A Big Oops

On December 28th, 1612, the Italian astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei became the first man to observe the planet Nepture. He thought it was a star.

Derbent, Russia's Oldest City

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.

At its peak in 1637, the Dutch East India Company was valued at US$ 7.9 trillion. That’s adjusted for inflation. US$ 7.9 trillion is the value of the top 20 highest valued companies in the world today -- yes, including Apple and Microsoft.

Where are Witches?

A belief in witches -- and consequently witch-hunts -- have been found in every single inhabited continent of the world, and most of the peoples who have lived on it. But belief in witches is not entirely universal: the largest witch-free area is Siberia, covering about a third of the northern hemisphere, and the ancient Egyptians were notable for their lack of belief of witchcraft and embracing magic, instead of fearing magic.

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!

La Llorona

In English, her name means "the Weeping Woman." She is a legendary figure in Mexico, who wanders for eternity, seeking her lost children. To hear her cries brings misfortune. According to legend, La Llorona was once a living woman, whose husband on day left her for a younger woman. In her grief and anger, La Llorona drowned her children, to hurt their unfaithful father. When she realized what she had done, she drowned herself too. According to some versions, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who even vaguely resemble her dead children. Crying and apologizing, she will then drown the children, so they can take the place of her own. La Llorona is understandably a popular threat to keep Mexican children from wandering.

A belief in witches and witchcraft were common in Europe through the early 1700s. Witch bottles--small containers filled with personal items, sealed, and buried--are one way this belief appears in the archaeological record. Where there are witch bottles, there were people who believed in witches. The buried bottle was supposed to absorb a spell, tormenting the witch who cast the spell, and preventing the spell from harming whoever buried the bottle. When witch bottles are found today they are almost always broken or empty. But in Greenwich, England, in 2004, workers found a rare, unopened example, a stoneware bellarmine jar. They heard rattling and splashing inside, so something was definitely inside.

X-rays revealed pins and nails stuck in the jar's neck (it had been buried upside-down). Then a CT scan showed that the witch's bottle was about half-filled with liquid -- confirming the splashing. Using a long needle, scientists penetrated the cork and removed some of the liquid for analyses. Using modern witchcraft, proton nuclear magnetic resonance and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, they determined the smelly answer: urine. When the bottle was emptied to inventory the pins and nails, the contents were only slightly less gross than human pee. Inside were 12 iron nails (one of which was driven through a leather heart), 8 brass pins, brimstone, clumps of hair, 10 manicured fingernail clippings, and a little clot of what looked like bellybutton lint. Further tests showed that the witch bottle was probably filled and buried sometime in the 1600s.

A banquet of song and dance. Besides showing typical Iranian instruments and clothing in the early modern era, the painting shows what the inside of Hasht Behesht Palace look like. Built in 1669, the royal palace's name means "Eight Paradises."

The painting comes from Isfahan, late Safavid Dynasty or potentially early Zand Dynasty. Artist unknown.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    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!

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