Butterfly Can Opener
What Is It?

In 2,500 years or so, after empires have come and gone, what will scientists and archaeologists dig up from the material culture that we now all take for granted?  Will they know what it was used for when they dig it up?

I’m always thinking about this a little bit.  For example, when they dig up McDonald’s from all over the world, no doubt they will assume that it was a global religion based on the worship of a clown-god whose devotees proved their loyalty by eating the holy happy meal and sacrificing their children in the ball pit of death.

At least, that is what I think they might imagine.

This weekend I enjoyed reading the most recent edition of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review) which is probably my favorite magazine.  This particular edition has a lot of great articles in it as well as much vitriol.  No other academics yell and curse each other quite like archaeologists.  It is jolly good fun.

My favorite part of the magazine, though, is one of the games they put in.  A picture of an artifact is placed placed on one of the earlier pages with the simple question–What is it? and then four or five choices are given.  The answer is on a page near the end of the magazine.  Mrs. Greenbean and I always play.  She doesn’t even like archaeology and she is right as often as I am.  This time, we both were wrong.

photoThere were five possible guesses.  A.  hairbrush without bristles  B.  Philistine jewelry mold  C.  Sumerian pegboard  D.  Fossilized honeycomb  E.  Game board.

I will not tell you yet, what the answer is.  I will include it at the end of the blog post.

What might people of the future imagine, or work hard to discover, the purpose of some of the simplest and most mundane objects of our world are?  Consider how hard it might be to know what a can opener is if you’ve never seen a can?  Our everyday world is filled with such things–obvious to us but perhaps future puzzles for scholars.  Consider:

  • a DVD
  • a drinking straw
  • a daily pill-box sorter
  • digital thermometer
  • toilet bowl brush
  • An oil filter on a car

All manner of electronics might fit this category because I am assuming two things.  One, electronics that are buried degrade quicker than metal or stone.  Two, the future will be more technologically sophisticated than today, but the devices will be different.  Hence, the DVD will be found, perhaps, but no method will be know to play it or even to know that it is a digital device.  Therefore, it will be considered, perhaps, a decorative item that males aligned their wall with in order to attract females?  Archaeologists tend to always make things either about religion or sex, which leads me to a theory I have about mummies . . . but I’ll save that for another time.

Now, in case you were still wondering about that image–the right answer is (E) Game board.  It is an Egyptian game called Senet.  This board came from Tel Arad in Israel and is 5000 years old.

Assuming humanity survives, and the Lord does not sew everything up, what sort of things do you guess that future generations might have a hard time figuring out?  I’d love to see your list.

3 responses to “WHAT IS IT?”

    • no, not really 🙂 the BAR article explanation says that it reflects the journey of the soul through 30 houses of the afterlife. I don’t think cribbage carries the same kind baggage.

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