In the past, we've told you about archaeological finds that turned out to be horrifying, baffling, surprisingly advanced, or powerfully erotic. But we know what you're wondering: "Cracked, when will you show us centuries-old shit that's just plain silly or outright stupid?" We're glad you asked, gentle reader.
Over two centuries ago (or so it feels), the Lonely Island released "Dick In A Box," a ballad about two guys who gift their girlfriends ornately wrapped boxes containing their junk. We don't know precisely where Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake got the idea for this skit from, but it's entirely possible that they have access to a time machine (or subscribe to the best archaeological journals). At least, that's what we're getting from this early example of the craft dating all the way back to the 1800s.
Described as "a spring-loaded erotic carved wood novelty box," this item sold at auction in 2008 to an unnamed buyer for the princely sum of $1,214 -- or to put it another way, $151 per inch. It's not clear whether this was a one-off gag or part of a Victorian fad we've yet to identify, so be careful if you come across any boxes like this in your grandma's attic. You don't wanna end up having to tell people that's how you lost your eye.
Even if you're not 100 percent religious, you might sense that there's something slightly blasphemous in how over 240 years ago, someone decided that the best place to hide their documents was a chamber inside a statue of Jesus Christ.
More specifically, inside his holy butt.
This discovery was made last year in Spain by restorers working on an 18th-century statue of JC that was starting to come off its cross. (Maybe it had an itch somewhere inconvenient?) When they inspected its back end, as one does, they discovered a hatch containing a bearded Australian repeating six numbers, which ... wait, sorry, that's from Lost. What they actually found was even sillier: a document describing 1777's best crops, most popular children's games, greatest bullfighters, and most promising diseases, among other things. It was basically a time capsule detailing how awesome life was back then -- at least for everyone except one now presumably hell-imprisoned individual.
In old-timey days, coal miners would take caged canaries with them underground -- not for company or as a snack, mind, but because small birds are excellent at detecting dangerous gases that could otherwise leave their owners suffocated or with a bad case of exploding.
But such heroics came at a price. Being forced to suck in all that gas would often leave the canary dead, probably wishing from beyond the grave that they'd gone to work at the local steel mill instead. So it's pretty sweet that someone invented a special cage that could pull these feathered superheroes back from death's door. Behold the canary resuscitator! (Cue thunderbolts.)
This device was designed to act, for the most part, like a normal cage. That is, until our little buddy in there started getting a bit wobbly from all those murderous gasses. In that case, a special seal allowed a human operator to isolate the chamber and flood it with wonderful life-giving oxygen. You know the scene in every sci-fi horror movie wherein the hero manages to get air into the airlock right in time? This was like a tiny version of that.
We'd joke about the miners saving their canaries before themselves, but that's probably not far from the truth. These birds weren't mere chirping gas detectors to some men; they were treasured companions, so much so that some miners reported "whistling to the birds and coaxing them as they worked [and] treating them as pets." To be fair, we'd be the exact same way -- not just because we're sentimental, but also because it's generally sound advice to not piss off the thing keeping you alive.
People in the past had absolutely no clue about the dangers of certain substances. They put lead in kids' toys, prescribed opium for everything worse than a stubbed toe, and shoved radioactive isotopes upside their genitals. It was all dumb as hell, sure, but at least you can kinda see the logic in some of those decisions.
Others? Not so much.
Earlier this year, a team of researchers at the University of Southern Denmark were studying three books from the 16th and 17th centuries when they noted that the pages were covered in a green pigment. Interested, they had the pigment analyzed ... only to find out that they'd spent god knows how long huffing arsenic. More specifically, a type of arsenic used during the 19th century, in part, to protect books from insects and vermin. This practice was discontinued after people made the connection that they sure seemed to puke their guts out and die a whole lot when they were around arsenic all the time.
Since arsenic doesn't get any less toxic with time, and it's extremely possible to be poisoned by touching it or even breathing within its presence (we weren't joking about the huffing thing), the books are now safely under lock and key in a ventilated cabinet. So whichever dumbass monk or librarian did this succeeded in their goal of preserving the books. After all, no one's getting their grubby little hands on these things now.
There's a very good chance that you don't know the name Utagawa Kuniyoshi. You're sure as hell going to remember it after this, though.
Back in the 1800s, Kuniyoshi was a well-known Japanese woodcut artist whose work centered around beautiful landscapes and even beautifuller women. That changed in 1836, when, presumably in the midst of a massive bout of confidence or a nasty divorce, he started producing ... well, these:
These woodcuts, which one website kindly described as "erotic paintings depicting human genitalia as angry demons," are titled, in order, "The Pussy Spirit Of Kasane," "Consoling Pussy Of Horse Face Mountain, Sometimes Called Monk Riot," and "Octo-Pussy Of The Numeri River." Yes, you're very welcome, and yes, we're pretty sure your significant other will give you a pass for not wanting to see, hear, or experience their sex for the next few days.
Kuniyoshi soon returned to his roots -- that is, making woodcuts of things that exist within god's light. But then, between 1842 and 1844, he relapsed hard, and in the funniest way imaginable. He would exclusively draw tanuki, raccoon-dogs which in Japanese folklore possess spectacularly sized (and spectacularly versatile) testicles.
We can understand the impulse to try something new, to push oneself, to avoid feeling like you're falling into an artistic rut. If we ever start doing stuff like this, though, feel free to call our parents ... or an exorcist.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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