Because of the exceptional rate of human progress over time, some customs or practices have been lost to us. As we move on towards the future, our curiosity and fascination with the past only grow. With our desire to know more, we’ve uncovered a great deal about humans of yore. Some are relatively recent; others are ancient in the grand scheme of things. Most should have been forgotten, or at the very least not made public. Unfortunately, since you clicked on this link, you’re about to experience humanity at its weirdest, so strap in!
Now, these are some practises that aren’t necessarily forgotten, as there are still records of them, and some are still being practised to this day; we just wish we had never heard of some of them. The selection today ranges from relatively recent to downright ancient. We’ll take things slow so as not to outright terrify you before dropping you down the rabbit hole. How about we start with your favourite bird?
Birds Have Never Lost A War
It may sound ridiculous, but it’s true, unfortunately. After the events of WWI, returning Australian veterans were given a plot of land, which a vast majority of them converted into farmland. Australia’s economy collapsed due to the Great Depression in the 1930s, but Australian farmers took the brunt of it. Yet, their struggle was just beginning. Emus would return to the coasts after breeding, but they decided to settle in Western Australia because of the thriving farmlands. Up to 20,000 of the large, flightless birds caused farmers to lose millions of pounds in lost crops and damage.
In 1932, the farmers asked for government aid in dealing with the situation. However, the farmers didn’t contact the Minister of Agriculture; instead, they talked to the Minister of Defence. The Minister of Defence agreed, saying that it would make great target practice, but his condition for the whole operation was that Western Australia’s government would pay for everything. Equipped with cameras and machine guns, they decided to film the whole event as a means of propaganda. During the shooting, the emus would split into smaller groups, which made killing them more difficult. Despite being riddled with bullet wounds, emus can still run at top speed to safety.
After consecutive losses, the media coined the name “Emu War” or the “Great Emu War” as a way to mock the military failure before the operation was shut down. The farmers were still struggling to deal with the emu population and asked for help from the Ministry of Defence again. And again, they agreed, but there was hardly any difference, as they lost again. Instead of participating in and dedicating resources for a full-scale war, a bounty system was set up, which helped with the crisis.
To this day, it is said that Australia is the only country that has lost a war to birds.
A Snail’s Worth In Gold
The aristocracy was crazy about many things back when they ruled the world, but one of those things was colour, specifically, Tyrian purple. Before synthetic colours, people normally had to extract colour from something organic and natural. Colours like ultramarine were made with ground-up chucks of lapis lazuli. This mineral was so rare that it was almost exclusively used to paint the robes of the Virgin Mary during the Renaissance. But before there was ultramarine, there was Tyrian purple.
Tyrian purple was first produced by the Phoenicians in 1570 BC, and it was continued by the Greeks and Romans up until 1453 AD. It received the designation of a “royal colour” for good reason, as only the upper classes or the elite-of-the-elite in society could afford it because its value was more than its weight in gold. But it was just purple. What would have justified such a steep price? That would be the labour that dye needs in order to create a substantial amount for a batch. The interesting thing about Tyrian purple is that it’s made from the mucus glands of snails—10,000 of them—to create, approximately, a single gramme of dye. It is the complex process and extensive labour that justify its price. Since the snails are exposed to sand and dirt found on the sea floor, the vast majority of the dye has been lost because of the purification process alone.
However, the recipe for Tyrian purple and the traditions and techniques to make it have been lost since the fall of Constantinople. It was only until recently that a few artisans decided to revive the traditional process of creating this colour. Though it is painstaking labour, this traditional process produces a much more vibrant shade than any synthetic version can offer. It may be tempting to get lost in the process of making this dye, as a single gramme can fetch up to US$3,000, but the artisans have committed themselves to the preservation of the murex species for the betterment of the ecosystem.
Mummification was arguably the most well-known way of honouring the dead in the ancient world. A practice made famous by the Egyptians, discovered by archaeologists, and expanded upon by pop culture, creating mummies held the key to understanding the ancient world as they perfectly preserved the deceased. However, not everyone held the dead in high regard for long. Mummies were once thought to be the “end all, be all” of medicine, from simple wounds to straight-up seizures and even aphrodisiacs. It is called mummia, and it can be taken with water, applied to an open wound, or even consumed or ingested directly.
This miracle cure sparked a craze that eventually led to a shortage of mummies, in which people stole corpses from local graveyards and posed them as mummies because the business was so lucrative. Despite this, people still consumed mummies for medicinal purposes from the 12th century up until the 19th century, as it was the cornerstone of European medicine at the time.
We’re just happy that we moved on from this practice as a whole. But for a period of time, our ancestors also ground up mummies and used them as paint.
Pictures With the Dead
On the subject of the dead… various cultures celebrate the dead as a way of remembering their lives. Mexico has Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is a joyful celebration where people reunite to celebrate and relive memories of the departed. In China, there is the Qingming Festival, or “Tomb-Sweeping Day” in English. Like the previous one, the Chinese would reunite and honour the dead by means of bringing food, drinks, and money as offerings, as well as cleaning the grave. However, have you ever heard of unearthing the undead and taking selfies with them?
In the mountainous regions of Indonesia, the Torajan people are known for their elaborate burial rites that last for several days and have hundreds of attendees. The length of these funerals depends on the importance of the person or if the person came from a noble line. Their celebration is, essentially, a multi-stage process, as each of those steps holds great significance and meaning to their culture as a whole. What is weird is a specific part of honouring the dead, which happens every August and is called Ma’nene, where the dead are dug up, cleaned and groomed, given new clothes, and, more recently, have their pictures taken with the living. They do this to keep the spirits of their ancestors happy, granting them a bountiful harvest and good fortune. This ritual has been a part of their culture for hundreds of years, and is still being practiced today.
Divorce By Combat
A lot of people aren’t particularly happy with their marriages, and that is normal. People fall in and out of love. This option is open to those who aren’t willing to wait for the “death do us part” clause in their vows. The earliest record of divorce laws is from Mesopotamia, around 2000 BCE. Divorce, as an institution, has made settling marital disputes much easier, albeit with a lengthy process. But mediaeval Germans did not mess around with divorce. Oftentimes, if the woman is accused of “the crime”, she can demand to have the dispute settled through combat, with the verdict favouring the victor. The woman can either elect a champion to fight in her stead or fight for herself; the latter option is often used when their ex-husbands fight in the ring.
There’s even a guide book published and sold that teaches sword techniques, stances, and methods of attack. There’s also a dedicated chapter for divorce duels with clear images and rules. There are also special rules if the wife is supposed to fight her soon-to-be ex-husband, where the man is confined to a 3-feet-deep hole and is supposed to defend himself against his ex-wife with clubs, while having one hand tied behind his back. The woman is given a sack, which she fills with up to three rocks that weigh about five pounds each. Regardless of the victor, divorce didn’t really have much wiggle room against the dominant religion, which is Christianity. They did exploit a loophole, however, that would make divorce effective without breaking the rules by executing the loser… yikes!