The humble shopping list has finally been venerated to its rightful place in history. Archaeologists have discovered mundane lists written on shards of pottery dating back to 600 B.C. The lists may give new insight as to when books of the Old Testament were written, ancient literacy levels and, most importantly, what people were picking up on the way home from work.
Is there anything as revealing as a shopping list? One of the ancient lists includes “wine, flour and oil.” This tells us that people centuries ago were drinking heavily, consuming carbs and fueling high cholesterol, which answers the question, “What would you do without the internet?”
It is a wonderful affirmation of humanity to learn that people have been making shopping lists for centuries. I, for one, always make a list before going to the store. Sometimes I even remember to take the list with me.
No doubt it would be harder to forget the list if it were written on pottery shards able to pierce my clothing or handbag and leave deep puncture wounds in my flesh. Perhaps those B.C. shoppers were onto something.
Often I leave the list on the counter, lose it in my purse or forget it in the car. I will find a crumpled list a month later and read it out of curiosity, only to discover that we are dreadful creatures of habit needing the same old wine, flour and oil again and again.
It appears the ancients had the same things on their lists over and over as well. One list called for “three baths of wine” and another for a “full homer of wine.” The lists appeared to be for items meant for delivery to a Greek mercenary outpost - their strategy being if they could keep them supplied with libations, they could keep them fighting. But hopefully not among themselves.
The most fun I ever had unearthing an ancient shopping list was when I put on a coat I hadn’t worn in several years and found a list in the pocket along with a twenty dollar bill. It was such an exhilarating discovery that sometimes I put on every coat in the hall closet hoping for a repeat discovery. Sometimes I even put on other people’s coats.
The ancient shopping lists recently unearthed appear to be written by men for men. I would venture to say that today it is women who most often write shopping lists for men. Few things are more dangerous than writing a short list for a hungry man. Write a shopping list for a dozen eggs and apples and a hungry man will come home with two full grocery bags, both of which will be filled with nothing but tortilla chips, all things ranch and Sriracha. Lists were made to be broken.
This recent discovery is heartening on yet another front to those of us making the same old lists and often losing them. We are creating work for archaeologists of the future.
“Milk, lettuce and chicken breasts.” Wonder what they’ll make of it?
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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