#3. The Three Hares
Of course, all of these examples so far are from the modern, globalized world, where planes and inexpensive travel allow people and ideas to spread overnight. But there are memes that predate all of that. Go back 1,500 years or so ago, and at some point you'll probably come across LOLcats' great-great-great-grandfather, the three hares.
Via Wikipedia/Stefan Flöper
Memes then were just as funny as they are now.
A very popular image that was probably spawned during the Sui Dynasty in China, the three hares is an image of, well, three hares, chasing one another in a circle with their ears attached in the kind of lame optical illusion that entertained people back then.
The image broke out of China and spread, where it eventually became a popular architectural feature in medieval Europe.
Eventually it ended up in Britain, where it became such a viral sensation that it started popping up on buildings every damn where. Fifteen centuries later, they're still sticking it on buildings.
This really demonstrates the amazing ability of simple images to persist across time and cultures. Imagine you get cryogenically frozen, and when you wake up, it's the year 3,568. Humans have colonized other solar systems. We are flying with bioengineered wings and storing our consciousness on embedded neural processors. All goods are manufactured instantly with superintelligent nanobots. And then you walk by a building and see that the Rage Face Guy is etched into the bricks:
But that's not even our oldest example ...
You probably learned this word alongside "alakazam" back when you got that amateur magic kit for your eighth birthday. Watch any cartoon where the character is about to pull a rabbit out of a top hat, and he'll preface the magic trick with "Abracadabra!"
Moments later things got X-rated.
But what the hell does it mean?
Well, this nonsense word has been repeated as a sort of running joke going all the way back to the freaking Roman Empire. And yes, it originally was used as a real magic word by magicians back in the day.
"Abracadabra" is first attributed in print to Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, a second/third century Roman sage/white wizard who reported on its healing properties. The idea was that if you said "abracadabra" multiple times in succession, dropping one letter each time, by the end you would be cured of whatever ailed you. Kind of like saying "Bloody Mary" in the mirror, except with less grisly death.
Apparently, even this spell was deemed too demanding for Gandalf's lazy ass.
The etymology of this nonsense word is difficult to pin down, but a popular theory is that it began as the Aramaic avda kedavra, which roughly translates into "create as I say." Wait, isn't that the spell from Harry Potter that kills people?
#1. The Sator Square
And now we arrive at probably the oldest meme in history, and it's interesting to note that it's every bit as nonsensical as "all your base are belong to us."
You all just got ancient-world rickrolled.
The phrase "SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS" roughly translates to "The sower is at the plow," but nobody has cracked a better translation because we don't know what "arepo" means. Keeping with the theme, we're going to go with "cheezburger."
The phrase is a palindrome and can be read in any direction, including upside down and backward, so our best guess is that some Roman simply thought he was incredibly clever, and the rest of the ancient world thought it was cool enough to continue sharing with strangers ... for the next 2,000 years.
In Oppede, France ...
Via M Disdero
... and Cirencester, England ...
... and the Abbey of St. Peter ad Oratorium in Capestrano, Italy ...
...and [Unknown],circa 323 B.C.-A.D. 256...
... and in a cabin in the woods outside Morristown, Tenn.:
Maybe the true meaning of this is something incredibly insightful, but we're rather more convinced it was just mindless trolls from old-timey IVchan playing pranks on the world.
And buy the book that future races will consider the first.
For more Internet trends that have been around before you were born, check out 8 Online Fads You Didn't Know Were Invented Decades Ago. Or learn how our ancestors continue to best us, in 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think.
And stop by Linkstorm to see the original Rick Roll.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infograpic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!