We have an entire section of our website devoted to the fact that history is way more insane than what we learned in school. But perhaps nothing more perfectly demonstrates how history is one long, tortured game of telephone like finding out that parts of it just plain didn't happen. Among the things that never existed (or at least not in the way we were taught), you find ...
You've seen this on the signs of little shops that are trying to be quaint and old-fashioned, usually phrased as "Ye Olde _____ Shoppe":
"People couldn't spell for shit before they invented dictionaries."
So that's the way people talked back then, right? Sentences were full of "thou"s and "thee"s and "ye"s. Go to any Renaissance Fair and you'll find as many "ye"s as leather corsets.
The Y at the beginning of "Ye" isn't actually a Y at all. It's an Old English -- excuse us, Olde English -- letter called thorn:
Oh, and it's pronounced "th." So when you read "Ye Olde Dildo Shoppe," you're really reading "The Old Dildo Shop." Now don't you feel stupid for buying old dildos?
So how did we get duped into putting "ye" in front of our 20th century American English pubs? When the printing press first took off in the 15th century, German typesetters were the ones making the letters, and they didn't have a symbol for thorn because, well, they were German, not English. So the first English printers had to improvise with the letters they were given. This included the letter Y, which in the handwritten form looked a lot like thorn.
"Fuck it, I'm not figuring out how to carve that on a block."
This was fine, since readers of the time knew to pronounce "ye" as "the" because they recognized the intention. But that context got lost over time, for the same reason future historians are going to have no idea why people in our era kept substituting the number 4 in place of "for." And they'll have no idea what to do with something like "Ke$ha."
Here's a fun game: Look up "dinosaurs" on Google Images. Now look up stills from The Land Before Time. OK, now look at dinosaur coloring books. Toys. Garanimals outfits. Bed sheets. Bandaids from the pediatrician's office. Tattoos. Fantasia. Oh, we forgot to tell you to count up how many brontosauruses you saw. Trust us when we say "dozens."
Some of whom died tragically.
We've got terrible, terrible news for you: The brontosaurus as you know it never existed. We're so sorry.
Here's what happened: Back in the 1870s there was a massive rush to find and assemble dinosaur bones. The first person to find a new dinosaur fossil would get to name it, after all, and who wants to miss their chance to find history's first Orgasmosaurus? There were two bone hunters in particular who had a kind of Sosa/McGwire thing going on, minus the juicing (we assume). In 1877, Othniel C. Marsh found the skeleton of a leaf-eating, long-necked, long-tailed dinosaur. He was just missing the head, so he substituted a different dinosaur's head to complete the picture. He named his find "apatosaurus" -- Greek for "deceptive lizard" -- apparently implying that the lying bastard had intentionally fossilized itself with the wrong head.
"In a few million years, this is gonna be hilarious."
Meanwhile, Marsh's fellow paleontologist Edward Cope was making his own discoveries. But instead of encouraging one another with a gentle but friendly rivalry, the two used spies and thugs to sabotage each other. When Marsh found another long-necked specimen two years later, he was so paranoid that Cope would get to it first that he hurried up and named it "brontosaurus." This one had more bones and actually got mounted, but not in a sexual way, in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
What Marsh didn't understand was that he hadn't found a new species at all -- he had found another apatosaurus, just one with the correct head (it also had extra pelvic vertebrae, but that was because it was younger than the specimen the last guy had found). So there never was a separate dinosaur called brontosaurus: It was just a screwup by a paleontologist. Even stranger, scientists figured this out as early as 1903, but the "brontosaurus" made it to a museum first, so we've been calling it that ever since.
Paleontologists weren't as diligent back then, but they were way more heavily armed.
On the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World you have things like the Pyramids at Giza, which are still around, and the massive Lighthouse of Alexandria, which is long gone. But then you have the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which apparently never existed at all.
Ah, the ancient lynx-and-wine orgies that could have been.
If you're not familiar with the Hanging Gardens or why they were a big deal, just imagine if a section of Central Park was 80 feet above ground. We're not just talking about the riding paths and urine-soaked vagrants, but every tree you can imagine, flower beds, and statues -- all of it up in the air, supported by stone columns.
The story goes that, deep in the deserts of what is now Iraq, King Nebuchadnezzar II's wife was homesick for the lush foliage of her homeland, so Neb commissioned an elaborate terraced pleasure garden for her benefit. And while, say, the pyramids were just a one-time deal, the Hanging Gardens would have been a sprawling, ongoing project requiring engineering knowledge that surpassed everything else at the time -- you're trying to keep water flowing to all of these tiers of suspended foliage in the middle of the freaking desert.
"Sand can eat our Mesopotamian dicks."
It's hard to overstate how impressive an achievement it was. Or would have been, had it been true.
There are no records of the Hanging Gardens having existed at Babylon. Experts today believe that the myth of the Hanging Gardens was perpetuated by soldiers returning to Greece from Babylon. They told exaggerated tales of the things they saw -- Babylon did have some sweet buildings, and the land was more fertile back then -- and in turn the ancient historians made those descriptions even more fanciful, until we had a Wonder of the Ancient World on our hands.
"Yeah, this shit'll never do. Needs way more plants.
But surely there must have been something there for the ancients to embellish, right? Well, a tablet was found in the Assyrian city of Nineveh that has a depiction of a garden, which has one Assyriologist raising the possibility that Babylon's gardens were actually an exaggerated, overhyped version of something that existed elsewhere, maybe.
By the way, the tablet looks like this:
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: People could not draw worth a shit back then.