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25 Fascinating historical facts

History is sometimes considered boring — and it can feel that way when it’s presented as merely a list of names and dates. But the lived history of human beings (and the natural world) is frequently fascinating, filled with stories of struggles and triumphs, ingenious strategies and bizarre episodes. Who was the unwitting founder of the nation’s first gold rush? What’s the story behind the 2,000-year-old “computer”? Did Marie Antoinette really say “let them eat cake”? And did Christopher Columbus really sail to prove the world was round? Find out the answers to these questions and so much more with 25 of our favorite facts about U.S. and world history gathered from around the website.

The British had plans to use aircraft carriers made of ice during World War 2

It was 1942, and, among many other challenges, wartime Great Britain had a big problem: Nazi U-boats. These German submarines destroyed U.K.-bound merchant ships laden with much-needed food and supplies, and the attacks became so frequent that from March to September of that year, they sank close to 100 merchant ships a month. Airplanes at the time couldn’t fly far enough from land-based airstrips to protect these ships in the ocean, and this aviation limitation left a 300-mile lane of unprotected waters known as “the mid-Atlantic gap.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was desperate to close this gap by any means necessary, and dreamed of building floating islands where planes could refuel. Unfortunately, aircraft carriers were few and far between, and steel was hard to come by during the war, when it was needed for weapons, tanks, ships, and more.

One day, a potential solution arrived when Lord Louis Mountbatten, head of Britain’s Combined Operations Command, presented Churchill with a strange chunk of ice. This wasn’t any normal piece of ice, however: It was pykrete (named after its creator Geoffrey Pyke), a type of ice reinforced with wood pulp. The result was a material that melted very slowly, and for Churchill, a vision of a fleet of aircraft carriersmade from pykrete came into focus. The proposed pykrete ship would’ve been the biggest “ship” ever constructed, displacing 26 times more water than the largest ship at the time and requiring 26 electric motors for propulsion. A 60-foot-long prototype was soon constructed in Alberta, Canada, that weighed as much as five blue whales. But by 1943, things had changed. Escort carriers had arrived in the Atlantic, and long-range aircraft such as the B-24 Liberator had closed the gap for good. Despite pykrete’s amazing ability to hold its shape, the dream of an iceberg aircraft carrier soon melted away.

Medieval Scotland had a form of battle rap called Flyting

Battle rap features two rappers taking lyrical aim at each other with intricate (and often devastating) rhymes. During these battles, no insult — artistic or otherwise — is off-limits, and that’s a sentiment that 15th- and early 16th-century Scottish poets might have shared. Medieval Scottish men of words linguistically barbed each other in a practice known as “flyting” (based on the Old English word flītan, meaning “to quarrel”), often as entertainment for the Scottish king and his royal court. The most famous of these “battles” that still survives, known as “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie,” featured Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy entertaining the court of James IV in the early 16th century. Among its many famous attributes, it’s the first recorded moment of scatalogical humor. (One of the more family-friendly examples of its insults, translated from Middle Scots, reads: “Grovel for grace, dog-face, or I shall chase you all winter; Howl and yowl, owl.”)

Marie Antoinette probably never said “Let them eat cake”

Marie Antoinette’s most famous line has echoed for more than 200 years, reportedly adding fuel to the fire of France’s revolution. But the French queen’s supposed declaration is a myth — historians don’t think Marie Antoinette ever said, “Let them eat cake,” after being told her subjects had no bread. Researchers point to two main plot holes in the quote’s supposed backstory, the first being its phrasing in English. In fact, the French queen is supposed to have said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or “Let them eat brioche,” a reference to a rich bread made with eggs and butter.

The second problem is that the outline of the tale predates Marie Antoinette’s reign. At least one similar story cropped up around the 16th century in Germany, wherein a noblewoman suggested the poorest citizens in her kingdom eat sweetened bread. However, the first person to print the line about brioche was likely Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher who mentioned the story around 1767 in his book Confessions, attributing the comment to a “great princess.” Rousseau’s text was published when Marie Antoinette was still a child in Austria, though it’s possible the story inspired French revolutionaries decades later, and was repeated with the addition of Marie Antoinette’s name as propaganda against the French monarchy. Yet there is no historical evidence (aka printed material) that proves the queen ever uttered the phrase.

