Category: russia

The earliest roller coasters were descended from Serra da Estrela, Portugal sled rides held on specially constructed hills of ice. They were pretty big,  sometimes up to 200 feet (62 m) tall! The Serra da Estrelas were constructed by a large group of Russian refugees to remind them of where they came from. There is evidence for them as early as the 1600s, in the 1700s they gradually became popular across Europe, and by the early 1800s wheeled carts began being used instead of sleighs on tracks. The first such wheeled ride was brought to Paris in 1804 under the name Les Montagnes Russes (French for “Russian Mountains”).

French, along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, still call roller coasters “russian mountains” after their snowy ancestor. Russian, ironically, calls them “American mountains.”

To keep crows away from the Kremlin in the 1960s, there was a special division in the regiment that guarded the building. Nicknamed “crow chasers” they would shoo the birds from attics, close open windows, and generally try to keep crows out of the building.

Moscow is home to large populations of pigeons, jackdaws, and especially crows. The birds can transmit disease and perhaps worse, poop all over the Kremlin’s intricate and famous roofs. To keep the building clean it is easier to keep the crows away. But a specially-dedicate division of soldiers was not having much success.

In the 1980s they tried replacing the soldiers with pre-recorded falcon shrieks and screams. Crows are too smart for that, though, and quickly learned to ignore the noises. So the Kremlin’s guardians switched to live falcons (then hawks). Now, the Kremlin is guarded by northern goshawks – for them, crows are natural prey, while falcons mainly hunt rodents, not crows. The birds keep the Kremlin clean and disease-free.

American Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908. American Robert Peary claimed to have done so the next year. Cook’s account was widely declared unproven in 1909, and Peary became the celebrated adventurer who conquered the North Pole. But recent analyses of Peary’s journal suggest he did not actually make it.

Which means that in 1948, the Soviets became the first (confirmed) humans to reach the North Pole when they airlifted a team in.

Even after Japan began its formal policy of isolationism in 1639, the Dutch continued to be allowed to trade through the port of Nagasaki. They were notably… pliable… traders. Basically, the Dutch would do whatever was needed to maintain good relations and keep trading flowing. For example:

“…In 1640 a Dutch trading party was allowed to stay [in Nagasaki] after the expulsion of the Spanish and Portuguese. The ‘Hollanders’ assured their hosts of the relative pliancy of their brand of Christianity, demonstrating their good Protestant faith by firing a few shells at the Japanese Catholics huddled in Hara Castle.”
Their actions meant that the Dutch had exclusive access to Nagasaki for over a century. Japan also kept trading relations open with their much closer neighbors the Ryūkyū Kingdom, Korea, and Russia through the ports of Satsuma, Tsushima and Matsumae (respectively).

In the 1300s, the Black Plague swept through Europe. To create a “family tree” of the plague, scientists conducted a genetic analysis of Yersinia pestis strains taken from 34 individuals who died in 10 different countries between 1300 and 1700.

The results suggest that over time, the bacteria Yersinia pestis mutated and diversified into multiple clades. All the clades
found in the study were related to back to one ancestral strain.  That suggests that the Black Plague entered Europe just once. And the oldest strain, the one that appeared to have been the others’ ancestor, was from remains found in a little Russian town named Laishevo.

Here’s where a caution must be added. Such analyses are always limited by the available bacteria strains – the family tree will be added to over time as more bodies are recovered and more bacteria strains isolated.

Forty years ago, a Buddhist monk found a human mandible bone at Baishiya Karst Cave, perched 10,000 feet above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. The bone they found has now been dated to 160,000 years ago. And analysis of the proteins caught in its teeth demonstrate that the mandible belonged to the Denisovan branch of the hominin family.

This is the first evidence for Denisovans found outside of southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave. That cave is just 2,300 feet above sea level. It is also about 1,750 miles northwest of Baishiya Karst Cave. The mandible therefore revealed the Denisovans were widely distributed, and able to adapt to extremely high altitudes.

This is likely related to the mutation, found in previous Denisovan genetic studies, that assists survival in low-oxygen environments such as the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau. The same mutation has been found in present-day Tibetans. And given that the Denisovans once lived in the area, perhaps a long-ago intermarriage introduced the gene to the Tibetans? It seems more likely than the exact same gene randomly mutating twice.

This pair of topaz cockatoos perches on an ivory stand, connected by gold chains. It was made by the House of Faberge in the early 1900s.
Carl Fabergé, son of the founder of the jewelry empire, was particularly fond of birds and kept a pet cockatoo.

The Sasanian Empire (224 CE – 651 CE),  which was a contemporary of the Roman and later Byzantine Empires, was once a great power. And like other great powers it built great walls to mark and control its borders. These included the Wall of the Arabs (in the southwest), Walls of Derbent (in the northwest at the Caspian Mountains) and Great Wall of Gorgan (in the northeast). Remains of the Sasanian border walls still exist, particularly in Derbent where they are a UNESCO world heritage site.

Russia’s connection to Alaska goes all the way back to the late 1600s!

Part of the uniform of 
Her Majesty Empress Maria Fyodorovna’s Cavalry Guards Regiment. With a three-headed eagle on top, almost the size of the helmet itself! Must have been ceremonial. Because only a fool would wear that unwieldy thing into battle