Turkey sponges have been collected and used in the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Sponge mould decorations can be seen on the walls of the so-called house of the queen in Knossos, built sometime in 1900 - 1750 BC, which proves their usage by the ancient Minoan culture of Crete. They were later known by both the Egyptian and Phoenician civilizations. Since ancient times, a sponge could be used for a particular painting technique, by soaking one in paint and leaving random decorative marks on the walls of a house. Greek pottery shows sponges even before the classical era, in bath scenes but also as a luxury item for the rich. In the Roman Empire, sponges were common and widely used. Several ancient authors described their history and harvesting and used the term spongiare for the process of washing or cleaning with them, which leads to their current name in many languages. Sponges had many uses in the Roman world and ceased to be a luxury item. Even Roman soldiers were supplied with sponges as part of their regular rations, for washing and as a material to stuff their helmets. Besides their use in hygiene, sponges have been employed in many other ways. Babies were suckled with honey sponges and they were also soaked in very cold and very hot water as a form of early hydrotherapy. Another interesting usage was as a natural contraceptive. In the old Jewish culture, they were covered in silk and tied on a string to prevent unwanted pregnancy. For a long time, the best contraception method was inserting a sponge soaked in vinegar or lemon juice before sexual contact. The first usage in surgery appears to date from the middle Ages. Arab surgeon Ibn Al Koff (1232 - 1286 AD) is believed to be the first to commonly use them as an anesthetic, by creating a so-called soporific sponge that served to make the patient inhale its content. This method required some preparation: the sponge was dried in sunlight after being soaked in a combination of plants with a sedative effect that included hashish, hyocymine juice and papaver. During surgery, the sponge was again soaked in water and inserted in the nose of the sick person. The active compounds were thus absorbed by the mucus in the nose and caused sleep during the operation. European medieval doctors also used sponges in surgery but their method was completely different from the Arab one. The bath sponge was boiled in a recipient with a mixture of plants until all the water was gone and the active compounds were concentrated inside it. The mixture consisted of opium, poison hemlock, green mulberries as well as juices of mandragora and ivy. It was placed in the patient's nose during surgery and another sponge with vinegar was used to revive him after the procedure. Bath sponges were also eaten as food and had a number of other medical uses. Some varieties from the Tethyae species were thought to cure digestive problems, dysentery, flatulence, sciatica and smelly breath. Homeopathy still uses sponges on a large scale, the most common remedies in traditional treatments are Spongia tosta, Carbo-spongiae and Spongia usta. They can also serve as prostheses with a small size, but this use is uncommon.
The turkey sponges can only grow if the sea is warm and survive up to a depth of 600 feet. They inhabit warm and tropical waters around the globe but are the most common in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, Bahamas and the waters around Florida.