresh supplies had run out; and waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery could be avoided. Charcoal has long been used to filter and purify water, dating back to at least 2000 BCE in India.

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Glossary: water filter

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Glossary: cholera

A severe infection of the small intestine commonly contracted through eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, leading to dehydration, which can be fatal.

Glossary: dysentery

Infectious disease with symptoms including diarrhoea, bleeding, and abdominal cramps. It spreads in contaminated food and water, especially in the tropics.