Thursday 11 June 2009

A brief history of Jokes (Part IV)

The Improbable World of the Unexplained, or The Incredible World of the Unbelievable, or The Unexplained World of the Inexplicable ...

If we meekly accept the knowledge that the Egyptologists serve up to us, ancient Egypt appears suddenly and without transition with a fantastic ready-made supply of jokes. Great gags and endless anecdotes, colossal “I say I say” jokes with tremendous expressive power, splendid streets flanked by magnificent snarky asides, perfect drainage systems, luxurious catchphrases carved out of the living rock, puns of magnificent stature – these and many other wonderful things shot out of the ground, so to speak.

But there are too many problems connected with the technology of the ancient Egyptian joke-builders and no genuine solutions. How did the people of a primitive civilisation gain the knowledge to crack such awesome jokes? Why did they transport the material for their jokes over such vast distances? When it comes to that, how was this material cut out of the quarries, without ever having the appearance of being laboured? And then how were these colossal jokes set up and seamlessly joined together to the eight millionth of a millimetre?

Of course, there is a wealth of explanations for anyone to choose from, including, naturally, the labour of many hundreds of thousands of Egyptian slaves. But none of these explanations stand up to a critical examination! The fact remains that no modern joke-maker, even with the resources of reference books from the local library, could knock out a joke quite like the best of the Egyptians.

Is it really too much to suppose that the ancient Egyptians and others of their ilk gained their knowledge from visitors from space? Again and again we find evidence of the cultures of primitive societies receiving inexplicable boosts in antiquity. Mysterious artefacts that can only be explained as apparatus for jokes abound. (The archaeologists, of course, have other explanations.) But let us look at the evidence with open eyes. What are we to make of formations of vitrified rock in Peru, witness surely to a cataclysmic joke in pre-history? Of accounts of ancient cities destroyed by flashes of blinding wit, and of others sinking beneath the waves, fraught with punning? Of the statues on Easter Island, with their famously long faces? Or, the most significant fact of all, that in the art of primitive people from places as far between as North America and Sweden, Patagonia and the Sahara, we find carved again and again those symbols – the bed-warming pan, the cufflinks, the coddled egg– associated with that mysterious planet, Hawker’s Pot?

(note: paragraphs 1-3 and parts of paragraph 4 are adapted from Chapter 3 "The Improbable World of the Unexplained" in Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken)

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