These Overlaps in Time Will Make You Question Your History Skills

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Would it surprise you to know that Nintendo was founded just a year after Jack the Ripper's killing spree? What about the fact that Pablo Picasso died years after the release of the first Beatles album? Or that Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth were born just days apart? If you think those coinciding events are surprising, buckle up. Most of us have shockingly distorted conceptions when it comes to the march of history.


A lot of our misconceptions of history probably come down to the way we were taught in school. Teachers don't teach the history of the world from start to finish — if they did, the indiscriminate smattering of people, locations, and events would make it incredibly difficult to keep your facts straight. Instead, they break history up into discrete chunks: the Renaissance in Europe, the colonizing of the Americas, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

That puts them in easily digestible units but also has a tendency to keep students from putting the lessons in context with other events that happened at the same time. As a result, there are some events that you'd never guess happened at the same time — that is, if a few Reddit threads are any indication. Hold on to your DeLoreans.

4,000 Years Ago

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built on the west bank of the Nile about 4,600 years ago in 2650 B.C.E., during a time when Egypt was among the richest, most powerful civilizations in the world. In fact, pyramids like Giza were erected for centuries, from roughly 2600 to 2300 B.C.E. Want to know what else existed during that time? Woolly mammoths. Those furry, tusked, elephant-sized creatures only died out 4,000 years ago, which gave them roughly six centuries of overlap with the Ancient Egyptians. What if the Sphinx had been built with tusks?

A Millennium Ago

Most historians think the Aztec civilization got its start as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico before setting up shop in Mesoamerica around the beginning of the 13th century. The Aztecs thrived as a political and commercial leader and a social and religious force for centuries until Spanish invaders brought the civilization to its end in 1521. Meanwhile, in England, Oxford frat bros were throwing wild keggers. Okay, not really, but Oxford University had been around for a century already when the Aztecs first got started — the first lessons took place there in 1096.

Speaking of universities, did you know that the first students at Harvard didn't take calculus? They couldn't have if they wanted to, seeing as it hadn't been invented yet. Harvard was founded in 1636, and while calculus went through several centuries of development, it wasn't fully refined until the early 1800s.

Harvard University predates the invention of calculus.

Centuries Ago

In 1789, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin lobbied the French government to adopt a gentler method of execution than the axe beheadings of the time. Along with Dr. Antoine Louis and German harpsichord maker Tobias Schmidt, he helped develop such a method: the guillotine, which remained France's state method of capital punishment for 189 years, all the way until 1977. That's right: France's last execution by guillotine occurred the same year that Star Wars came out in theaters.

In 1841, 70 pioneers hitched up their wagons in Independence, Missouri and traveled west, becoming the first settlers to follow what came to be known as the Oregon Trail. Two years later, Alexander Bain filed a patent for a device designed for "improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces, and in electric printing, and signal telegraphs." That device is the first fax machine.

We could play this game for an eternity. What surprising overlaps can you find in history?

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Written by Ashley Hamer August 25, 2017

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