4 Ancient Artifacts That Prove Humans Have Always Been Childish
It’s tempting to imagine the people of the past as perennially serious, debating philosophy and inventing agriculture and never getting their long white beards caught in their complicatedly tied garments. After all, there was a good chance they’d die before middle age of an affliction that can be cured with a Band-Aid now, so some dourness was warranted. Even in the face of disease and Dorito drought, however, humans have always been humans, which means they’ve always been petty, immature and amused by bodily functions. We know because…
Pythagoras Invented a Prank Wine Goblet
You know Pythagoras as the guy who came up with an equation to find the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle, so you probably thank him every day, but it wasn’t all math, all the time for ol’ Thay-Go, as they called him. Okay, it pretty much was, but he sometimes used it for lulz as well, if the legend of the Pythagoras cup is to be believed.
We don’t actually know if Pythagoras invented the Pythagoras cup, but we do know that it had to be someone extremely nerdy, and why would they name it after some other nerd? It’s brilliant in its simplicity: A wine goblet with a column protruding up from the bottom concealing a pipe that twists in such a way as to start siphoning out any liquid in the cup after it’s been filled past a certain point. Basically, if you pour yourself too much wine, it all drains out.
It must have been invented by someone well-respected, or everyone would have stopped using them after the first guy got beaten to death by angry winos. Either way, versions of these cups are still sold today. They’re definitely the most mathematically complex items in Spencer’s Gifts.
The World’s Oldest Joke Is a Fart Joke
Attention, dads: When your kids dismiss your next attempt at humor as “the oldest joke in the world,” you can tell them they’re factually wrong. (They’ll love it.) The oldest joke in the world was found in 1900 in what was once Ancient Sumer, possibly dating as far back as 2300 B.C.E. The good news: It’s a fart joke. The bad news: It doesn’t make any sense.
The tablet reads, “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap,” which we only know is a joke because it “follows a structure,” as Guinness World Records politely puts it, decidedly not noting that the structure is good. Women be farting in Ancient Sumer, apparently. You can try that one on your kids, dads, but it’ll just confuse them, which might be an artistic step up.
There Was a Whole Economy in ‘Curse Tablet’ Insults
These days, when someone wrongs you, you get together with your friends over drinks and take turns declaring, “I hope his dick falls off,” “Oh, yeah? Well I hope his dick falls off on a steep hill so he has to chase after it,” etc. Back in Ancient Rome and Greece, you’d do the same thing, but you’d pay a curse writer to confirm it. They inscribed whatever ill fate you wished to befall your enemy on a stone tablet under the belief that it was more likely to come true that way, kind of like a mean fortune cookie.
These “curse tablets” did tend to be focused on body horror, such as those asking the gods to destroy a man’s “sacred organ” so he “cannot urinate” and another hoping one’s “penis hurt(s) when you make love,” but they also wished for mundane failure, for offenses ranging from infidelity to thievery to being more successful than someone’s favorite mime. Some of them are just straight-up insults, like one that’s just an Ancient Roman translation of, essentially, “Tacita’s a raggedy bitch.” They just wanted it on the record, apparently.
Most Cave Art is Teenage Graffiti
Cave art is miraculous, not just in its unlikely preservation but that anyone had time to get crafty between hunting for food and becoming food. It turns out the reason for that is because the people making the art were largely the same ones who have the time to make art today: fucking kids. One Alaskan paleobiologist analyzed the handprints found in some of the oldest European cave paintings and determined that, while skilled adult artists made some contributions, it was mostly teenage boys.
The subjects depicted were correspondingly teenage boyish, too, the ancient equivalent of hot rods and Rihanna — i.e., hunting scenes and vulvas. Again, some portrayals of the female form were no doubt created by serious artists, but paleobiologist Dale Guthrie was clear that “these were not the type of paintings that make it into the coffee table art books.”
Just something to keep in mind next time you marvel at an ancient cave painting. One day, the aliens may well be wandering our post-apocalyptic wasteland, touched by the number of us who were calling each other’s moms for a good time.