You remember how sad you were when your favorite childhood toy accidentally went under the lawnmower? Even though we're all grown up now, cherished items from the past seem to carry a very special significance for us. That's why we find it so unthinkable that someone would take a priceless relic, thousands of years old, and use it as a napkin or something.
Of course, something being unthinkable hasn't ever stopped humanity from doing it.
Imagine you went to a buddy's house and saw the he had an old rusty car in the front yard, up on blocks. But then you notice that under one wheel, instead of cinder blocks, he's using the Lost Ark of the Covenant.
Also imagine it was Indie's car for dramatic irony
Well, a part of Stonehenge is missing, and what it got used for is no less ridiculous.
Debate has raged for centuries over what exactly Stonehenge was, with theories ranging from a religious temple to a bitchin' magic trick by Merlin and some giants.
We know what we're putting our money on.
Either way, archaeologists think it was erected between 3000 and 2500 BCE, making it one of the oldest man-made structures still in existence. It's definitely one of the most famous.
What most people don't realize is that the most important part of Stonehenge appears to be missing. Drawings of the site from just a few centuries ago show a stone altar (which by the way would confirm it was originally a temple) but it's sure not there now. Experts have been obsessed with finding it, as it may very well be the most important rock in the formation and would finally solve the mystery of the 'henge.
Now, archeologists think they have found it. Was it moved to some other religious site by cultists? Did a UFO come back to claim it?
No, it appears somebody a few centuries ago just dragged it away because they were short of rocks for their construction project. The altar has apparently been found, in two pieces, as part of a small bridge a few miles down the road.
What were they thinking?
Well, nobody really knows. There's not exactly a shortage of rocks in England.
For some reason, the English seem to just enjoy building mundane shit out of important historical artifacts, like they did with Hadrian's Wall. That's a 2,000 year-old wall across Northern England originally built by the Romans, the bricks of which now can now be seen in nearby houses and churches.
But some old brick wall is one thing; Stonehenge has stood unmolested for nearly 5000 years, and even in the 1600s people knew how important it was. It takes a lot of English balls to steal a huge rock from a mystical ancient site just because you can't be assed to cut a couple more stones for your little bridge.
"Ah, just grab one from over there."
There are massive projects underway to try to find and preserve ancient Egyptian tombs and the remains inside them. The mummified bodies of people thousands of years old provide a wealth of information to researchers and an invaluable link to the past, one continually threatened by tourists and Brendan Fraser-esque treasure hunters.
"It's mummy-fightin' time, bia!" Was that a line from that movie? We've never seen it.
But despite the obsessive preservation process the mummified bodies were put through, there aren't many left today. Why?
Well, mostly because they were burned for firewood.
What were they thinking?
We typically think of mummies as dead Pharaohs, but just about anybody could buy a mummification option with their funeral plan back then. In fact, many would save up for their entire lives, foregoing less important things like, you know, food. Even those who couldn't afford it still faced the possibility of ending up as a mummy--the conditions in the desert are such that a dead body can become naturally mummified by the sand and dry heat. Ancient Egypt was a virtual mummypalooza. Was.
By the time they stopped making mummies in Egypt, they had literally millions of them. By the 1800s, people were tripping over mummies in the street. In fact, they had more mummies in Egypt than they had trees. So, when things started to get a bit chilly in the winter and they didn't have any wood to burn, someone looked at that pile of bone-dry corpses and had a bright idea.
"That dude looks totally flammable."
So, they were tossing mummies on the fire left and right, the family gathered around the crackling hearth, drinking some cocoa and watching flames lick through the eye holes of half a dozens grinning skulls.
This didn't seem like much of a tragedy when mummified remains were plentiful, but after a while they whittled down their supply to a minute number. Did this convince them to treat these cultural artifacts with a little more respect? Oh, hell no.
Not only did they continue using mummies as firewood, they ground them up into medicines, and sold their wrappings to Western paper companies who then made wrapping paper out of them (this stopped when the wrapping paper gave people cholera, and they died). For a while, locomotives in Egypt were fuelled not with coal, but with mummies. During the Victorian era they were even selling them to rich people in England who would have "unwrapping parties" which, unfortunately, were exactly what they sound like.
Worst. Bachelor Party. Ever.
Once upon a time, paper was more expensive than a lot of precious metals. As a result there weren't nearly as many books around back in the day and of those, not many have survived. These precious artifacts suffer the ravages of time (as well as air and moisture) despite efforts to preserve them. Oh, and also we make some into cheesy souvenirs.
For instance, people who sang in choirs at church back in medieval times didn't each have their own book, they were too precious. The monks got around this by making a few huge books that everyone in the choir could see. This was incredibly time consuming work, from stretching and preparing the vellum (paper made from baby cow skin), to copying out the notes and lyrics by hand. The results were beautiful examples of medieval art. Today, museums spend years preparing special exhibitions of these masterpieces so that people can enjoy them.
As illustrated here
But let's say you are a regular dude who somehow gets his hands on one of these priceless books. What better way to preserve their splendor than by tearing out pages, cutting them up, and making lampshades out of them?
What were they thinking?
Well, they do make pretty cool lampshades.
This was the personal hobby of William Randolph Hearst, and many examples can be found at his "ranch house," Hearst Castle, in California.
Maybe it was just a combination of being rich and bored. It wasn't just choir books either--obviously wanting to throw a bit of variety into his interior design aesthetic based around desecrated historical artifacts, Hearst also made lamps out of ancient Xian dynasty Chinese vases, as well as original documents issued by the Catholic Church in the 1500s. We imagine he was barred from visiting most museums.