FOUND: Evidence That Cockroaches Have Plagued Humans for Millennia - Atlas Obscura
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FOUND: Evidence That Cockroaches Have Plagued Humans for Millennia

A smokybrown cockroach, ugh (Photo: Toby Hudson/Wikimedia)

The cliché about cockroaches is that they’re going to outlast us all: in the face of climate change, asteroids, disease and war, the future of earth is theirs. But what about the past? 

Maybe it’s not that cockroaches will inherit the earth, but that this planet is theirs and they’re just tolerating our presence for awhile.

Case in point: Japan. From art and literature, it’s long been established that cockroaches native to southern China have inhabited Japan’s islands since the 18th century, at least. But recently, Hiroki Obata, a professor of archaeology at Kumamoto University, uncovered evidence that cockroaches had been living in Japan for about 4,000 years before that.

Professor Obata, who studies pottery, has been examining the tiny holes left on the surface of age-old pottery shards. Under a powerful microscope, the source of these tiny impressions can be identified. Often, they were made by seeds and nuts and reveal new information about people’s diets.

On pottery shards that date back 4,300 years, however, the researcher found an impression made by cockroach eggs. These tiny dents were just 11 mm long, but the research team was able to match them to the eggs of smokybrown cockroaches. 

In cockroach history around the world, though, settlements 4,300 years old are relatively young. Back in 2014, researchers found a fossil of a cockroach that lived approximately 49 million years ago.

Bonus finds: CBGB awningsmonster armadillos

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.