The shortest war lasted 38 minutes

If only all wars were as short as the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Lasting only 38 minutes, this conflict — which took place off the coast of Tanzania in 1896 — is largely considered to be the shortest war in human history. Under the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty, signed between Germany and Britain in 1890, the island archipelago known as Zanzibar was placed under British control, while mainland Tanzania remained the possession of Imperial Germany. Six years later, when the pro-British sultan of Zanzibar suddenly died, his cousin (and possible assassin) Khalid bin Barghash took on the role of sultan within hours of the leader’s death — all without the blessing of the British.

Not too happy about this suspected coup, Britain’s chief diplomat for the area, Basil Cave, was put in charge of resolving the conflict. By August 25, 1896, Khalid had gathered some 3,000 fighters and an impressive array of artillery around the palace to protect his reign. That evening, three British men-of-war were in the nearby harbor (joined by an additional two ships the following morning). Cave sent one last ultimatum on the evening of August 26, demanding evacuation of the palace by 9 a.m. the following morning. Khalid replied one hour before the deadline: “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us.” He was sorely mistaken, and the British opened fire at 9:02 a.m. After a 38-minute bombardment (although precise counts for the duration vary slightly) — during which Khalid escaped through a back exit — the palace lowered its flag and history’s shortest war came to an end.

People have actually believed for 2,500 years that the world is round

If only all wars were as short as the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Lasting only 38 minutes, this conflict — which took place off the coast of Tanzania in 1896 — is largely considered to be the shortest war in human history. Under the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty, signed between Germany and Britain in 1890, the island archipelago known as Zanzibar was placed under British control, while mainland Tanzania remained the possession of Imperial Germany. Six years later, when the pro-British sultan of Zanzibar suddenly died, his cousin (and possible assassin) Khalid bin Barghash took on the role of sultan within hours of the leader’s death — all without the blessing of the British.

Not too happy about this suspected coup, Britain’s chief diplomat for the area, Basil Cave, was put in charge of resolving the conflict. By August 25, 1896, Khalid had gathered some 3,000 fighters and an impressive array of artillery around the palace to protect his reign. That evening, three British men-of-war were in the nearby harbor (joined by an additional two ships the following morning). Cave sent one last ultimatum on the evening of August 26, demanding evacuation of the palace by 9 a.m. the following morning. Khalid replied one hour before the deadline: “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us.” He was sorely mistaken, and the British opened fire at 9:02 a.m. After a 38-minute bombardment (although precise counts for the duration vary slightly) — during which Khalid escaped through a back exit — the palace lowered its flag and history’s shortest war came to an end.

During “Dance Plagues” people in Europe danced uncomfortably for days

There’s dancing like no one’s watching, and then there’s dancing like you have a plague. Such was the plight of hundreds of denizens of Strasbourg, then part of the Holy Roman Empire and now part of France, where a “dancing plague” lasted for weeks in 1518. First on the dance floor (read: city square) was one Frau Troffea, who danced until she collapsed from exhaustion one extremely hot day in July; after recovering her strength, she resumed her rug-cutting. She and the 30 or so others who joined in over the next week in a variety of public locations seemed unable to stop, as though their movements were involuntary. The “plague” lasted until early September, by which time at least 400 had joined in. Many were injured, and some sadly didn’t live to tell the tale.

This wasn’t the only dance plague to occur in medieval and early modern Europe. Similar events took place throughout the Holy Roman Empire as well as in Germany, Switzerland, and France, though none has been documented as thoroughly as the one in Strasbourg. No one is sure, all these centuries later, why any of this happened in the first place — many contemporary explanations were religiousand/or superstitious in nature, whereas more modern theories suggest that a mold called ergot might have been responsible. As with many phenomena from ages past, we may never know the full story.

