Friday, September 23, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #9: More Things From History

1) The oldest piece of chewing gum ever found is believed to be at least 5,000 years old, if not older. A Scottish archeology student named Sarah Pickin found the gum in Finland in 2007. Pickin told reporters that she first thought the gum “might have been a bit of fossilised poo,” which makes archeology suddenly sound disgusting.

Pickin consulted her colleagues, and everyone agreed that the filthy little lump appeared to be a piece of birch-bark tar, which was the Stone Age equivalent of Juicy Fruit. The thing had actual tooth marks in it, which was kind of a tip-off. Ancient people probably chewed this stuff to treat mouth infections.

I bet it tasted like crap. ~ a paulchu shot

2) Flush toilets date back to the 26th century BC. No, I didn't know that either. I would've thought, you know, like 150 years or so. Looks like we were both wrong.

The Indus Valley Civilization, located in what is now northwest India and Pakistan, was an advanced Bronze Age culture with a sophisticated urban sewage system. In the cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, just about every household had a flush toilet.

Flush toilet technology arrived in Greece in the 18th century BC and spread throughout Europe with the Romans. Modern types of sewage disposal disappeared from Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire.

In the late 1500s, Englishman Sir John Harrington designed the first modern flush toilet. This is the one where the cistern hangs on the wall over your head, and you have to yank the chain and hope it doesn't snap.

The first American toilet design was patented in 1857. The general idea didn't really start to catch on until around the turn of the century, when an innovative and profit-minded fellow named Thomas Crapper established a showroom to advertise the toilets, bathtubs and washbasins his company traded in.

Naturally, Crapper slapped his surname all over his toilet tanks.

And we still call them "crappers" to this day. ~Oxyman

3) If any group of people takes the History Crazy Cake, it's the Roman Emperors. Some scholars think it's because the Romans used lead pipes for plumbing, which may have caused widespread brain damage.

To be fair, one or two of the Emperors were not only perfectly sane, but really good rulers. Take Ceasar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Ceasar, for example. Augustus gets the credit for establishing the 200-year Pax Romana, and for laying the framework that supported Roman civilization for 1500 years after his death, until the fall of the Empire. He gave Rome firemen, policemen, a standing army, a comprehensive highway infrastructure, a postal system, and all kinds of other cool sh*t, like tax collectors.

Many of his successors, however, were batsh*t insane. Nero, for instance, castrated a boy, married him, and then insisted the kid was his wife. He carried on a sexual affair with his own mother, and then attempted to assassinate her – without success – at least five times before finally managing to have her executed.

Most people reckon Caligula was the craziest Emperor, probably because he nominated his horse for public office and believed himself to be the god Jupiter. Bet you didn't know that Caligula started out fairly normal, and then went crazy after suffering a serious illness about six months into his reign.

My personal favorite Crazy Roman Emperor is Elagabalus. He came from Syria, and belonged to a family of priests serving the Sun God El-Gabal. Prior to becoming Emperor at the age of 13, Elagabalus was legitimately considered an actual living god, kind of like the Pharoah, I guess.

Elagabalus set himself up as the head of the Roman pantheon, insisting that everyone in Rome start worshipping him instead of Jupiter. He then started wearing makeup and women's clothes, and whoring himself out from the palace, for reasons presumably unrelated to religion. He took five wives, one of whom was a Vestal Virgin, which was not cool, since they were supposed to be virgins. Of course, it's entirely possible that he never f*cked her, or any of this other wives. He never produced any children, and he seemed to prefer the company of Hierocles, one of his two husbands.

He lasted about four years. Caligula lasted for five years. Nero, one of the most murdering-est of all, lasted for fifteen years. In the Roman Empire, rape, incest, murder, orgies, and torturing people for no reason could be tolerated, but being a cross-dressing homosexual prostitute was just taking things a little too far.

Poor bastard. ~ G. dallorto

4) For some time now, Eygptologists have believed that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids by hauling huge limestone blocks via sledges and ramps. Some scientists believe that the upper blocks were made of poured concrete, which would take a lot of the huge-block-hauling out of the equation. Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, believed that the pharaohs used slave labor to build their pyramids, with work forces numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Herodotus, however, was rather famously full of sh*t, and this pyramid thing was no exception. He wrote about them centuries after the fact, and made use of his awe-inspiring powers of exaggeration when he did so. His view, however, remained the accepted one for centuries, until modern Egyptologists actually tried the rock-dragging thing and discovered that it only takes between eight and 20 men to haul one of these stones, depending on the size of the stone and whether they're dragging it on an flat surface or a slope.

Modern Egyptologists, like Mark Lehner, believe that it would have taken 20,000 to 30,000 men to construct the Great Pyramid. This number includes more than just the stone-dragging grunts – it also takes into account the cooks, carpenters, metal workers and others who supported the manual labor force. Sensibly enough, Lehner points out that fewer laborers would have been needed on a particular pyramid as construction neared its end. 

It's also highly likely that few slaves were used to build the pyramids. Most of the workers were locals who lived in villages erected specifically to house them. Farmers probably also pitched in during the inundation, or yearly flooding of the Nile, when they had nothing better to do. Construction of all the significant pyramids occurred over about two centuries' time. As one pyramid neared completion, they'd start another one, so that everyone had a job of some sort, year-round. The workers were paid in food, and got a day off every ten days.

And that's how you keep an economy going.