Oldest Surviving Medical Document
Whilst humans have dabbled in healthcare of some sort since our earliest days, the first record we have of specific medical advice is in the form of an Egyptian papyrus. This document is 4,000 years old and is known as the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. It was discovered in 1889 and contains information on the diagnosis and treatment of a number of ailments.
While some of the meaning may have been lost over the millennia, Egyptian women seem to have suffered from some unusual conditions, like the smell of roasting while their womb wandered. The Egyptians liked to blame the womb for a whole bunch of stuff that probably wasn’t related. For example, “a woman whose eyes are aching till she cannot see, on top of aches in her neck” is diagnosed as having “discharges of the womb in her eyes.” The recommended treatment is fumigation of the womb (ouch). Toothache? “It is toothache of the womb” and more fumigation is needed. If your ears hurt so much you can’t make out the words you’re hearing, that’s also the womb. It’s really nothing but trouble.
Oldest Surviving Religious Texts
The pyramids of Egypt are amazing structures built by the greatest craftsmen of their era (not slaves and definitely not aliens). They were built as a resting place for Egypt’s rulers, and the walls were lined with stories and spells designed to help the soul on its journey to the afterlife. The oldest of these inscriptions comes from the pyramids of Unas and are the oldest surviving religious texts in the world.The texts bring us the earliest description of Osiris, Egypt’s king of the dead. They are written in a way that suggests the words were designed to be chanted, or at least spoken allowed. The description of ascent to the afterlife is rather poetic, comparing spirits to herons, haws, and grasshoppers leaping into the air. A full English translation is available online should you wish to try any of the spells for yourself.
Oldest Surviving Poem
Early literature often came in the form of poetry. Before writing, oral tradition passed on stories through the generations and poetry was an easy way to learn and recite tales. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a contender for the first epic poem. The earliest surviving written versions are dated to around 2,000 BC. There is actually a shorter surviving poem older than that—ancient Sumeria’s Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. It’s exactly what the title suggests.The oldest love poem in the world is only slightly younger. Written on a tablet about the size of a cell phone, the 4,000 year old Sumerian ballad also contains the oldest recorded chat-up line: “You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you; Bridegroom, I would be taken to the bedchamber.” It seems the last several thousand years has seen the quality of propositions heading in the wrong direction.
Oldest Message In A Bottle
The message in a bottle has a firm place in our cultural consciousness. The oldest one talked about on the Internet is that of Chunosuke Matsuyama, who supposedly sent out a message in 1784, asking for rescue after he became shipwrecked. The message washed up on a beach in 1935, a little too late. The Internet, however, offers up no images or indication as to where the bottle is now. It’s likely this story is apocryphal—Guinness World Records certainly seems to think so, so the “oldest bottle” title lies elsewhere.The oldest confirmed message in a bottle ever found is from 1914. It had spent 35,736 days at sea when it was found by Scottish fisherman Andrew Leaper on April 12, 2012. The message had been launched as part of a scientific experiment to map sea currents for Scotland’s Fishery Board. It may be less romantic than the last words of an abandoned sailor (or a lonely British pop star), but it’s at least a bit more useful.
Oldest Marriage Certificate
The Elephantine Papyri are a collection of documents dated to the 5th Century BC found on the island of Elephantine in the River Nile. At the time a Jewish settlement called Yeb was located there as an Egyptian garrison. Among the various letters and contracts were three marriage certificates, the oldest known to survive. The contracts appear to have been drawn up in unusual situations. The brides were a slave, a former slave, and a divorcee. The purpose of the documents was to record the economics of the wedding, including the dowry. If the marriage was later dissolved, the wife got to take this along with the possessions she brought with her. One lucky groom was named Ananiah ben Azariah and his bride was a handmaiden called Tamut. The certificate contains sections that have been erased or added to, suggesting last-minute negotiations.