The first U.S. post office was established in a tavern

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with launching the U.S. Postal Service after the Continental Congress authorized him to create postal routes in 1775. But before the ingenious founding father became the first U.S. postmaster, there was another important mail manager: a tavern owner by the name of Richard Fairbanks. About 136 years before Franklin’s post office management, Fairbanks’ tavern became the first post office in the United States. There, the businessman, who was permitted to sell “wine and strong water” along Boston’s Water Street, became responsible for collecting and distributing mail.

Combining a post office and a bar might seem unusual by today’s standards, but in the 17th century it was a common and clever system. European practices of the time often designated inns and taverns as post offices because they were regular gathering spots within communities. Public houses had a major influence on colonial life, too, providing meals and directions for travelers, entertainment, and news. That logic is why, on November 6, 1639, the Massachusetts General Court designated Fairbanks’ tavern as the official post office for “all letters which are brought from beyond the seas,” specifically meaning any correspondence between the colony and Great Britain. Fairbanks was paid one penny for each letter he handled. As for intercolonial mail, early Americans were resourceful at communicating with fellow New Worlders, privately sending their letters throughout the colonies with the help of traveling neighbors and merchants.

An 1816 volcanic eruption caused a year without summer and inspired “Frankenstein “

Difficult times can lead to great art. Case in point: the volcanic explosion that caused a “year without a summer” in 1816, and inspired the novel Frankenstein. The eruption took place at Indonesia’s Mount Tambora, many thousands of miles away from author Mary Shelley’s home in England. In addition to a harrowing death toll, the April 1815 explosion ejected mass amounts of sulfur dioxide, ash, and dust into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and plunging the global temperatureseveral degrees lower, resulting in the coldest year in well over two centuries. In part because of the volcano, Europe and North America were subjected to unusually cold, wet conditions the following summer, including a “killing frost” in New England and heavy rainfall that may have contributed to Napoleon’s infamous defeat at Waterloo.

So what does that have to do with Shelley’s masterpiece? Then 18 and still going by her maiden name of Godwin, she and her lover/future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, traveled to Lake Geneva in April 1816, a time of extremely gloomy weather. One fateful night that July, the two were with their friend Lord Byron, the infamous poet, when he suggested, “We will each write a ghost story.” Shelley completed hers in just a few days, writing in the introduction to Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus that “a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.” Who knows: If it had been bright and sunny that week, we might never have gotten the endlessly influential 1818 book, which later spawned an assortment of movies, TV shows, plays — and of course, iconic Halloween costumes.

Sound was first recorded before the Samurai were abolished

Samurai seem pretty old-school, a remnant of a feudal past, whereas sound recording feels like a hallmark invention of the modern era. So it’s strange to think that these things actually overlapped — and that sound recording started before the samurai disappeared. When U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s “black ships” arrived in Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) in 1853, the end of the samurai Japan’s hereditary warrior caste — was close at hand. Perry’s maneuvers opened Japan to the West after centuries of isolation. It would take several more years, but the Meiji Restoration (1868–1889) saw the end of the samurai when feudalism was officially abolished in 1871.

Thomas Edison’s recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in 1877 is sometimes regarded as the world’s first true sound recording, but that isn’t technically true. In the late 1850s, French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville started capturing a series of sounds, including the French folk song “Au clair de la lune” in 1860, using a phonautograph (a machine that captured the image of a sound wave using soot). Scott never designed the phonautograph to play sound back, unlike Edison’s phonograph. But in 2008, scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California successfully recreated some of Scott’s recordings, including the folk song, making the Frenchman’s experiments the first recorded sounds in history — and preserved from a time when samurai still roamed the streets of Edo.

Libraries predate books

While books are a fixture of today’s libraries, humans long constructed great centers of learning without them. That includes one of the oldest known significant libraries in history: the Library of Ashurbanipal. This library, established in modern-day Mosul, Iraq, by the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal in the seventh century BCE, contained nothing we would recognize today as a book. Instead, it was a repository of 30,000 clay tablets and writing boards covered in cuneiform — the oldest writing system in the world. Much like your local public library, this royal collection covered a variety of subjects, including legislation, financial statements, divination, hymns, medicine, literature, and astronomy.

