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The First Drinking Straws Were Three Feet Long and Other Things That Are Much Older Than You Thought

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0 and MarkBuckawicki / Wikimedia Commons CC0
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0 and MarkBuckawicki / Wikimedia Commons CC0

Society has progressed to a pretty impressive point in terms of technology, and we have to give credit to a lot of inventions that were made hundreds, or sometimes even thousands of years ago. It seems impossible that some inventions were made any earlier than the 1900s, but here is a list of things that are way older than we could’ve imagined.

The folding chair

The folding chair is a staple for all trips to the beach, campsites, and barbecues, so the novelty item certainly feels like it would be an invention of more modern times. However, the folding chair dates all the back way to around 600 AD.

In 2022, while excavating the grave of a medieval woman in Endsee, Bavaria, archaeologists discovered the contraption, made from iron, resting at the feet of her remains. When folded, the chair measures around 18 by 28 inches. Found alongside other artifacts such as jewelry, beads, and a large pearl, researchers determined that the folding chair was likely a symbol of the powerful and elite.

While the discovery is considered an “absolute rarity” as it is only one of two of its kind to be found in Germany dated to the early Middle Ages, there have been many more like it throughout Europe. In fact, 29 other archaeological sites with medieval graves have revealed similar kinds of furniture.

The flushing toilet

Flush toilets are an absolute necessity in the modern world. However, for a long time, it was understood that the first flushable toilet was invented in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I’s godson, Sir John Harington. A cistern located above would release water down the tubing into the round toilet basin to flush away any waste. Before that, most people assumed business was done in outhouses, latrines, and holes in floors.

However, in 2022, an archaeological dig at the ruins of an ancient palace in China’s Shaanxi province proved that flushable toilets had been invented long before Harington’s version. A completely unexpected find, the flush toilet consisted of a bowl, a pipe that fed to an outdoor pit, and some broken parts. The artifact was dated between 2,200 and 2,400 years old, making it the oldest known flush toilet so far. As it is the only one of its kind to have ever been found in China, it is likely that it was reserved for the highest-ranking officials of its time.

This flushable toilet wasn’t automatic, though. Instead of having a mechanism in place to wash the waste away, servants were required to pour water into the toilet after every use.

Party straws

Illustration of people using straws to drink from a communal pot during a party.
It turns out the ancient Russians used party straws to drink from communal beet pots. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Back in 1897, researchers discovered what they believed to be long scepters or canopy poles made of gold and silver. Measuring over three feet in length, these artifacts were found in a grave in Russia, and some were even adorned with tiny bull figurines at their stems. However, in 2022, the interpretation of these long tubular relics changed after deeper analysis.

Comparing these to the 5,000-year-old straws previously used by the Sumerians to consume beer, the long, thin artifacts look almost identical. Believing them to be ancient straws, researchers wanted more proof that these were, in fact, used to drink from a communal beer pot.

When they discovered that on the ends of these artifacts were filters, they had their proof. Beer of the past often had lumps and other impurities that would be caught by filters like those found on the straws. Then, when researchers found barley starch granules in the residue inside the straws, they concluded with confidence that these were no scepters or canopy poles. They were indeed three-foot-long beer party straws.

Surgical amputations

Illustration of a man holding a saw above his head, two wood planks below him.
The first amputation occurred millennia before originally believed, dating back 31,000 years ago. (Photo Credit: The Print Collector / Print Collector / Getty Images)

In 2022, when archaeologists were searching a cave in Borneo to try and better understand some paintings dating back 40,000, they were surprised to find a grave. The grave belonged to someone in their early 20s who had died some 31,000 years ago. What was most interesting about the remains was that the skeleton was missing the bottom of its left leg, from the middle of the shin down.

Upon further inspection, archaeologists realized that the cut of the bone was a clean straight line, meaning the loss of the bottom half was not the result of a rock falling on it or an animal biting it off – it was intentionally removed with a stone tool. Previously, the oldest known amputation was done on a man’s arm about 7,000 years ago in France. Now, we know that the first surgical amputation took place much further back than that.

While it was long believed that hunter-gatherer societies lacked the necessary knowledge and tools to perform a successful surgery, we now know that to be untrue. It turns out they were smart enough to not only remove the bone, but to manage blood loss and prevent future infection. The shin bones found at the grave had fused together at the bottom, which is a clear signifier of healing following a surgery like this.

Additionally, the healing indicates that the person whose grave was found did not die as a result of the surgery. Instead, it is likely they lived for another six to nine years before dying of something else entirely.


Illustrations of a pot, a copper cylinder, and an iron rod.
A “Baghdad Battery” drawing from different pictures of the museum artifact. (Photo Credit: Ironie / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5)

While electricity was introduced to the world back in the early 1800s, it seems that ancient people had “power” far earlier than that. The first battery ever invented is dated back to somewhere between 150 BC and 650 AD. It was found in 1936 in what was the capital of the Parthian and Sasanian empires, and has become known as the “Battery of Baghdad.”

The artifact consists of a ceramic pot, a copper tube, and an iron rod, and also had an asphalt stopper. Analysis of the ancient relic showed traces of an acidic substance, like vinegar, inside the pot. Tests were conducted at the General Electric High Voltage Laboratory in Massachusetts using replicas of the artifact to see if the use of an acidic electrolyte solution could produce an electric current. As it turns out, it can. The replicas were able to produce about two volts of electricity.

Wilhelm König, then-director of the National Museum of Iraq, provided the first interpretations of the item, suggesting it was a galvanic cell used for electroplating or electrotherapy. However, these suggestions have been almost entirely rejected by the archaeological community. Instead, researchers are still unsure of the purpose for the “battery” and continue to search for answers.

Running shoes

A pair of leather dress shoes with spikes underneath on display.
Exhibit in the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, featuring the first-ever running shoe. (Photo Credit: Daderot / Wikimedia Commons CC0)

While Nike and Adidas may have risen to the top of the sneaker world, the shoes they have released look nothing like the first-ever running shoes. Despite the inclusion of track-and-field in the ancient Olympics, competitive running as a sport in more modern history didn’t really gain traction until the early 1800s.

When it did become popular, men weren’t equipped with the right footwear to leave others in the dust. One of the only kinds of shoes available were dress shoes, so in the early 1860s, Thomas Dutton and Thorowgood developed the first running shoe from a dress shoe.

More from us: Vintage Hygiene Techniques That Have (Thankfully) Been Left In the Past

These were made of leather and featured a small heel at the back, but were reinforced with an additional leather strap near the front for extra support. The biggest change was the addition of spikes sticking out from the sole, which helped to provide grip.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!