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Humor is a distinctly human trait. While different cultures and generational groups might disagree on what we find most funny, the tendency to laugh at jokes unites all of humanity. And humor is by no means a modern invention; humans have probably been telling jokes since we first started talking.
Per Insider, British historians at the University of Wolverhampton conducted a study to track down the oldest jokes in history. The list that the historians compiled is almost certainly incomplete. Many ancient documents have been lost, and most of history's jokes were probably never written down in the first place. Even so, it's interesting to look at the list of ancient jokes that the researchers found, as they offer valuable insight into the minds of our ancestors.
One of the world's oldest jokes dates to Greece in the 300s CE; it was found in what is believed to be the first joke book ever compiled, the Philolegos. Per Insider, the joke states: "Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied: 'In silence.'" That one's pretty relatable even to 21st-century listeners — assuming you can still get a haircut appointment, that is. Another joke from the Philolegos reads, "Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said: 'I've had a great loss! Just when he had learned not to eat, he died.'"
The oldest written gag is a fart joke from ancient Sumeria
But the Greeks had no monopoly on humor. Several of the oldest jokes on the University of Wolverhampton's list were from ancient Egypt, a culture which apparently had a particular fondness for dirty humor. One joke from 30 BCE states, "Man is even more eager to copulate than a donkey. His purse is what restrains him." In a similar vein, another Egyptian joke from 1600 BCE says, "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish."
But, as Reuters explains, the oldest joke that the historians found dates back to the ancient Sumerian civilization, which was located in modern-day Iraq. The joke was found among Sumerian writings dating to 1900 BCE. Now, if you think that ancient humans were more serious and less silly than we are today, you're dead wrong: They apparently loved fart jokes as much as the next guy. The world's oldest recorded joke reads as follows: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial: a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."
Maybe it's the double negative, or the funny depiction of intimacy in relationships, or just the farts, but we'd say this joke still holds up today. Reading jokes like these helps to demystify humanity's ancestors, who enjoyed looking at the funny side of life as much as we do.