While we know when this library flourished, defining the appearance of the earliest book is slightly murkier. The Egyptians, for example, are known to have written on papyrus scrolls; when the Library of Alexandria in Egypt burned in the first century BCE, 40,000 priceless scrolls were lost. By about the second century CE, Romans began using bound codexes, a kind of proto-book that consisted of papyrus or parchment sheets between wooden covers. The arrival of Christianity made the codex immensely popular, and it basically replaced the scroll by the sixth century CE. Block-printed books showed up in China around 700 CE, although Europe didn’t see anything similar until Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical movable type around 1448. So while libraries haven’t always housed books, they have been repositories of human knowledge — in whatever form it might take.

The first U.S. gold rush was started by a 12-year-old boy

Although the 1848 California Although the 1848 California Gold Rush was the largest in U.S. history, it wasn’t the first. That distinction belongs in the state of North Carolina, where in 1799, Conrad Reed, the 12-year-old son of a Hessian Revolutionary War deserter named John Reed, found a 17-pound gold nugget in Little Meadow Creek outside Charlotte. At first — not knowing what his son had stumbled across — the elder Reed used the rock as a doorstop for his home’s front door. It wasn’t until 1802, when he took the rock to a local jeweler, that he began to grasp the enormity of his son’s discovery (although he sold the nugget for far less than it was actually worth).

By 1803, Reed had established the first gold mining operation in the U.S. As local papers reported on his business, nearby farmers began hunting for gold on their own properties by searching shallow riverbeds, a practice known as “placer mining.” When these shallow-lying deposits dried up in the 1820s, companies ditched the gold pans and began excavating lode mines, which required many more workers. Until 1828, North Carolina was the onlygold-producing state in the Union, and its gold rush reached its peak in the 1830s and 1840s, when the industry employed nearly 30,000 people. The state’s gold-hued fortunes changed once the first reports of wealth out West arrived in the Carolinas, but Reed never saw the end of his state’s gold-rush boom time, dying a rich man in 1845 with his mine raking in millions.

Aboriginal Australians are the oldest continuous culture

What is the oldest continuous culture in the world? Some might say it’s the Egyptians, since they’ve been kicking around for several thousand years, or perhaps the Indians living along the Indus River Valley — one of ancient history’s greatest (and least-known) civilizations. However, the real answer lies far away from these centers of ancient wonder, in the Land Down Under, among that continent’s first peoples — the Aboriginal Australians. A study in 2016 by an international team of researchers gathered genomic data that showed this group first arrived on the continent some 50,000 years ago, after leaving Africa about 70,000 years ago.

However, it’s worth noting that Aboriginal peoples are far from a homogenous unit. After the first peoples arrived on the continent, they quickly spread across Australia, forming isolated pockets that developed independently of one another. By the time Europeans arrived en masse in the late 18th century, some 200 nations of Aboriginal Australians — each with their own language — lived throughout the continent. But that diversity goes beyond just tribes or nations; a study in December 2023 concluded that Aboriginal peoples have high levels of genetic diversity compared to European or Asian populations.

The Antikythera Mechanism Is a 2,000-Year-Old “Computer” From Ancient Greece

The Antikythera mechanism was similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of wood found on the fragments suggest it was housed in a wooden case. Like a clock, the case would’ve had a large circular face with rotating hands. There was a knob or handle on the side, for winding the mechanism forward or backward. And as the knob turned, trains of interlocking gearwheels drove at least seven hands at various speeds. Instead of hours and minutes, the hands displayed celestial time: one hand for the Sun, one for the Moon and one for each of the five planets visible to the naked eye—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. A rotating black and silver ball showed the phase of the Moon. Inscriptions explained which stars rose and set on any particular date. There were also two dial systems on the back of the case, each with a pin that followed its own spiral groove, like the needle on a record player. One of these dials was a calendar. The other showed the timing of lunar and solar eclipses.

Experts have been working to decipher inscriptions hidden inside the mechanism, in particular to understand the mechanism’s missing pieces, some destroyed, some probably still at the bottom of the sea. Though the pointers on the front face don’t survive, Alexander Jones, a historian at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York, says an inscription reveals that they carried colored balls: fiery red for Mars, gold for the Sun. 

