Earth is often called the ocean planet.
Its surface is 70% water but only 3% is fresh and drinkable. The rest is salt water.
The longest known cave system on Earth is the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It stretches for more than 628 kilometres (390 miles), and that’s just what has been explored so far. Scientists believe it may be over 966 km (600 miles) long. Keep away if you’re scared of the dark.
Lake Baikal in Russia holds 20% of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water. It is the deepest and oldest lake in the world. And yes, you’ve guessed… mysteries and monsters are said to lurk within.
Great Barrier Reef
While elephants and whales are considered the largest living creatures in the world, the title of the largest known living thing on the planet goes to the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast.
Stretching to about 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) and covering an area of around 217,480 square kilometres (135,136 square miles), this ‘living body’ is made up of 3,000 individual reefs and 900 coral islands. Known as the largest living structure on Earth, it is visible from space.
Rainforests used to cover 14% of the Earth’s surface, but due to deforestation (people chopping them down), they now only cover around 6%. About half of all animal and plant species on earth live there.
Scientists believe that there may be millions of plant and insect species in rainforests that have yet to be discovered.
The Amazon rainforest in South America is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Covering over 2 million square miles, it’s so big that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times!
The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating (and deadly) creatures, including electric eels, flesh-eating piranha fish, poison dart frogs, jaguars and some seriously venomous snakes.
For wealthy American and European tourists in the 19th century, Egypt was the place to visit. Bringing home a mummy as a souvenir to keep in the living room or even the bedroom was seen as very stylish. Mummy hands, feet and heads were frequently displayed around the house, often on the mantelpiece. One Chicago store apparently displayed a mummy said to be ‘Pharaoh’s daughter who discovered Moses in the bulrushes’.
The Tower of Torture
A dreaded prison and place of torture in the Middle Ages was the Tower of London. You can still see some of the scary instruments used to punish prisoners there today. One of these was the rack. The prisoner’s ankles and wrists were tied to it then pulled, wrenching arms and legs from their sockets. Within minutes the victim would be screaming in agony and ready to confess to anything – even if they were innocent of a crime. They’d do anything not to spend a “long stretch” in a dungeon. Another type of torture was the opposite to a rack – but just as scary. Instead of stretching the victim, the “scavenger’s daughter” crunched the prisoner like a nut cracker. For anyone with a crush on the jailer, it was just the ticket!
Toilets in Tudor homes were called ‘privies’ and were basically a bowl with a slab of wood and a hole carved in the top. In castles, a small cupboard-like area was called a garderobe. People would have to squat over a hole in the floor and their waste would plop straight into the moat below.
17th century London – plague and fire!
The summer of 1665 was very hot in London. Filth in the streets was worse than ever – a breeding ground for rats, fleas and disease. Plague returned on a scary scale.
By mid-July over 1,000 deaths per week were reported in the city. It was rumoured that dogs and cats spread the disease, so the Lord Mayor ordered all the dogs and cats to be destroyed.
Over 100,000 people perished in and around London, although the plague spread beyond. Clothes sent to Eyam, a village in Derbyshire, contained the dreaded fleas. As the plague spread through the village, the villagers insisted no one must leave – or the plague would spread even further. Although they stopped the plague escaping, the villagers stayed and were wiped out; 259 died out of a total of 292.
The plague in London was at last halted by a raging fire. In early September 1666, the Great Fire of London swept through the old city, destroying more than 13,000 wooden houses as well as 87 churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral. It started shortly after midnight on 2nd September in Thomas Faryner’s Pudding Lane bakery.
Samuel Pepys wrote about the raging blaze in his famous diary. His house in Seething Lane was in the line of the fire which was being driven by strong winds. Pepys was very worried, not just for himself and his wife’s safety, but also for his gold, his wine – and his very special cheese.
The Screaming Mummy of Cairo Museum
Also in Cairo Museum is a particularly scary-looking mummy that was found in the same set of tombs as Ramesses the Great in 1886. Brace yourself… It was a blood-curdling discovery. The mummy was of a young man with his hands and feet bound, and his face contorted in an everlasting scream of pain.
This body, unlike all other mummies, was inside a plain, undecorated coffin that offered no clues to who he was. Not only that, all his organs were intact, which is not the usual way with Egyptian mummification. He wasn’t bandaged in linen but rolled up in sheepskin. It’s thought he could have been poisoned as a punishment and buried alive, as he screamed in agony. Don’t have nightmares!
Many theatres were smelly places, particularly in front of the stage at The Globe where poorer people would stand in the rain, dirt and straw known as the pit. These people were called ‘groundlings’ or ‘penny stinkards’ as their place was cheap but smelly. Rich people paid 12 pennies (one shilling) to sit on the stage or in special decorated boxes sheltered from the weather.
Audiences were often rowdy as they shouted and clapped, laughed and booed. Sometimes they threw fruit, vegetables or anything at hand. Actors could be lowered from the roof on wires or pop up through a trap door in the stage. Other things could ‘pop up’, too…
A few years before The Globe opened, all London playhouses were closed between 1592 and 1594 as it was thought that crowded places could spread the plague. As theatres would have been infested with rats and fleas, itchy performances probably did spread disease (not that people knew then that plague was spread by fleas). Sneezy, sweaty, flea-ridden bodies packed together would be the breeding ground for parasites and germs.
During this time when all theatres closed because of the spreading plague, there was no demand for Shakespeare’s plays, so he wrote sonnets instead. These were rhyming poems of fourteen lines, such as one that starts with ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ That hopefully meant warm and bright, not cold, wet and full of wind.
Archaeologists have discovered fine-toothed combs from the Roman period, probably used for removing lice from hair. Steamy bathhouses were ideal places for parasites to party. If the water wasn’t changed very often, a scum from human dirt and gunge would spread over the surface – just right for microorganisms to breed. And here’s another thing… (brace yourself for more GROSS), parasites lived in human poo. What did the Romans do with human poo? They spread it on fields to feed plants. This is still done today in many places, and it is good for the plants… if you first compost the poo long enough to kill off any parasite eggs. But the Romans didn’t know that. Ergh!