We like to think that we live in a unique time, where technology is shaping society so quickly that it’s unparalleled in human history. And in some ways, we’re right; no other era has made technology obsolete as fast as we have (if you’d like to feel old, try asking your younger relatives about VCRs)
But we aren’t as different from our ancestors as we sometimes think. Victorians took selfies, cavemen used psychoactive plants to get high, there’s ancient graffiti insulting someone’s mom on the ruined walls of Pompeii. In other words, people have always been people.
Even the technologies that we prize are sometimes way older than our modern use of them. There were no prehistoric computers (that we know of), but inventions from alarm clocks to designer knockoffs predate the last millenium. Read on to discover twelve things that are probably older than you think, and see how many of them you can guess!
1. Fast Food: Studying the ruins of Pompeii, archaeologists found that most houses in the ancient Roman city didn’t have formal eating areas or dishware. What’s more, they found the remains of restaurants with a big counter in the middle of the room, which was thought to have been where food was served. Essentially, the Romans ate out so much they didn’t even have plates at home, which is a relatable fact if I’ve ever seen one.
2. Automatic Doors: Everyone sometimes pretends that they’re a Jedi, opening automatic doors with the Force (Right? Right?!). But not everybody knows that automatic doors predate the Star Wars movies, movies in general, and even science fiction! Back in the first century AD, Greek priests had doors run by Hero’s early prototype of a steam engine, meaning that they could open without being pushed. But the doors weren’t to make it easier for them to get into their temples. The priests would pretend that the doors opened by magic, reinforcing the people’s belief in the god of their choice. Which proves that as old as automatic doors are, they still aren’t older than people trying to look cool opening them.
3. Plastic Surgery: Cosmetic surgery may be trendy, but it’s hardly new. The Indian surgeon Sushruta, working in 600 BCE, wrote one of the oldest-known books on surgery. The precisely-detailed Suśruta-saṃhitā has instructions on how to perform reconstructive surgery, which means that plastic surgery is quite literally older than plastic!
4. Rap Battles: If you ever need to argue with snobby friends who insist that rap isn’t REALLY art, tell them about its extensive history. In 15th and 16th century Scotland, poets would practice “flyting,” an exchange of poetic, on-the-fly insults where the audience got to decide the winner. Unfortunately, few of them have survived, so there’s no way to know whether anyone ever flyted about their opponent being covered in their mom’s spaghetti.
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