Also missing are the parts that drove the planetary pointers, leading to debate about exactly how they moved. Because planets orbit the Sun, when viewed from Earth they appear to wander back and forth in the sky. The Greeks explained this motion with “epicycles”: small circles superimposed on a larger orbit. According to Michael Wright, a former curator at London’s Science Museum who has studied the mechanism longer than anyone, it modeled epicycles with trains of small gears riding around larger ones. Though some experts have dismissed this as beyond the Greeks’ abilities, Jones says he will publish evidence supporting the idea later this year.

Other inscriptions hint at where the mechanism was made. Paul Iversen, a classicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, reports that the calendar includes month names used in Corinth and its colonies in northwest Greece. A dial that displayed the timing of major athletic festivals, including the Olympics, lists Naa, a festival held in northwest Greece, and Halieia, held to the south on the island of Rhodes. Perhaps the mechanism hailed from Rhodes and was being shipped north. The ancient philosopher Posidonius had a workshop in Rhodes that could have been the source; according to Cicero, Posidonius made a similar model of the heavens in the first century B.C.

The tradition of making such mechanisms could be much older. Cicero wrote of a bronze device made by Archimedes in the third century B.C. And James Evans, a historian of astronomy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, thinks that the eclipse cycle represented is Babylonian in origin and begins in 205 B.C. Maybe it was Hipparchus, an astronomer in Rhodes around that time, who worked out the math behind the device. He is known for having blended the arithmetic-based predictions of Babylonians with geometric theories favored by the Greeks. 

Regardless, the Antikythera mechanism proves that the ancient Greeks used complex arrangements of precisely cut wheels to represent the latest in scientific understanding. It’s also a window into how the Greeks saw their universe. They came to believe that nature worked according to predefined rules, like a machine—an approach that forms the basis of our modern scientific views. Edmunds argues that this “mechanical philosophy” must have developed as a two-way process. The ancient mechanics who captured the cosmos in bronze weren’t just modeling astronomical theories but were also inspiring them.

Cleopatra lived closer in time to the iPhone than the Great Pyramid of Giza

When we think about nations and empires, we’re usually thinking in terms of centuries, but ancient Egypt stretched on for three millennia. The empire’s first pharaoh, Menes, united the country and formed the first dynasty on the Nile around 3100 BCE. Nearly 500 years later (more than double the entire history of the United States), the first of the Great Pyramid’s 2.3 million stone blocks was put into place. These blocks were the beginnings of an illustrious tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu. Within the next century, two other pyramids (along with an equally impressive sphinx) were completed nearby. Today, the three Pyramids of Giza are regarded as the oldest — and the only surviving — of the Seven Wonders of the World.

It wasn’t until about 2,500 years after that first block was wedged into place that Cleopatra VII was born around 69 BCE. Although the world of Cleopatra feels more comparable to the ancient reign of Khufu than the technological reign of the iPhone, first introduced in 2007, she’s about 400 years closer to our hyper-technological age than to the creation of Egypt’s most famous wonders — which have now been standing for an incredible 4,500 years.

The Wild West really wasn’t that wild

The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881, pitting the lawmen Virgil and Wyatt Earp against outlaws known as the “Cowboys,” is often seen as an emblem of the Wild West. Although depicted in many Hollywood films as evidence of the rampant lawlessness of the West, the real gunfight lasted only 30 seconds, killed three people, and happened not at the O.K. Corral but in a vacant lot down the street. Overall, the episode was a relatively minor one in the history of western North America, but it’s a moment that has become almost legendary in the romanticization of the Wild West, a period of American history stretching from about 1850 until 1900.

Although areas where people struck gold saw a relatively significant uptick in crime, most of the supposedly “wild” West was tamer than you may imagine. Economists, historians, and authors argue that for the most part settlers understood the importance of solving matters civilly, and some towns even passed gun control measures. Although Native Americans suffered egregious injustices during this period, the idea that they massacred white settlers in large numbers has also been exaggerated, and many were actually tolerant of wagon trains headed west.

