During a recent excavation of an ancient burial site along the border of Turkey and Syria, archeologists came across something rather unexpected staring up at them from beneath the sands: a smiley face. What's been described as the world's first emoji had just been unearthed.
The 4,000-year-old site of Karkamış, which has been under periodic excavation since the late 1800s, harbors the remains of an ancient capital city that was the site of significant battles, Biblical references, and even modern military bases. This particular excavation, which began in May of 2017, unearthed a peculiar pot, the likes of which had never been seen; however, it was neither its shape nor its design that was significant – it was the painting of a smiley face it bore that stunned archeologists.
So, why is the presence of a rather unremarkable smiley face – a symbol that is now universally recognized and utilized on a daily basis – so significant? Because the pot is over 3,700 years old, and it may just be the oldest smiley emoji in history.
Archeologists Determined That The Pot Was Intentionally Decorated With The Design
The pot in question, which was found in a burial mound beneath what archeologists believe to have been a home, was once used as a vessel from which people could drink "a sweet sherbet-like substance," and it includes a small handle on one side and a long, vase-like neck for drinking.
What is remarkable about this pot, though, is that it has been distinctly marked with "three visible paint strokes... a swoosh of a smile and two dots for eyes above it," with no other markings present, adding to the significance of the smiley-face symbology. And what makes the discovery even more interesting is that the archeologists who have studied the pot believe that it was, in fact, intentionally marked with the smiling effigy. Yet, determining its meaning may not be so easy to answer, as was pointed out by the excavation's director, Nicolo Marchetti: "as for the interpretation, you may certainly choose your own."
Karkamış Is A 55-Hectare Site That Has Been Under Excavation Since The Mid-1800s
The discovery was made by a team of 25 Turkish and Italian archeologists who had first begun their seven-year excavation of Karkamış back in 2003. The site, which dates back to around 2000 BCE, spans over 55 hectares – which amounts to close to 100 football fields – and has remained largely unexplored due to political border issues between Turkey and Syria and the outbreak of WWI.
The first official excavations of the site began between 1878 and 1881 under the direction of the British Museum, and they started up again between 1911 and 1914 until operations were interrupted by the war. However, it was during these excavations that archeologists first learned of the complex history of the area, which had once been home to the Mitanni, Hittite, and Neo-Assyrian Empires.
Nicolo Marchetti Is The Archeologist Leading The Seven-Year Excavation
This particular excavation, which was led by Italian archeologist Nicolo Marchetti from the University of Bologna, was part of a seven-year survey of the area and resulted in the recovery of numerous "vases and pots, as well as metal goods in the ancient city" – but none that bore a resemblance to the smiling pot. As Marchetti explained, "it has no parallels in ancient ceramic art of the area," which makes it a remarkable discovery.