Ancient Times

Corn Rocks

"Corn rocks" are pieces of lava rock that have impressions of pieces of corn imbedded in them. Geologists have found many samples of corn rocks around the Sunset Crater Volcano in northern Arizona. When the volcano erupted, about 1000 years ago, the people that lived around it were evidently putting pieces of corn in the lava to create these rocks. Why they did this is anyone's guess. Perhaps for religious reasons, or perhaps just for fun.

Source: Google Arts & Culture

Geologists tried to create corn rocks of their own at Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, but they found it wasn't as straightforward as they had assumed. Putting the corn in the path of a lava flow didn't work. Nor did dropping corn on top of a flow. Geologist Wendell Duffield tells the rest of the story:

We concluded that a corn rock most likely forms when small blobs of molten lava splash down over an ear. A falling blob of basalt lava would have a low enough viscosity to envelope an ear before the molten hardens to solid rock...

Obviously, it would not be safe for humans to carry ears of corn into the fallout zone of a towering lava fountain. A safe setting, however, would be at what geologists call an hornito (means "little oven" in Spanish). An hornito is essentially a miniature volcano that spews molten blobs of melt that fall back to Earth and accumulate into a welded-together chimney-like stack as they solidify and cool...

So, early Native Americans living near the present site of Sunset Crater Volcano witnessed an eruption that at some stage could be safely approached to place ears of corn at the base of an active hornito.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Aug 11, 2023 - Comments (0)
Category: Nature, Science, Anthropology, Ancient Times

Letter to Diognetus

The "Letter to Diognetus" is an obscure early Christian text, probably written in the second century AD. Its author is unknown.

No known references to this letter survive from ancient times. The only reason scholars are aware of it today is that a copy of it was discovered in 1436 — and it's the way it was discovered that was unusual. A young cleric was at a fishmarket and realized that the paper the fishmonger was wrapping the fish in seemed to be from an ancient manuscript. He rescued the paper and discovered this previously unknown ancient text written on it.

From "An Introduction to the Letter to Diognetus," by William Varner:

One lovely day in Constantinople around the year 1436, before the Turkish conquest of that Byzantine capital, a young cleric named Thomas d'Arezzo turned into a fishmongers shop... Thomas noticed among a pile of materials that the shop owner was using to wrap his fish what appeared to be the leaves of a parchment codex! He rescued the manuscript and subsequent events, some of which are hard to piece together, led eventually to its destruction in a fire during one of those never ending European wars in 1870! That is what is meant by the two words, "no text," as they are applied to the Letter to Diognetus... no manuscript copy from the Middle Ages exists today that contains the Letter to Diognetus!

More info: wikipedia

Posted By: Alex - Sun Jul 16, 2023 - Comments (0)
Category: Lost, Newly Discovered, Cutting-Room-Floor, and Discarded Cultural Items, Ancient Times

Crepitus, the God of Flatulence

Crepitus was allegedly the Roman god of flatulence. He was usually depicted as a young child farting.

However, he's only allegedly so because there's controversy about whether the Romans recognized such a god, or whether Crepitus was the creation of early Christians trying to satirize pagan beliefs. According to Wikipedia, there are references to Crepitus in ancient texts, but only in Christian works, not pagan ones.

image source: POOP Project

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jun 08, 2022 - Comments (4)
Category: Religion, Flatulence, Ancient Times

Twitch Divination

Twitch divination (also known as palmomancy) was the ancient art of divining the future by interpreting body tremors, tics, and twitches.

According to the Faces and Voices blog, few manuals of palmomancy survive from ancient times. But the few that do offer some interesting advice. For instance, from a treatise preserved at Manchester's John Rylands Library:

‘If the anus, that some also call ‘ring’, twitches, it shows inspections, abuses, and the discovery of secret matters’.

And what does it mean if your buttock twitches? The answer from Omens and Oracles: Divination in Ancient Greece by Matthew Dillon:

Two surviving texts attributed to the legendary diviner Melampous deal with divination: On Divination by Twitchings (Peri Palmon Mantike) and On [Divination from] Birthmarks (Peri Elation tou Somatos)... Both of these texts are very neglected, with no English translation of either in print...

Melampous' Twitchings covers some 187 cases. Involuntary twitchings of the body were easily interpreted as ominous by those who experienced them, and this handy guidebook provided instant advice to the reader as to their meaning... Dating to the third century AD, the earliest papyrus begins with the entry:

[A twitching of] the left buttock means joy: for the slave, something beneficial; for the virgin, blame will fall on the widow for strife [this is somewhat difficult to understand; there may be an allusion here the reader would have recognised]; for the soldier, promotion.

This is in fact a more elaborate version of two short entries in Melampous' Twitchings, which indicate that twitching of either buttock means prosperity.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jun 04, 2022 - Comments (1)
Category: Predictions, Ancient Times

The replica Roman coin that fooled a museum

Nov 1971: Nine-year-old Fiona Gordon realized that the supposedly ancient Roman coin on display at the South Shields Museum was actually a promotional replica given away by a soft drinks company, Robinsons.

Newport News Daily Press - Nov 3, 1971

I'm pretty sure that the coin below is similar (if not identical) to the one that was on display at the museum. In 1971, Robinsons sent these coins to anyone who mailed in enough bottle caps. (Source:

Posted By: Alex - Tue Feb 22, 2022 - Comments (1)
Category: Imitations, Forgeries, Rip-offs and Faux, Money, Soda, Pop, Soft Drinks and other Non-Alcoholic Beverages, 1970s, Ancient Times

Self-castration in early Christianity

Some ancient weirdness: The First Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD, was a meeting of Christian bishops in which they tried to establish the rules and doctrines that all Christians were supposed to follow. Wikipedia says:

Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Nicene Creed, mandating uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.

However, one of the lesser-known rules that the bishops enacted at the Council was to ban men who had castrated themselves from being in the clergy. Because, apparently, self-castration had become something of a fad among early Christians. Enough so that the bishops felt the need to put an official stop to the practice.

The historian Daniel Caner has examined this issue in his 1997 article "The practice and prohibition of self-castration in early Christianity".

Caner notes that the fad had its origin in a passage from the New Testament, Matthew 19:12, in which Jesus appears to endorse the practice of self-castration. As the passage reads in the King James translation:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Most interpreters of the Bible, ancient and modern, argue that when Jesus used the word 'eunuch' he meant it as a synonym for 'celibacy'. Apparently this was a common use of the term 'eunuch' in the ancient world.

Nevertheless, he used the term eunuch. So some early Christians decided the passage should be taken literally. In which case, Jesus seemed to be saying that, while self-castration was not appropriate for all men, for an elite few it was an ideal to strive for. Inspired by this passage, a number of men "took the sickle and cut off [their] private parts."

The most prominent Church father who was said to have castrated himself was Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 - c. 253). But Caner notes that there was an entire sect of early Christians, the Valesians, who embraced the practice. Wikipedia says that, in addition to castrating themselves, "They were notorious for forcibly castrating travelers whom they encountered and guests who visited them."

According to Caner, the more widely adopted Christianity became in the Roman empire, the more the Church tried to present itself as the upholder of mainstream values, and self-castration really didn't fit into that image. Therefore, "Radical manifestations of an ideal de-sexualization... became a 'heretical' threat to the orthodox community."

Posted By: Alex - Fri Jul 02, 2021 - Comments (5)
Category: Body Modifications, Fads, Religion, Ancient Times, Genitals

Shepherd of the Royal Anus

Strange job title. 'Shepherd of the Royal Anus' (neru pehut) was a title held by several court physicians in Ancient Egypt, including Ir-en-akhty (who lived during the First Intermediate Period) and his predecessor Khuy. It could also be translated as 'Herdsman of the Anus' or 'Guardian of the Anus'. Here's a partial explanation:

As in all ancient cultures, the doctor was part of the priesthood. Each physician was responsible for curing only one illness. The god-king was attended to by a host of medical practitioners, each specializing in one body part and bearing such titles as Royal Keeper of the Pharaoh's Left Eye, Royal Keeper of the Pharaoh's Right Eye, or Shepherd of the Royal Anus.