Americans once had parties called Waffle Frolics

Brunch has a hold on Americans — after all, who can pass up the opportunity to enjoy a delicious smattering of sweet and savory plates (alongside good company, of course)? Apparently, Americans of the past couldn’t say no either, gathering to share food and fun at so-called “waffle frolics.” These waffle-eating get-togethers were most popular during the colonial era, eventually petering out by the mid-20th century. At their peak, they were elaborate, multicourse meals that showcased freshly ironed waffles as the main course.

Little is recorded about the particulars of early waffle frolics, but one description, by William Livingstone, a 21-year-old Yale student who recounted his party experience in a 1744 letter, describes the soiree as a lavish affair. “After a few games, a magnificent supper appeared in grand order and decorum,” he wrote. “[B]ut for my own part I was not a little grieved that so luxurious a feast should come under the name of a wafel-frolic, because if this be the case I must expect but a few wafel-frolics for the future.”

Oxford is older than the Inca Empire

While you might associate the development of modern universities with intellectual movements like the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, the first universities predate those major periods in history — not by years but by centuries. One of the oldest universities in the world is Oxford University, where teaching began back in 1096. That’s much older than Harvard (established in 1636) or Yale (1701), and it’s even older than some well-known Indigenous civilizations in the Americas, including the Incas, who lived in the Andean region of South America from around the 13th century CE to the mid-16th century. (Other groups and empires have occupied the Andes since at least 10,000 BCE.)

The first universities were not like the sprawling campuses of today. Instead, they were more like guilds devoted to certain subjects or crafts. Slowly, the influence of these schools grew throughout the High Middle Ages (1000 to 1300 CE), and many of them became hot spots during future intellectual movements. Meanwhile, as Europe was busy cementing the importance of its universities (and fighting in half-a-dozen Crusades), the Incas were building sprawling road networks and reliable postal systems — they even had highly skilled brain surgeons.

The most boring day of the 20th Century may have been April 11, 1954

What’s the most boring day in history — a day where truly nothing important happened? That was the question posed in 2010 to a computer program named True Knowledge. Designed by computer scientist William Tunstall-Pedoe, the program contained 300 million facts, many of them tied to dates. After scouring those facts and comparing them to their respective dates, True Knowledge decided that April 11, 1954, was the most boring day in the 20th century. Belgium held a general election, some sports events happened, a coup in India was possibly planned but not carried out until two days later, and no notable births or deaths occurred — at least as far as the computer program could figure out.

However, scientists may have some other days to suggest when it comes to the most boring day in history ever. The period from around 1.8 billion to 800 million years ago is known to geologists as “the Boring Billion,” because very little happened on Earth in terms of evolution, atmospheric chemistry, or geologic formation. Basically, it’s like the Earth was on pause for a billion years. It wasn’t until the Cambrian Explosion some 530 million years ago, when most major animal groups started to appear in the fossil record, that things really started to get exciting. So chin up, April 11, 1954: You weren’t very interesting, but there’s at least a billion years that you easily beat.

George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth

George Washington suffered from an array of tooth problems that necessitated dentures for much of his adult life, but his chompers weren’t made of wood, as popular lore sometimes suggests. Instead, his dentures were made of varying combinations of human and animal teeth, ivory, and metal. Sporting just one natural tooth by the time he was elected President in 1789, Washington wore a special set of dentures fashioned from ivory, brass, and gold for his inauguration. And while he could afford the best available dental care by that point, even the tailor-made fittings left the commander in chief complaining of pain and awkward bulging in his mouth.

Woolly mammoths were alive when the Great Pyramid of Giza was built

Woolly mammoths seem old-school. Hunted by Neanderthals for tens of thousands of years, these elephant-like mammals evolved hair and layers of fat to withstand the frigid temperatures of the ice age tundra as they roamed the northern reaches of Asia, Europe, and North America. Although no longer among us, their remains fill natural history museums around the world. But these ancient beasts aren’t as ancient as you might think. In fact, it’s estimated that the last woolly mammoth died around 1700 BCE — some 800 years afterancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid of Giza.

