This day in rancid, ugly, horrible, putrid, rotten history . . .
On this day in 1386 – (629 years ago) – the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur of Samarkand, known to Europeans as Tamerlane, captured and sacked the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, took King Bagrat V of Georgia captive, and—according to the ancient chronicles—forced the Christian monarch to convert to Islam. Tbilisi was just one of Timur’s many conquests. His domain stretched from the western edge of China into what is now Turkey, but it was short-lived. On his deathbed, Timur designated a favorite grandson as his successor—but his other descendants ignored his wishes and went to war with each other, and the empire disintegrated in a few years.
On this day in 1918 – (97 years ago) – amid the armed conflict that persisted between Poland and Ukraine after the end of World War I, Polish soldiers and lawless civilians in the eastern European city of Lviv subjected its Jewish population to a pogrom that would last three days. Between 50 and 150 Jewish people were massacred, while about two thousand lost their homes, and some five hundred businesses were destroyed.
On this day in 1920 – (95 years ago) – in Dublin, Ireland, thirty-one people were killed in a day of deadly violence during the Irish War of Independence. It was the second and bloodiest of four different historical incidents in Ireland that have since become known as “Bloody Sunday.” It started in the morning with a series of carefully planned killings of British spies at various locations around the city by members of an assassination unit operating under the Irish military leader Michael Collins. Late that afternoon, a unit of militarized British police responded to the assassinations by showing up at a well-attended football match and firing upon the crowd of Irish spectators. By day’s end, the death toll on both sides included fourteen Irish civilians, fourteen British spies, and three IRA prisoners.
On this day in 1927 – (88 years ago) –about five hundred striking miners and I.W.W. activists outside the Columbine Coal Mine near Boulder, Colorado, were attacked by a detachment of state police armed with tear gas and machine guns. The month-old strike, prompted by wage theft and dangerous work conditions, had been uneventful for more than a month until the arrival of cold weather and the rising demand for coal put pressure on mine owners and local authorities to break the strike. In the chaos of the police attacks, six strikers were killed and about sixty injured. The police later claimed that some miners had fired guns at them, but those accounts were contradicted by witnesses, and no police had actually been shot.
On this day in 1953 – (62 years ago) – The British Natural History Museum announced that the famous skull of the prehistoric “Piltdown Man,” discovered four decades earlier in England and believed to be one of the most important hominid fossils ever found, was actually a hoax, constructed by combining a modern human skull with the jawbone of an orangutan. For more than forty years, paleontologists had been led down a scientific blind alley, publishing more than 250 scientific papers that were now revealed to be worthless. Since then, the identity of the hoax’s perpetrator has never been firmly established. But the “Piltdown Man” hoax is nowadays often cited by creationists, who claim that it shows the dishonesty of scientists who support Darwin’s theory of human evolution. This, despite the fact that it was precisely such scientists who actually exposed the hoax.