Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.
Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.
Slightly Gruesome But Well-Preserved Mummy Found In China
She's about 700 years old. Still, she looks pretty good. Found preserved in a brown liquid, her silk and cotton dress indicates she was likely at some high-ranking level in the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644. Click through the images to see her like some lucky researchers can!
Tash Rabat, a mysterious site in Kyrgyzstan, was once a settlement along the Silk Road, a way station for caravans -- a caravanserai. It provided shelter and food for both human traders and their animal workers. What makes Tash Rabat slightly mysterious is that its layout is unusual for this kind of caravanserai. What’s left is a single structure that looks like a blend between a castle and a temple.
Archaeologists are puzzled by Tash Rabat. They believe the location was used as a resting place for traders from about the 1400s but there’s also evidence that a Christian monastery may have been there from as early as the 900s. That could explain the odd layout – perhaps the travelling merchants just adapted an existing structure.
A tribe known as the Totonacs were the first civilization known to grow and cultivate vanilla pods, sometime in the 1400s CE. They mainly used them for medicinal or religious purposes, not culinary ones like vanilla is used for today. The Totonacs believed vanilla was a gift from the gods. Pretty much literally. In Totonac lore, vanilla orchids sprouted from the blood of a runaway deity and her forbidden mortal lover, both of whom were captured and slain by the princess’s father.
On an uninhabited Caribbean island, archaeologists were amazed to discover a series of cave drawings pre-dating European contact. This was a surprise because the drawings are so well-preserved. Over 70 winding caves on the island of Mona, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, contain art. Some are scratches on the rock. Others are more sophisticated, with paint made from sophisticated organic materials such as bat droppings, plant gums, minerals like iron, and materials from native trees like turpentine trees. The islanders were putting a lot of work into their art, deep where the light of day could not illuminate their creations.
The researchers noted that the indigenous people of Mona Island believed that the sun and moon emerged from beneath the ground. So exploring deep into the expansive network of subterranean caves, and making art there, is interpreted by today’s archaeologists as a highly spiritual act.
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!