6 Artifacts That Let You Directly Experience The Past
As we're all well aware from the influential work of notable historians Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan, the best way to learn about history is to experience it firsthand. Unfortunately, thanks to the all-consuming passage of time, the past is often relegated to boring old written words or, if we're lucky, a few grainy photographs.
However, as we've mentioned before, bits of history sometimes survive the centuries bizarrely preserved. So if you've ever wondered what it would be like to touch, taste, or kick back and smoke the past, rest assured that it's possible to ...
Hear (Horrible) Comedy Routines From The Late 1800s
Thomas Edison, the unscrupulous genius behind such revolutionary technological appropriations as the light bulb, founded a music distribution company in the late 1800s, making him history's first Suge Knight.
"The best revenge in the world is success." -- Suge Knight
The wax cylinders produced by Edison's National Phonograph Company contained two-minute snippets of recording and retailed for 50 cents, which is the equivalent of paying like 20 bucks for a single MP3 download today. Additionally, early cylinders had to be inscribed one at a time with a stylus, meaning that "mass production" involved musicians performing continuously until either enough copies had been produced or everyone ran out of opium. In 1901, the company realized cylinders could be produced en masse using a mold, and so began the era of "gold moulding," so named for the golden vapors given off during the process that were almost certainly violently toxic.
We'd make a fart joke, but then we'd be no better than they.
You can absolutely listen to the recordings today, which is like jumping into the world's most specific time machine to experience a snapshot of bygone entertainment designed exclusively for horrible people. You see, in addition to benign genres like brass bands, opera singers, and Spanish lessons, there were also fantastically horrific comedy records which seemingly consisted entirely of bad puns, fat jokes, and infanticide. Here's a typical joke recorded in 1899. If you can't listen to the audio at the link, we've transcribed it for your pleasure:
Billy: Hey Sammy, can you tell me how to make a lean baby fat?
Sammy: Why no, Billy, how would you make a lean baby fat?
Billy: Drop him out of a third-story window, and he'll come down plump!
That period's high infant mortality was 90 percent due to dead baby jokes.
Honestly, no one should be surprised that this is the type of joke Edison would preserve for history. And then there's this 1904 comedy bit that is basically anti-automobile propaganda (something that was common in that era, when cars were seen as toys for reckless rich assholes). In this bit, a nervous man, Reuben, goes for a ride in a newfangled Cyclone automobile, only to have the wealthy driver turn out to be a psychopath who enjoys how clearly deadly his new contraption is:
Reuben: Hey, are you going faster than the limit?
Driver: Hold your breath and I'll show you MY limit!
Reuben: Hey, look out for that chicken! You killed him!
Driver: That was a fowl!
Reuben: Say, there's old constable Skinner and his setter dog.
Driver: Setter, eh? He'll lay flat after I hit him!
Reuben: You killed him, too! Why, this is worse than murder!
Driver: Why no, it prevents murder. How can anyone commit a murder after an auto hits them?
Damn it, when will the world wise up and prevent these "automobile" owners from playing god!
Pet A Preserved Puppy From The Stone Age
The Russian permafrost is a veritable goldmine of disturbingly preserved horrors from the distant past trapped in the frozen ground of southern Siberia. But it's not all bad -- it's also preserved its fair share of adorableness for future generations to chip out. Case in point: Scientists recently discovered a near-flawless Stone Age puppy, quite possibly one of the earliest pets ever discovered.
Okay, maybe "adorable" is a bit too strong a word.
Mummy Dog is a card-carrying member of a Pleistocene species that went extinct thousands of years ago. Despite being 12,400 years old -- 8,000 years older than the Great Pyramid, for perspective -- the puppy was surprisingly intact, looking for better or worse like an overdone rotisserie chicken from Boston Market.
Slightly fresher, though.
As researchers chipped away at many millennia of frozen filth, they got ever more excited as fur, a snout, and a mouth full of perfectly preserved teeth gradually poked through. What's more, an MRI revealed that the puppy's organs were remarkably unharmed, with its brain estimated to be about 80 percent preserved.
Consequently, South Korean scientist and certifiable madman Hwang Woo-Suk has added the Pleistocene puppy to the extinct cave lion and the wooly mammoth on his "prehistoric monsters to clone" list. Meanwhile, his less, um, ambitious peers hope to extract samples of ancient bacteria from the dog's intestines -- a move that we're positive won't resurrect an ancient, ice-bound shapeshifting alien.
Related: Adopting A Puppy In Quarantine
Read The Doodles Of The Apollo 11 Astronauts
We're all familiar with the Apollo 11 Moon landing, because we have Neil Armstrong's unforgettable quip and NASA's live space footage to remember it by. What we're not quite as familiar with, however, is the trip there and back. What must it have been like for three men to cram themselves into the space equivalent of a VW Beetle and bear the entire weight of history's shithouse-craziest mission upon their shoulders?
Well, thanks to the Smithsonian's recent up close and personal tour of the Columbia Command Module (the first in more than 40 years), we now know that the crew's time was largely spent scrawling on-the-fly calculations all over the walls like questionably sane characters from a Stanley Kubrick film (such as the Moon landing).
"Day 3: Pretty sure Buzz is an alien. He'll never admit it, though. Not until it's too late to stop him."
The chicken scratch above was made by Michael Collins as he circled above the Moon's surface, attempting (and failing) to pinpoint the location of the Eagle Lunar Module, where his crew mates were stabbing the Moon with American flags.
Moving along, here's a locker full of pee:
"DO NOT DRINK."
