5 Modern Things in Historical Images That Shouldn't Exist
If you examine the entire timeline of scientific advancement, just about every development that makes your daily life complete (i.e. YouTube and Hot Pockets) seems to be crammed into a tiny smidgen at the very end of it. Modern society invented everything great, and the rest of history is just a bunch of chumps squatting in holes. The thing is, some of that seemingly recent stuff has been around a lot longer than you'd figure, like ...
Guns Are So Old, Even Medieval Demons Were Trigger-Happy Bastards
Check out the illustration below. It has all the stuff we associate with the Middle Ages: peasants, feudal castles, a holy war between angels and rifle-toting demons, and- ... wait, what?
For the gun-wielding devil, look to the lower right.
For the angel who's about to get his shit wrecked, just follow the line of the barrel.
We assure you this isn't pulled from somebody's DeviantArt portfolio -- it's an honest-to-goodness 15th-century woodcut scene from St. Augustine's City of God.
It's a city of God and Halo villains, apparently.
The use of incendiary devices in warfare has been recorded as far back as the year 904 in China. That's right: people were shooting at each other before the Western calendar even reached quadruple digits. Chinese artists also loved hiding gat-packing demons in their artwork, like the one at the top-right corner of this 10th-century illustration, trying to bust a cap in the Buddha.
The only "enlightenment" here is that snake-headed dude "en-lighting" your ass up.
No one knows exactly how firearm technology found its way to the West from China, but by the 14th century, guns were so well-known throughout Europe that we'd be astounded if horse-by shootings weren't a daily fear.
Look at his face: the demon on the left is just realizing he brought a crowbar to a gun fight.
So, why don't portraits of old-timey knights look like N.W.A. album covers? Well, it turns out that the use of gunpowder in battle just wasn't very efficient, which is why guns coexisted with other weapons in battle for hundreds of years, rather than overtaking them. But any and all efficiencies aside, you cannot deny the badassness of a medieval skeleton wielding a bazooka.
Sadly, being conceived in the 1400s meant this image ended up as a fresco instead
of the heavy-metal album cover it was destined to be.
Eyeglasses Have Been Around Since at Least the 13th Century
Quick: who invented eyeglasses? You just shouted, "Benjamin Franklin!" Now the whole bus is looking at you funny. Seriously, learn to manage your impulse control. But while it's true that ol' Poony Ben is generally credited with the invention of bifocals, eyeglasses in general existed four centuries before he ever (questionably) flew history's most ill-advised kite.
Above: Proof that eyeglasses existed in the medieval period,
or proof that Benjamin Franklin was a time traveler.
One of the earliest-known mentions of using eyeglasses to improve vision was made by English friar Roger Bacon, who outlined the theory of corrective lenses in his Opus Majus way back in 1266. And, while it's not clear if Bacon ever took his theories beyond the written page, it is pretty clear that Alessandro di Spina (another friar, this one from Pisa) did: in 1305, Giordano da Rivalto, yet another friar from Pisa, praised the existence of spectacles, which he said had been invented "not yet 20 years" before.
"And not a week later those motherfuckers started charging extra for 'lens coating.'"
Spectacles slowly made their way from the West to the Far East. Inventors of the 16th century eventually improved on the design by adding loops of cord to strap around your ears and hold them firmly in place, which made you look like the airship pilot that all the other steampunks picked on.
Judging from his face, they were playing keep-away with his blunderbuss
while that portrait was in progress.
The First Touchscreen Device Is From the 1960s
There was a time, not so very long ago, when interacting with an electronic device via some kind of touch-sensitive-wizard-magic screen was the stuff of science-fiction. That time was the 1950s.
"And with this middle finger, I give a touch to the future, and a fuck-you to the past."
Back then, at the Royal Radar Establishment in the U.K., a researcher named E.A. Johnson was hard at work developing the very first capacitive touchscreen in an era when most people's idea of a TV remote was to scream at their kid until he got up and changed the channel to one of the four other channels.
What they lacked in TV channels they more than made up for in shirt ruffles.
Johnson perfected his touchscreen between 1965 and 1967, and in 1968 he published the full details of the technology for use in the field of aviation. It wasn't just a theory or a one-off prototype, either -- U.K. air traffic controllers used the touchscreen up until 1995 (when they presumably switched to the "swig of gin and a prayer" method). Then there was 1972's PLATO IV, which allowed students at the University of Illinois to answer test questions on a touchscreen:
And presumably play solitaire once the lecture crossed the 45-minute mark.
