A generation of students found out the hard way that archaeology isn't anywhere near as much fun as Indiana Jones made it look. Still, experts in the field do have their exciting, and even shocking, days at the office. Mainly, these occur when they discover baffling artifacts that are half a planet away from where they should be, proving that a whole lot of what we thought about history was dead wrong. Like ...
When Columbus and his buddies made it to the New World, aka not India, they found more than just future smallpox sufferers waiting for them. There was a whole cornucopia of never-before-seen plants and animals growing in the Americas, not to mention new and interesting ways to use beads. So while the natives came away from their first European encounter with raging infectious diseases and honeybees, Europeans were introduced to the glories of tobacco, narcotics made from the coca leaf and a whole mess of open-air nudity. If you've ever needed evidence that history is unfair, there it is.
"This is great, we'll take it. These guys don't have squatters' rights, do they?"
At least that's the story we know. And if that's true, then how did some Egyptian mummies wind up with traces of cocaine in their bodies?
In 1992, German scientists were testing their mummies when they found remnants of hashish, tobacco and cocaine in their hair, skin and bones. Now, hashish comes from Asia, so it's not unfathomable that a royal Egyptian would know a guy who could get him the hook-up. But tobacco and cocaine were strictly New World plants at the time of the mummification. It'd be like if some celebrity today tested positive for heroin that could only have been grown on Venus.
"I've been nodding for the last two millenniums. This shit is incredible."
So how did it happen? All we have are theories. Maybe the sites were contaminated by hard-partying archaeologists (although you'd think that if somebody had old pics of themselves snorting coke off of a mummy's ass, they'd have uploaded that shit to Facebook by now). Or maybe the mummies themselves were fake, like maybe they were disco-era archaeologists who just took their love of mummification too far.
"Four excavators came down with the disco fever before a priest released the curse."
So the German scientists did what anyone trying to protect their reputation would do -- they had an independent lab test the mummies themselves. They found the same dope. The Germans then went to work testing hundreds of ancient mummies, finding nicotine in a third of them. Not only that, but actual tobacco leaves were discovered in the guts of Ramses II (of Exodus fame, maybe). And among those leaves, an actual dead tobacco beetle was found, which means that some ancient Egyptian just smoked the hell out of his cigarettes.
Only a lazy beatnik would have that beard.
Picture this: You're an archaeologist minding your own business in New Mexico when a guy comes up and tells you he's got something to show you. Once you check to make sure he's wearing pants and double check to make sure you've got a gun, you follow him to this town outside Albuquerque called Los Lunas. And there he shows you a 90-ton rock inscribed with ancient writing. No big deal, right? Everyone knows Native Americans have lived in the area since at least the 1850s, it's only natural they'd scratch some graffiti up every now and then. People get bored.
Things to do in Old New Mexico: Die, watch other people die, make pottery.
This is exactly what happened to archaeology professor Frank Hibben in 1933. Only he had the sense to recognize that the scribbling wasn't Native American writing -- it was Hebrew. Ancient Hebrew. And the message wasn't "Custer sux balls," it was the Ten Commandments.
Believe it or not, while people in the 1930s were gullible enough to think Martians were invading Earth in the most melodramatic way possible, they were cynical enough to call bullshit at the claim that anyone in ancient America knew Hebrew. Yet when experts took a look, they were confounded. For one thing, the script included some Greek letters, which indicated that the script was etched by someone comfortable with mixing Greek and Hebrew (if no one comes to mind, ancient Samaritans fit that bill perfectly).
They're the ones who didn't cross the road to get to the other side because their religion bans jokes.
So that was weird. And the rock was the same basalt of the mountain right behind it, so it was definitely local. But that doesn't mean that the ancient script on the rock was ancient, right? Any old American with a theology degree and a chisel could have done it (again, there was literally nothing else to do for entertainment back then). It also doesn't help that the guy who discovered the rock in the first place was later implicated in artifact fraud (though the allegations were never proven). The whole thing was just too weird to be anything but a hoax.
"Oh sure, but if we wrote 'Elvis lives' in Latin, everyone would believe it."
Yet when a modern geologist examined the inscriptions and compared them with carvings nearby, he concluded that the scratchings could be between 500 and 2,000 years old. And that's as much as we'll presumably ever know -- by this point, too many people have handled the artifact for dating tests to get any kind of accurate results.
If legit, it would explain why the local tribes have such kickass bagels.
Anyone with a third grade understanding of world geography (or access to Google Maps) knows that Rome and Latin America aren't neighbors (fiery tempers and flat bread recipes don't count as proximity in the map world). Even when Rome was at its apex and was conquering Africa, England and everyone's hearts, places like Mexico were nowhere on their radar. Not just because radar didn't exist, but because as far as the Old World was concerned, the Western Hemisphere didn't exist. Once you got past Portugal, it was nothing but Neptune, water dragons and the edge of the planet.
Standing somewhere high and noticing the curve of the Earth was just too much for the Romans.
Which was why scholars were baffled when an ancient statue of a Roman head popped up in an old temple in Mexico.
In 1933, an archaeologist was digging around a burial ground about 40 miles away from Mexico City when he discovered this tiny little figure among the other offerings. And we should mention that this wasn't just a typical out-in-the-open burial dumping ground. The spot he was digging was previously under not one, but two undisturbed cement floors that were untouched since the 1500s. So it's not like a jokester could have purchased it at the nearest Roman-centered novelty store and dumped it in a cemetery to be hilarious.
"I left an ancient Egyptian dildo in there for him to find, but wait until he realizes it's from the wrong dynasty!"
And yes, we're aware that Columbus touched ground a few years before that, but white guys didn't make it to Mexico until 1519, and even then, it's unlikely they would have been carrying around Roman artifacts. And yes, they know it was Roman -- the beehive bouffant (or hat) and facial features match Roman artifacts of the second century.
Romans clearly went through a difficult puberty before becoming masters of the world.
So how did it get there? No one knows. But another discovery might shed some light on the mystery.
In 1982, an underwater archaeologist discovered a buttload of third century Roman vases in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro. A little more digging around led to the discovery of two rotting Roman-style ships, which were then promptly buried with sand by the Brazilian government. Apparently Brazil hates adventure, and also the idea of anyone messing with their version of history, which was that their land was discovered by the Portuguese, not the Romans. Seems like it'd be cooler to have been discovered by the Romans, but whatever.
"We don't want a bunch of unruly Italians covering everything in marinara sauce and pictures of the Pope."