Before the craft's waste management systems went active, the astronauts had to store their launch day urine bags somewhere, so naturally they wanted to put them someplace where they could not possibly be confused for anything else. In another area, a handwritten calendar kept track of the eight days of the mission. The only date that isn't scratched off is the very last one, during which they landed in the Pacific Ocean upon their return to Earth. It was a hectic day.
"Don't drown" ranks higher than "finish graffiti" on every checklist.
The best part of all this is that the in-depth tour we mentioned earlier was done for the purpose of constructing a minutely detailed 3D recreation of the Columbia, thereby allowing people to get a virtual tour of the vehicle that lugged humanity to its greatest achievement, no right stuff required. You can see an in-progress version here:
Taste Food And Booze That's Been In Storage Since Before The Civil War
If you've ever seen a crate of Civil War rifles looking as if they were eaten and subsequently shat out by a kraken with a serious case of the asshole-barnacles, you know that shipwrecks aren't normally a great source of pristine artifacts. But then, you've probably never seen the literal treasure trove recovered from the Arabia, a mid-19th-Century steamboat tasked with delivering goods to numerous frontier towns along the Missouri River. On September 5, 1856, the ship fell victim to a particularly dickish tree root and sank six miles north of Kansas City.
Fast forward to 1987. The Missouri River had diverted in the years since the calamity, and the treasure-hunting Hawley family determined that the Arabia now rested smack dab beneath a Kansas cornfield. When they painstakingly released the ship from its muddy grave, the Hawleys discovered that the oxygen-free tomb had kept it in relatively tip-top shape.
Near mint, really.
In even better condition was her nearly million-item cargo, with valuables ranging from guns to beaver hats to kitchen utensils to pre-Civil-War pickles, looking as fresh as the day they were shoved into a bottle by centuries-dead racists.
"Mmmmmm ... tastes like lumbago."
But that's far from the tastiest thing to be found in the deep. Proving that even archaeology is more fun in Finland, a team led by Professor Philippe Jeandet of the University of Reims in France dredged up 168 bottles of nearly 200-year-old champagne from a Baltic Sea shipwreck and reported that, apart from having lost most of its bubbliness, the wine had been perfectly preserved. How do they know this? Because they tasted it, of course.
"Dry and sweet, with a hint of haunted shipwreck."
Jeandet reported that the champagne was far sweeter than modern vintages, with flavors of leather and tobacco that remained on his palate for "two or three hours." If spending an afternoon feeling like you chewed on your grandpa's shoe sounds appealing to you, you can possibly pick up one of the bottles that didn't get slurped by professor-types at a European auction, where they tend to sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
It also contained traces of arsenic, in case that affects your max bid.
Grow A Flower Last Seen By Woolly Mammoths
Look, Jurassic Park is fiction. What they pulled off with dinosaur DNA in that movie is impossible for a whole bunch of reasons. In real life, there are ways to bring long-extinct ancient life forms back to the modern world; it's just that they look less like velociraptors and more like this:
"Dammit, the power's gone out on the security fence! Abandon the island!"
That is an inconceivably distant relative of the modern narrow-leafed campion, and it was recently resurrected by scientists after a 32,000-year absence from the planet. How is this possible? Well, it's all thanks to opportunistic antediluvian ground squirrels.
While chipping through the aforementioned Siberian permafrost to recover mammoth skeletons, Russian scientists stumbled upon an ancient network of 70 burrows, where the prehistoric squirrels had buried an ice king's ransom of fruits and seeds, which were in turn gradually reburied to a depth of around 100 feet by successive ice sheets. All in all, researchers recovered more than half a million individual seeds -- which, if the narrow-leafed campion above is any indication, might one day lead to a veritable Ice Age salad of sedge, Arctic dock, and the alpine bearberry (for those who always wanted a fruit that eats you back).
It's berry, beary good.
The scientists eventually succeeded in growing the long-gone plant by cultivating its placenta (fun fact: plants have placentas) in vitro. The resulting flower produced a whole new generation of fresh viable seeds, despite having been pummeled by radioactive subterranean rocks for countless millennia. Thankfully (and against all perfectly reasonable expectations to the contrary), the pretty little flowers ultimately emerged tentacle-free and harboring no obvious hatred toward mankind.
Smoke Weed That's Older Than Jesus
In 2008, archaeologists announced the discovery of 789 grams, or 225 eighths, of ancient cannabis in a Chinese tomb in the Xinjiang-Uighur burial complex near the city of Tupan. Dated at nearly 2,700 years old, this ancient cheeba predates the previous testable record holder, discovered on Willie Nelson's tour bus, by at least a decade or two.
A researcher, seen here testing the find and definitely not smoking it.
The dry, alkaline soil of the area in which it was discovered allowed the ancient pot to stay extraordinarily fresh and green. In addition, the sample was found to contain high levels of THC, suggesting that it was in fact cultivated for its psychoactive properties and not for its hemp fibers (which is why other early cultures were known to grow the plant). However, the tomb's complete lack of pipes, blunt wraps, or water bongs covered in black light paint left researchers scratching their heads over how the weed was ingested. Probably brownies.
As if this find weren't strange enough, the ancient site appears to be the final resting place of a shaman of the Gushi culture, a light-haired, blue-eyed (read: white) people who descended to China from Russia thousands of years ago in search of greener climes. It is unclear whether they also brought stacks of Sublime CDs with them, but there are many graves left in the area to uncover.
For more in the world of time traveling, check out 7 Theories On Time That Would Make Doc Brown's Head Explode and 5 Weird Side Effects You'd Experience As A Time Traveler.
Also, follow us on Facebook, and be the Marty to our Doc.