The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ancient Smiley Face

While browsing on some of my favorite archaeological websites, I came across an interesting story -- one of those stories that proves the truth of the words from the Book of Ecclesiastes:
"What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!" [Eccl 1:9]
Back in 1963 Harvey Ross Ball, a graphic artist and advertising man, was asked by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts to come up with an image that would lift the morale of the company's employees. Apparently the company had undergone several recent mergers and acquisitions and the results had been somewhat chaotic.

Ball spent all of ten minutes on the project and came up with what we now call the "Smiley Face." Here's what Harvey Ball's original looked like:
Smiley Face (1963)
Yes, I know. It's hard not to smile when you see this simple depiction of a happy person.

It is reported that Mr. Ball, who died in 2001 at the age of 80, was paid all of $45 for his ten minutes of design work. Of course, the little image he created continued to pay him rewards in the form of notoriety and the half-century of smiles it has generated.

But Harvey Ball was far more than a doodler. He served in Asia and the Pacific during World War Two and earned a Bronze Star at the Battle of Okinawa. He went on the serve 27 years in the National Guard and retired as a Brigadier General.

I assume his wartime experience in Asia was limited to East Asia, but wouldn't it be interesting if we were to discover that he spent some time in West Asia, specifically in Asia Minor? I say this because of a recent archaeological discovery at the site of the ancient Hittite city of Karkemish, located near the Syrian-Turkish border.

Apparently, archaeologists working the site discovered the fragments of a large, off-white jug. After putting it all back together they noticed a distinct image of a smiley face. The archaeologists claim the jug was used to hold an ancient form of sherbet. Perhaps the smile was to indicate the sweetness of the jug's contents.

I've included another photo (below) that shows the size of this remarkable, happy jug.

Hittite Smiley Face (c. 1700 B.C.)
As you can see the jug displays no other ornamentation and it seems obvious to me that the image is intended to depict a smile, along with the two dots for eyes. In fact, it's really remarkably similar to Harvey Ball's version, drawn about 3,700 years after the Hittite version. Neither includes any other facial features: no eyebrows, no nose, no ears, no chin... Hmmm... Do you think Harvey might have done a little digging in West Asia before returning home to Worcester? Probably not. I guess we can just assume that, as the Bible reminds us, "Nothing is new under the sun."

Over the years I've also seen a few "face jugs," especially here in the South where potters seem to enjoy adding rather grotesque facial features to their work. Rarely, however, are these faces smiling. Here's an example of a face jug from Georgia, perhaps designed to keep the kids from sippin' Papa's moonshine. Can you imagine having one of these in your house when you were a kid? You'd probably need lifelong therapy.
Southern Face Jug
Even in medieval times, the expressions depicted on most of these jugs were anything but happy, at least not the ones I've encountered.

A couple of years ago, on a visit to the UK, Diane and I stopped by a small museum in Winchester, Hampshire where I spotted the jug pictured below. While the expression is certainly not a smile, neither is it particularly hostile. In fact the face looks more surprised than anything else.
If I remember correctly (and I might be wrong here) the jug is dated to sometime around the 10th century. But whatever its age, it's certainly not nearly so ancient as the newly discovered Hittite smiley face.

That this oldest of smiley faces is of Hittite origin also surprised me. I guess I've never thought of the Hittites as a smiley sort of people. They pop up quite frequently in the Bible with perhaps the most famous being Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, the woman with whom King David was so smitten. To cover up his adultery, David arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. And that was certainly nothing to smile about.

While we know very little about the Hittite jug, at least we know that the ancients did enjoy some of life's simple pleasures. Dear Diane also enjoys an occasional taste of sherbet and always offers me some. And I must admit, it does make me smile.

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