During the Cold War, Soviet Russia was a very restrictive place. The media was heavily censored, foreign radio and television station waves were jammed, books that criticized the Soviet regime were banned, and playing western music that was deemed morally and culturally depraved was prohibited. At the same time, dissident activity was rife. Banned literature and underground publications were reproduced by hand and the documents passed from reader to reader. Even music was bootlegged.
Fifty years ago, a trove of manuscripts written on birch bark was discovered in the Russian city of Novgorod, situated some 200 kilometers south of Saint Petersburg. Birch bark was frequently used in the old days as a replacement for paper, which was—until a few centuries ago—a valuable commodity. Birch trees were widely available and could be easily cultivated. In fact, Novgorod is surrounded by birch forests, whose bark was used for centuries by the locals for writing since it was soft and easily scratched. Thin pieces of birch bark was almost as good as wood-pulp paper, while requiring nothing to manufacture.
This unusual-looking gun, now exhibited at the Museum of Mourning Art in Arlington Cemetery, once kept body snatchers away from cemetery grounds and discouraged them from digging up dead bodies. The gun would be set near the foot of the grave and a series of tripwires would swing the gun in the appropriate direction when triggered, and fire upon the unsuspecting thieves.
Behind a glass case at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a battered and rusted tricycle. The seat is missing, and so are the pedals and the handle grips, and the entire metal frame of the cycle is caked in rust. Like many of the artifacts preserved at the museum dedicated to the world’s first nuclear attack, the tricycle has a heart-wrenching story.
In 1862, an American Egyptologist named Edwin Smith bought an ancient scroll of papyrus from an Egyptian dealer. Smith didn’t know how to read it, but he figured it was something important and precious. He kept the papyrus scroll with him until his death in 1906, whereupon his daughter donated the papyrus to the New York Historical Society. It was there the importance of document, now known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus, was first understood.
You have definitely seen a chindōgu. They are those ridiculous Japanese inventions designed to solve a particular problem but are, in fact, so clumsy and inelegant that they are an inconvenience to use, and generate a whole lot of new problems. A few examples of chindōgu are: chopsticks with a miniature electric fan to cool noodles on the way to the mouth; glasses with attached funnels that allow the wearer to apply eye drops with accuracy; tiny umbrellas attached to cameras to take picture in the rain; a toilet plunger with a ring at one end that attaches to train-car ceilings and functions as a handrail in crowded carriages, and so on.
This neat little box containing a pair of bellows and an assortment of pipes and other fixtures is a Tobacco Resuscitator Kit from the 18th century, approved for use and distributed by London’s Royal Humane Society, then known as Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. Tobacco was thought to have invigorating properties and the ability to soak up moisture and warm the body from the inside. Thus blowing tobacco smoke through various orifices of the human body was the recommended procedure to revive the apparently lifeless body of a drowned victim. The bellows in the kit enabled the physician or the reviver to pump tobacco smoke through the various nozzles that were ideally designed to fit into the victim’s nostrils and the … Read the rest
On a cold January morning in 2005, in the village of Saru in southern Estonia, farmer Rein Kıiv and his son made a curious discovery. On the sandy floor of their shed, they found a cluster of 16 rats with their tails inexplicably tangled into a knot. The rats were squeaking and struggling to escape but the harder they pulled the tighter the knot became. The animals were apparently trying to dig themselves out of a narrow burrow but in the struggle some of them got buried under the sand. Seven of the rats in the tangle were already dead. Rein’s son decided to put the diabolic little scene to an end, and picking up a stick, killed the rest of the wretched animals.
Rein Kıiv … Read the rest
The sun is the hottest when the clock strikes one in the small town of Seringapatam, not far from the city of Mysore, in present day Karnataka, a state in India. Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who was leading two army units of the British East India Company, knew that the defenders of the fortress of Seringapatam would be taking a break for refreshment at this hour. That’s when he planned to strike.
The date was May 4, 1799—the final day of the final confrontation between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore led by the strong and assertive Tipu Sultan. At the scheduled hour, seventy-six men dashed across the four-feet-deep river Cauvery and in only sixteen minutes had scaled the ramparts and stormed into … Read the rest
Fifty years ago a dog went up a tree chasing a racoon or something. He never came down.
Fast forward twenty years. A group of loggers cut down a chestnut oak somewhere in a forest in the state of Georgia, the United States of America. When they sawed off the trunk, they discovered the mummified corpse of a dog entombed inside. Apparently, the dog had chased his prey down a hollow in the tree where it became stuck and then died of starvation. Dry conditions inside the hollow of the tree allowed the corpse to dry without rotting. The upward draft of air apparently carried the scent of the dead animal away, so it wasn't devoured by insects or other creatures. The tannic acid of the … Read the rest