As the Earth began transitioning out of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, a warming world altered the woolly mammoth’s ecosystem. Melting glaciers created a wetter planet that destroyed the vegetation mammoths relied on for food, and this dramatic shift — along with continued human predation — led to complete extinction of the creatures in most areas around 8000 BCE. However, small pockets survived on some islands that benefited from both cold-weather vegetation and protection from human hunters.  Some of the last known mammoths lived in isolation on Wrangel Island, a Russian possession in the Arctic Ocean just northwest of Alaska.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on Independence Day’s

Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson seemingly shared some kind of cosmic connection. After striking up a friendship at the 1775 Continental Congress, they teamed up to draft the Declaration of Independence, concurrently served in Europe as American diplomats, and became the second and third U.S. Presidents, respectively, before partisan fighting drove them apart. But they reignited a regular correspondence in their golden years through the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1826. That day, as he lay on his deathbed, Adams reportedly delivered his final words, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” not realizing his old friend and former rival had passed away a few hours earlier.

Pirates didn’t speak like you think they did

Shiver me timbers: Pirates didn’t actually go around saying “arrrrrr” (or “ahoy, mateys,” for that matter). In fact, they probably spoke more or less just like other sailors of the time. We can blame the “pirate accent” on Hollywood. Actor Robert Newton gave an influential performance as Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island, which itself was the source of much (often inaccurate) modern-day pirate lore. Newton based his pirate-speak on the dialect of the West Country in southwestern England, where he hailed from (and where Long John Silver comes from, in the book). But don’t let the facts get in the way on September 19, which is International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Nintendo was founded before the fall of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire feels like an entity of a time long past, while the name Nintendo conjures up images of modernity — electronics, video games, arcades, and mustachioed plumbers. However, Nintendo was actually founded before the Ottoman Empire ended. When the Ottoman sultanate was eliminatedin 1922 after the widespread geographic shuffle that followed World War I, Nintendo had already been in business for 33 years.

Of course, this wasn’t the Nintendo that many of us know today — Nintendo didn’t make its first electronic video game until 1975. Founded on September 23, 1889, Nintendo originally sold playing cards, specifically Japanese-style cards called Hanafuda. The company did pretty well, but decided to expand further in later decades. Nintendo struck a deal with Disney in 1959 to create playing cards with Disney characters on them, and in the 1960s, Nintendo sold a series of successful children’s toys, including Ultra Hand and Home Bowling, before becoming the official Japanese distributor of the Magnavox Odyssey — the first commercial home video console. Seeing the promise of such a machine, Nintendo threw its weight behind this emerging entertainment category. The rest, as they say, is history.

The same man hosted the first major battle and formal conclusion of the Civil War

Northern Virginia plantation owner Wilmer McLean was happy to cede his grounds to pro-slavery Confederates for what became the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. However, he was tired of the destruction by the time his plantation was again used for the follow-up battle in August 1862, and he moved his family south to the isolated village of Appomattox Court House the following year. Turns out, he didn't get quite far enough away from the action, as an aide to General Robert E. Lee requested the use of McLean's new residence for a surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865.

Fossils of a “saber-toothed” salmon have been found

Before humans roamed the Americas in great numbers, the continent was home to some of the Earth’s largest animals: the massive American mastodons of the Yukon, the giant ground sloths of South America, and human-sized armadillo-related creatures called glyptodons. But even before these impressive specimens, another beast of tremendous proportions plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Its scientific name is Oncorhynchus rastrosus, but it’s known as the “sabertooth salmon.” The sabertooth salmon looked similar to the pink-hued fish found at most supermarkets today, except for one major thing — it was up to 8 feet long.

This giant salmon’s natural range included what’s now California, Oregon, and Washington. Much like modern salmon, it primarily lived in the Pacific Ocean while spawning in bodies of fresh water along the coasts. The fish gets its gruesome name from its teeth, which — unlike those of the similarly named saber-toothed tiger — stuck out like spikes on its snout. Scientists believe these teeth were primarily used in mating displays, fighting, and building redds (aka nesting sites). While this massive salmon went extinct about 5 million years ago, long before humans arrived on the continent, the surviving members of its genus, such as the Chinook and coho salmon, are still some of the most important and beloved species of the Pacific Northwest.

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