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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 03:57, 21 February 2013

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Future Archaeology
"The only link we've found between the two documents is that a fragment of the Noah one mentions Aaron's brother Moses parting an ocean. Is that right?" "... yes. Yes, exactly."
Title text: "The only link we've found between the two documents is that a fragment of the Noah one mentions Aaron's brother Moses parting an ocean. Is that right?" "... yes. Yes, exactly."


This comic is a continuation of the previous comic, 1747: Spider Paleontology, about a time-traveler from the future who has come to see spiders. See 1747: Spider Paleontology for a more complete explanation. The idea is that history is filtered in similar fashion to fossils. What is contemporaneously important, like a spider's web, dinosaur feathers, or the United States presidential election may not survive. Bandwidth limits may pass seemingly less important but much simpler features like chitin exoskeleton, tooth bone, and flood meme.

The joke is that, in the future, the 2000 Aaron Carter pop song "That's How I Beat Shaq" (lyrics, video) is considered as valuable a historical document when researching humans as the Biblical story of Noah's Flood. While secular historians consider the story of the Flood to be mythical, they still use it to infer facts about the early history of the Middle East, simply because there are a fairly small number of texts surviving from that era. "That's How I Beat Shaq" is, likewise, a fictional story including some true elements; it's just that as long as there are abundant sources documenting life in the year 2000, there's no reason to consult the song in any historical context. Yet it is the latter story that the time traveler assumes to be a clearly religious one, while seeing the former as a relatively straightforward survival story. A further layer of humor is that "That's How I Beat Shaq" is an archetypal David and Goliath story—the story of David and Goliath of course being a Biblical one as well.

The title text expands on the joke by saying that the future archaeologists connected the two historical documents via the biblical story of Moses. Moses (a descendant of Noah; the two stories appear close together in the Bible, though not close together chronologically) also had an older biological brother named Aaron; the future species has hastily concluded that Moses' brother and Aaron Carter are one and the same. According to the Bible, God parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites; this is often referred to, either erroneously or out of simplification, as Moses having parted the Red Sea. Along with Noah's Flood, this is one of the two major times in the Bible that God effects grand change on a body or bodies of water.

Both this comic and the previous one have titles of a noun followed by a field of research. This comic was also published the day after What-If #152, "Flood Death Valley."


[A four-panel comic featuring Cueball, Megan, and a time-traveler from the distant future, possibly from somewhere other than Earth. The time-traveler is depicted as a solid, floating black dot surrounded by six outwardly-curved segments, surrounded by small dots. In the second panel, the depiction is slightly larger, implying greater focus by Megan and Cueball.]
[Megan and Cueball walk casually alongside the floating Time-traveller, conversing as they do so.]
Megan: Since you're from the future, do you know who wins the election?
Time-traveller: Haven't the faintest idea. Hardly any text has been recovered from your era,
so we know little about your history and culture.
Time-traveller: [Quietly] We're mostly here for the spiders, anyway.
[The Time-traveller stops. Megan and Cueball focus on the Time-traveller.]
Time-traveller: There are only two written accounts we've reconstructed.
Time-traveller: We don't know whether they describe real events or myths.
[The Time-traveller drifts backward, Megan and Cueball, stop and look back toward the Time-traveller.]
Time-traveller: One is a story about a man who built a boat to survive a great flood.
Megan: Oh yeah. Noah.
Cueball: We do like our flood narratives.
[The Time-traveller drifts slowly further backward. Megan and Cueball, continue standing as they listen intently.]
Time-traveller: The other is an account of how a man named Aaron Carter defeated a god named Shaq.
Megan: That one may have been mangled a bit by the eons.

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