12 Weird Things Our Ancestors Did

While we may think of ourselves as the most quirky generation, you may think otherwise after seeing these strange, sometimes gross traditions! Our behaviors aren’t so weird after all.

1. Human Alarm Clocks


From the mid-18th century to the 1950s, human alarm clocks, or knocker-uppers, existed to wake people up. Though we’re not sure who woke the knocker-uppers up, some believe they didn’t sleep before work.

2. Rocks As Toilet Paper

Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Many things were used as toilet paper, from leaves to sheep wool, but most surprisingly, rocks and shards of pottery were used.

3. Radioactive Souveniers

Wikipedia Commons

In the past, radioactivity was not known to be dangerous. Shops took full advantage of this and created things such as cosmetics, food, and drinks enriched with radium and thorium, radioactive souvenirs, and even devices for saturating water with radioactive elements.

4. Pictures of the Dead

Wikipedia Commons

People, in their desire to preserve the memory of their dead family members, took pictures of the deceased, posed as if they were alive, and drew eyes on their eyelids.

5. Poor Hygiene

East News

People took pride in their poor hygiene, seeing water as dirty and disease-ridden, and thinking of lice as pearls of God.

6. Bloodletting

Wikipedia Commons

Believing that releasing blood would release disease, doctors used leeches as cure-alls.

7. Chopines

Wikipedia Commons

Chopines, also known as zoccoli or pianelle, are a kind of platform shoe up to 50 cm (20 in) high. These were used to avoid mud in the street.

8. Boys Wearing Dresses

East News

In the past, young boys wore dresses. Apparently, they were worn because they needed replacing less often, since they could be grown into.

9. Second Sleep Periods

The British Library

Europeans who lived in the Middle Ages practiced what we now call biphasic sleep. The first sleep started at sunset and lasted until about midnight; then people would wake up and stay awake for 2-3 hours.

10. Bathing Machines

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Unlike us, people in the 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t just go into the water on the beach. They had to use bathing machines: special carts that looked like beach huts. The carts were driven into the water so that bathers could swim without any prying eyes watching them.

11. Heroin as Cough Medicine

East News

Heroin was seen as a harmless alternative to morphine, and was commonly used in cough medicine. It was even recommended for children.

12. Smoking on Planes

East News

Smoking was extremely common, and people would even smoke in confined, poorly-ventilated spaces such as airplanes.