If at least one of those students didn't figure out a hack to draw virtual boobs on the screen, we'll eat our hats. And we exclusively wear giant novelty sombreros, so that's a seriously high-stakes bet.
Cosmetic Nose Jobs Were Popularized by Jewish Men More Than a Century Ago
We've already told you about history's earliest-known snout sculptor -- a brilliant surgeon in ancient India who reconstructed the chopped-off noses of convicted adulterers. But that guy's work was a medical necessity. Surely the popularity of going under the knife for the sake of pure cosmetics is a more recent sign of our superficial times. Like, no way it predates Hollywood, right?
Wrong. Demand for nose jobs exploded in 19th-century Europe. The demographic responsible for the procedure's popularity? Jewish businessmen.
"It was my 'Sweet 36' gift."
To explain this phenomenon, we need to take a closer look at all the stuff that was happening in Europe at the time. First, the recent Age of Enlightenment preached that all men had equal rights under the law. That was followed by the French Revolution, which slashed the ruling classes' oppression of the masses (by way of slashing their throats). Meanwhile, Jewish intellectuals got the ball rolling on their own rights movement, the Jewish Emancipation. That meant that the historical restrictions imposed upon Jewish citizens all across Europe were slowly lifted, little by little. Whereas Jews were once barred from owning land, confined to living in literal ghettos, and prohibited from working most jobs, they were now finally allowed to be productive members of society.
And nothing says "productivity" like shaving off some cartilage.
Jewish men were pumped about gaining entrance into once-exclusive job sectors, but because reform doesn't necessarily preclude racism, they figured their job prospects would be even better the more they looked like their gentile counterparts. They sadly weren't wrong. All of this change rubbed much of Europe like sandpaper underpants. See, they were willing to make Jews equal in theory -- until that theory became a reality. Those unwilling to accept the change were wholly wigged out by so many Jews speaking their language, circulating in their social spaces, and now dressing and looking like them.
"My god," Europe said, nervously polishing its monocle, "since we lifted our oppressive policies, it's as if the Jews will do anything to be seen as normal human beings."
And, learning the folly of their ways, Europeans never discriminated against the Jews ever again.
Color Photographs Were Invented in the '60s ... the 1860s
Black-and-white media was so pervasive for so long that some avid old-timey TV watchers still dream in monochrome to this day. It was less than ideal, to be certain, but capturing the world in all its true color was simply inconceivable until relatively recently. And yet, here's a color photograph, taken by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, that calls us a bunch of filthy liars:
But not to our faces, because what are you gonna do, ribbon?
WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?!
That's not one of those "recolored" photographs done by enthusiastic Internet amateurs: "Tartan Ribbon" is considered the first color photograph ever taken, and it was captured by taking three photographs under red, green, and blue filters, and then projecting them as a single image. Twenty years later, while studying the phenomenon of light interference, Frenchman Gabriel Lippmann tripped over these little beauties and stumbled straight into a Nobel Prize in physics:
"Quality composition" and "interesting stuff to take pictures of" were apparently
not invented in the 1800s.
In the 20th century, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii went on a photographic tour across the Russian Empire at the behest of Tsar Nicholas II. Prokudin-Gorskii used a much-perfected version of Maxwell's three-picture, three-color filter method. These are the results.
The fact that he also managed to photograph the very concept of socioeconomic injustice was a coincidence.
That's a photograph of the Russian countryside taken three years before the start of World War I. Here's another of Prokudin-Gorskii's shots, a portrait of a group of Jewish schoolchildren:
Beating color film by decades was nothing compared to the accomplishment of getting six kids
to stand still long enough for that picture.
And here's a shot of what we assume Russian pimps looked like, back in the day.
... and, thanks to the magic of online specialty shopping, an entire office of comedy writers.
Carmen Burana is a journalist based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter, where she chirps under her real name. Patricia is a writer and occasional illustration artist, and she can prove that with a Tumblr, a Twitter, and an image gallery.
For more ways we're all unoriginal hacks, check out 6 Modern Technologies Animals Invented Millions of Years Ago and 5 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think.
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