Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 11:57 UK

Flatulence joke is world's oldest

Man holds nose
Flatulence, farce and pharaohs feature in the list of the world's oldest jokes

Breaking news about breaking wind: the world's oldest joke is a one-liner about flatulence, researchers say.

Academics have compiled a list of the most ancient gags and the oldest, harking back to 1900BC, is a Sumerian proverb from what is now southern Iraq.

"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap," goes the joke.

Randy pharaohs, thirsty ox-drivers and barbers also feature in the list.

The oldest British joke dates back to the 10th Century, and uses the traditional question and answer format to suggestively poke fun at Anglo-Saxon men.

"What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? A key."

Pharaohs and emperors

The most humourous joke will come when you least expect it
Nikk, South Shields

"Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles," said Dr Paul McDonald, who led the study by academics at the University of Wolverhampton.

"What they all share, however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion."

As today, world leaders make good foils for ancient humour, particularly Egyptian pharaohs, as shown by this 1600BC joke:

"How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? Sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile - and urge the pharaoh to go fishing."

One Roman jape dating back to the 1st Century BC details the Emperor Augustus touring his realm and coming across a man who bears a striking resemblance to himself.

Intrigued, he asks the man: "Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?"

The man replies: "No your highness, but my father was."

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