Name an artifact that will baffle archaeologists in the year 4000 A.D.

I went shopping for a soap dish yesterday. (Yes, I have no life, thank you for asking.) As I looked over the tasteful display at the Dollar Tree (“Everything $1.00!”) I realized that these oddly shaped ceramic objects would probably baffle an archaeologist in the distant future. If you didn’t know what a cake of soap was, you’d have no clue as to what this thing shaped like a swan or a seashell was for. For votive offerings, perhaps? It’s too shallow to be an oil lamp…

And the one I eventually settled on, a simple rectangle with a raised edge and about 20 parallel corrugations, well, they’d have no idea as to what that was. I’d enjoy hearing their speculations.

I’ve been reading about the Olmecs, who left very few artifacts behind, which is what got me thinking about this. In 2000 years, say all that was left of American culture was a few ceramic, glass, and stone artifacts, our colossal garbage dumps notwithstanding–pretend something happens to all the anaerobic long-term storage facility known as “landfills”, and all that’s left is a few bits and pieces. What other items can you think of that would have hotshot archaeology grad students in the year 4000 wetting their pants for a chance to “interpret” them?

I could only think of a few others. A glass or porcelain candlestick–if you didn’t know what “candles” were, you’d find this item mysterious. It’s too shallow for a drinking vessel. An incense burner?

The bottom half of a glass salt shaker. Why the mysterious corkscrew design at the open end, and why is it wider at the bottom than at the top?

Ashtrays, in general. What were they for? Why the slots?

Anybody else think of any? I’m leaving out obvious things like CD players and automobiles. I don’t think that, lacking long-term storage in a landfill, plastics and metals would last 2000 years.

Okay? Does this make sense? 20th Century America reduced to nothing but potsherds…

Pez dispensers.

Future archeologists will dig up a collector’s loving display, find some in the pockets of some anceint, long dead people, and believe that they are personal gods. Since the actual pez probably will not survive until the year 4000, the archeologist will have long debates and heated discussions over what was actually dispensed by these small pocket gods.

A velvet elvis painting. I’m not talking about just any one either, but one with a really gaudy, ornate frame, the sort of frame you’d use to frame a triptych or something (except with just one panel, of course).

I think backscratchers would also qualify. :slight_smile:

From the women’s bathroom:

The Hairdini

The spongy pink toe spreader women use to spread the toes while painting her toe nails.

The collection of 20 bottles of face cream, face soap, face astringent, eye cream, upper lip cream, day cream, night cream, bleaching agents etc…

< BTW, I do have the Hairdini, never used it but I don’t paint my finger nails and I only have one face cream…I don’t believe in spending hundreds of dollars on products that don’t work, I prefer to spend a few dollars on one that works fine >

It won’t baffle archaeologists. Paintings of “The King” will still be widespread. Some things just never go out of style.

Polyester chest-wigs. (Not that we have any idea what they’re good for now.)

Inflatable rubber hemmorhoid rings. “Flotation devices?” wonders Chief Archaeologist Synthar-Three. “But they’re so small. Lifesavers for pets?”

The Singing Fish on a Wall Plaque. “‘Take me to the river’? Clearly,” says Synthar-Three, “this civilization was boundless in its cruelty. Its cruelty extended to images of fish perpetually dying out of its element and begging to be returned to same. Truly, a sick and vicious society.”

Pauly Shore movies on DVD. “Entertainment?” asks RamRom-Two. “Impossible,” says Synthar-Three. “More likely a documentary of that civilization’s final years. If this human is typical of the species, it’s a wonder they lasted as long as they did.”

This thread’s a perfect opportunity to recommend Peter Ackroyd’s book, “The Plato Papers.”

Without going into the details of the weird world history behind the story, the book illustrates the folly of interpreting societies based on woefully incomplete data. But some of the misinterpretations are unintentionally–and uncomfortably–dead-on.

CD: an abbreviation of ‘cold dirge’, a form of music designed to calm or deaden human facilities.

Fibre optic: a coarse material woven out of eyes, worn by the high priests of the mechanical age in order to instill terror among the populace.

Telephathy: the suffering caused by ‘television.’ It seems likely that television enlarged the organs of vision beyond their natural range and as a result caused mental distress. Efforts were continually being made to increase perception by artificial means, without any understanding that the conditions of Mouldwarp were still in place–the greater the enlargement, the greater the constriction. The practitioners of television received magnified images or their own shrunken sight and lived in perpetual sorrow.

“The Plato Papers”, Peter Ackroyd, Doubleday, 1999.

Furby will cause much heated debate among the men and women of Earth 2,000 years from now.

“It’s obviously a recording device,” they will say. “But how did a civilization with such a limited vocabulary achieve this level of electronic sophistication?”

Twinkies will still be around in 4000 years. “what are these things? So perfectly preserved. Some kind of cleaning instrument?”

The Boot. You know, for your car.

Perhaps not baffle, but certainly amuse:

psychotropic medications
bras & panty hose
toupees & hair dye
silicon implants
syringes and needles
porno mags
the electric chair
chemotherapy, dialysis, and liposuction devices
wedding rings (and any implication of monogamy)
IQ/SAT tests
eyeglasses & hearing aids
Britney Spears videos
vanity license plates
John Travolta, period.
“race” category in any polling instrument
lack of genetically-engineered modifications
patriotic/nationalistic symbols (flags)
56K modems
“elevator shoes”
“In God We Trust” on coins
currency of any kind
six lunar landing modules from the 1960s
“Baby on board” signs

Slightly tangential to all of the preceding, I remember many,many years ago reading a book titled (possibly) The Weans. It was written like an archaeological text on an ancient society so-called because they always referred to themselves as US.

Okay, 'scuse the interrupt.

Anything invented by Ron Popeil.

The indestructible 3M office tape dispenser would be my choice for a baffling future arhaeologic discovery, and the thigh-master might be pretty puzzling as well.

“In God We Trust on coins”

Hahaha, good one tsunamisurfer!

Hey I like my Popeil Pasta Machine…I make some damn good pasta with it. :wink: My favorite is a lemon/pepper/garlic pasta using whole wheat flour!


CD’s and DVD’s in general. In 2000 years, they’ll be so hopelessly scratched up that all data on them will be lost, but there will still be millions of them around.

“Some sort of minature frisbee, perhaps? Or maybe coasters for really big cups?”

However, Minidiscs will still be perfectly preserved in 2000 years, and will amaze archeologists with their advanced design.

EVERYONE: Scrap your CD player and go buy a Minidisc deck! NOW!

Based on the written record of the 20th century, how would future civilizations not come to the conclusion that everyone believed in Santa Claus?

Pet Rocks

“Humans in the latter half of the twentieth century relapsed into idolatry, and began worshipping spirits contained in ordinary rocks with cheap plastic eyes glued to them.”

See also Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay.