Ancient surfaces swing from dusty old clay to opulent metals and dyes. Whether they belong to breathtaking artifacts or boring pots, surfaces can tell a missing story as much as the artifact itself.
Sometimes, what hides in the cracks can solve sticky secrets or confound the experts further. Myths can be scientifically supported or old beliefs banished. Remarkably, at times, the unexpected shines through—the personality of an ancient artist or the cringeworthy ingredients used to create dyes.
10. The Smiley Pot
It is not often that one encounters an ancient potter with a sense of humor. A 4,000-year-old pot has archaeologists smiling because of an unexpected discovery on its surface.
In 2017, when it was unearthed in Turkey near the Syrian border, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was another shattered vessel from a site that has seen seven years of excavations and plenty of artifacts. The restoration team pieced together the big-bellied pot and noticed something very familiar to people today.
A smiley face.
Sometime around 1700 BC, somebody dotted a pair of eyes into the wet clay and underlined it with a smile. The white vessel with its single handle was used to drink sherbet, a sweet liquid. While its purpose was clear, it might never be known why the artist added the happy expression.
Even so, the image is now considered history’s oldest smile. The site, Karkamis, once belonged to the Hittites, a Canaanite nation. It was also there that the Battle of Carchemish was fought. This clash, which occurred in 605 BC, was recorded in Jeremiah 46:2.