In a Press Release issued by Loutit District Library and The Smithsonian Institute this morning, it was announced that Grand Haven resident and Loutit Head Researcher Joanne Gutenberg has been credited with discovery of the world’s oldest known use of the smiley face. Found on a papyrus scroll first uncovered by Gutenberg from an archaeological site near Alexandria, Egypt last month, preliminary carbon-dating analysis indicates the smiley face is nearly 3,000 years old; making it 2,950 years older than previously believed. The find has excited both Egyptologists and Emoticologists, and is the first new hieroglyph symbol discovered in more than a hundred years. Although there is still debate over exactly when the modern smiley face first appeared, the now familiar and iconic yellow smiling face gained widespread attention in 1970 as part of the ‘Have a Happy Day’ campaign, and by 1972 more than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold, not to mention the millions of t-shirts, mugs, posters and other smiley merchandise which proliferated during the 1970s. The smiley’s current use in online culture as the godfather of emoticons has been considered the smiley’s ‘second life’, but today’s announcement will force historians to revise their view of the smiley’s origins, while Egyptologists on Twitter are already debating whether the Egyptians may have been the first people to say ‘Life is Good’ or ‘Have a Nice Day’.
When Joanne Gutenberg departed Grand Haven for a 30-day working-research sabbatical in Egypt last month, she joined other scholars, librarians and members of The Smithsonian Institute in their ongoing search for physical evidence of the Library of Alexandria. Considered one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, the library at Alexandria was constructed in the 3rd Century B.C., and was the world’s greatest single repository of written works until its destruction sometime after Egypt was conquered by the Romans in 30 B.C. As a young girl, Joanne was fascinated by stories of the great library, with its millions of written scrolls and papyrus papers all lost in fire or destroyed by time, and she credits her interest in ancient Egypt as the initial inspiration behind her dream to become a professional researcher and cataloguer of information. “Going to work for a month on a real archaeological dig near Alexandria was a dream come true for me”, said Gutenberg from her cubicle at Loutit Library this afternoon. “And after three weeks of sifting through nothing but sand, I came across a ceramic jar with this rolled up papyrus scroll inside it.”
Within minutes of unrolling the ancient document and running high-resolution optic scans inside the Smithsonian’s climate-controlled mobile laboratory, the magnitude of Gutenberg’s discovery became apparent, as researchers spotted the smiley face amongst the hundreds of other hieroglyphs etched onto the papyrus. Hailed as the biggest advance in the study of Egyptian hieroglyphs since discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, Joanne will be on the cover of next month’s National Geographic Magazine, and is in talks with The Discovery Channel for a possible reality-tv series about researching. The normally unassuming Gutenberg is uncomfortable with her newfound celebrity. “People are treating me like a female Indiana Jones, or something”, says Joanne before pausing to direct a library visitor towards the Science-Fiction Section, “But it’s not like my life was ever in danger, and my discovery of an ancient smiley hieroglyph didn’t save the world or anything. I was just sifting through buckets of sand with thirty-five other people, and happened to get lucky. But if they want to make a tv show about that, who am I to say no?”
Gutenberg will be guest of honor at a reception hosted by Loutit Library on Saturday afternoon, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Library Director John Martin is inviting local residents to come and meet Joanne, who will be signing autographs and posing for pictures before sharing stories and photographs from her trip in a special multimedia presentation called ‘Smile Like An Egyptian’, scheduled for 4:00 pm.