And more:

[Neru Pehut was] a title borne by physicians qualified to prescribe and administer medicines rectally. Herodotus frequently speaks of the alimentary canal: the Egyptians, he says, 'purge themselves, for their health's sake, with emetics and clysters." Diodorus Siculus, writing four hundred years later, echoes this observation, saying that 'in order to prevent sicknesses they look after the health of their bodies by means of drenches, fastings, and emetics.' Enemas were among the most common modes of treatment, employed several times a month for preventive purposes.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Sep 01, 2012 - Comments (6)
Category: Medicine, Odd Names, Ancient Times

weird universe thumbnail
Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

Contact Us
Monthly Archives
July 2024 •  June 2024 •  May 2024 •  April 2024 •  March 2024 •  February 2024 •  January 2024

December 2023 •  November 2023 •  October 2023 •  September 2023 •  August 2023 •  July 2023 •  June 2023 •  May 2023 •  April 2023 •  March 2023 •  February 2023 •  January 2023

December 2022 •  November 2022 •  October 2022 •  September 2022 •  August 2022 •  July 2022 •  June 2022 •  May 2022 •  April 2022 •  March 2022 •  February 2022 •  January 2022

December 2021 •  November 2021 •  October 2021 •  September 2021 •  August 2021 •  July 2021 •  June 2021 •  May 2021 •  April 2021 •  March 2021 •  February 2021 •  January 2021

December 2020 •  November 2020 •  October 2020 •  September 2020 •  August 2020 •  July 2020 •  June 2020 •  May 2020 •  April 2020 •  March 2020 •  February 2020 •  January 2020

December 2019 •  November 2019 •  October 2019 •  September 2019 •  August 2019 •  July 2019 •  June 2019 •  May 2019 •  April 2019 •  March 2019 •  February 2019 •  January 2019

December 2018 •  November 2018 •  October 2018 •  September 2018 •  August 2018 •  July 2018 •  June 2018 •  May 2018 •  April 2018 •  March 2018 •  February 2018 •  January 2018

December 2017 •  November 2017 •  October 2017 •  September 2017 •  August 2017 •  July 2017 •  June 2017 •  May 2017 •  April 2017 •  March 2017 •  February 2017 •  January 2017

December 2016 •  November 2016 •  October 2016 •  September 2016 •  August 2016 •  July 2016 •  June 2016 •  May 2016 •  April 2016 •  March 2016 •  February 2016 •  January 2016

December 2015 •  November 2015 •  October 2015 •  September 2015 •  August 2015 •  July 2015 •  June 2015 •  May 2015 •  April 2015 •  March 2015 •  February 2015 •  January 2015

December 2014 •  November 2014 •  October 2014 •  September 2014 •  August 2014 •  July 2014 •  June 2014 •  May 2014 •  April 2014 •  March 2014 •  February 2014 •  January 2014

December 2013 •  November 2013 •  October 2013 •  September 2013 •  August 2013 •  July 2013 •  June 2013 •  May 2013 •  April 2013 •  March 2013 •  February 2013 •  January 2013

December 2012 •  November 2012 •  October 2012 •  September 2012 •  August 2012 •  July 2012 •  June 2012 •  May 2012 •  April 2012 •  March 2012 •  February 2012 •  January 2012

December 2011 •  November 2011 •  October 2011 •  September 2011 •  August 2011 •  July 2011 •  June 2011 •  May 2011 •  April 2011 •  March 2011 •  February 2011 •  January 2011

December 2010 •  November 2010 •  October 2010 •  September 2010 •  August 2010 •  July 2010 •  June 2010 •  May 2010 •  April 2010 •  March 2010 •  February 2010 •  January 2010

December 2009 •  November 2009 •  October 2009 •  September 2009 •  August 2009 •  July 2009 •  June 2009 •  May 2009 •  April 2009 •  March 2009 •  February 2009 •  January 2009

December 2008 •  November 2008 •  October 2008 •  September 2008 •  August 2008 •  July 2008 •