Hard to find, easy to lose: The smallest exhibits in Moscow museums

October 1

The collections of Moscow museums come in all shapes and sizes .Many exhibits are huge but on the other hand some are tiny measuring less than one millimetre. Find out about a Great Patriotic War badge, a tiny 1.5 cm porcelain elephant, a caccobius bug and several other items some of which cannot even be seen with the naked eye.

Lunar soil

Size: Approximately 0.03 mm

The smallest exhibits in the Museum of Cosmonautics are two particles of lunar soil, which have nevertheless played a huge role in the history of space exploration.

On 21 July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins became the first humans to land on the Moon, which was a giant leap for mankind. In June 1970, US President Richard Nixon presented an Apollo 11 lunar sample display enveloped in a clear acrylic button to the Soviet Union. In 1986, the display was handed over to the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.

On 24 September 1970, the Soviet Union’s Luna-26 robotic spacecraft mission brought back101 grammes of lunar soil from the northeast area of Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility). Studies showed that lunar soil was like wet sand. It is dark grey, pliable and easily welds, and is similar to fine basalt-like rock. Twenty particles of this lunar soil are on view at the Museum of Cosmonautics.

Soviet army Guards badge

Size: 4.4x3.4 cm

The smallest exhibit on display at the Museum of Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia is the Guards badge dating back to the period of the Great Patriotic War. It was presented to the museum by the grandson of a war veteran who chose a military career himself. The badge was not only a thing to remember his heroic grandfather by, but also a kind of a good luck charm.

Captain Vadim Makarov, 133rd Separate Tank Battalion of the 45th Guards Motorised Division, Leningrad Military District, kept his grandfather’s badge as a good luck charm, and it really did help him. Not a single man or tank from Makarov’s unit was lost during the two years of the first Chechen war. On 14 June 1997, Makarov was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.

The Guards badge was established on 21 May 1942, after the Guards designations were approved for the units to which only the best soldiers were enrolled. It was not the right time for creating special uniforms for these units, and so it was decided to introduce Guards badges to distinguish their personnel from other units.

The form of the badge was approved in a flash: a red star and banner surrounded by an oval laurel wreath. Initially, the badge was to include a relief portrait of Vladimir Lenin, but it was decided that it would wear away too quickly and that the word Guards on the thickly enamelled red banner would endure the harsh conditions of combat much better.

During the war, the Guards badge was presented in a special flag ceremony in front of the unit’s formation. The badge was worn on ceremonial and service uniforms as the first military decoration on the right of the chest. It was awarded until the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.

The bullet that killed Vladimir Mayakovsky

Bullet size: 11.65x7.85 mm

Bullet case size: 16.9x8.9 mm

A long time ago now, the smallest items from the State Vladimir Mayakovsky Museum’s collection were part of an integral cartridge, manufactured by Gustav Genschow and Co. On 14 April 1930, the cartridge disintegrated into the bullet and the case and cut short the poet’s life.

No one really knows what happened on that day at 3 Lubyansky Proyezd, and people continue to debate the true causes of Mayakovsky’s death. The tragedy was probably caused by various setbacks in his poetic career and personal life, by his grudge against the Soviet government and his colleagues from the Left Art Front (LEF) for giving a cool reception to Mayakovsky’s personal exhibition called 20 Years of Work and by the failure of two theatrical productions based on his plays. No matter what caused him to commit suicide, only these two museum exhibits, labeled ГММ КП-32616/3 и ГММ КП-32599/15, know the truth.

A photo of Tamara Petkevich

Size: 3.3x2.5 mm

A tiny photo preserving a tragic love story, the smallest exhibit on display at the GULAG History Museum, shows Russian actress, theatre critic and writer Tamara Petkevich (1920-2017). She wrote the following on the back of the photo:

“My little heart belongs to you, my only dear love, and I am yours forever more. Toma.”

Tamara Petkevich addressed these affectionate words to her beloved man, Nikolai Teslik, whom she met at a corrective labour camp in the Komi ASSR. The daughter of a man who was purged for political motives in 1937, she was arrested in 1943 and found herself in the midst of the ruthless Soviet prison camp system. During Petkevich’s seven-year prison term, the camp theatre’s actor became her greatest love and her only consolation.

Petkevich was released in 1950 and landed a job with the Syktyvkar Drama Theatre. She often visited the camp in the hope of reuniting with Teslik. But this never happened because he was suffering from an incurable disease. On 27 June 1950, he died at the camp.

The woman accomplished the impossible: She convinced the camp’s administration to release his body and was allowed to bury him outside the camp. She dug the grave herself.

In 1957, Petkevich was exonerated completely and returned to Leningrad. She graduated from the Leningrad State Institute of Theatre, Music and Cinematography and is best known for her memoirs about the labour camp, Life is Not a Matching Boot, first published in 1993.

A porcelain elephant figurine

Size: 1.5 cm in height

A miniature Indian elephant made out of porcelain is the smallest item on display at the permanent exhibition at the Alexander Scriabin Memorial Museum. The composer was fond of collecting figurines of these magnificent animals. Possibly they reminded him of far-away India, the land of his greatest dream. 

Scriabin’s chief idea was to compose Mystery, a work that would unite humanity and become a harbinger of a new era. It is hard to characterise Mystery with one word. Perhaps its meaning is best rendered by the German Gesamtkunstwerk, or a “total work of art.” Scriabin visualised it as a combination of different forms of art – from poetry and music to architecture and dance – which would erase the boundary between the creator and the public.

The great musician wanted to see it performed at an Indian temple and even contemplated buying a plot of land in India, on which to build it. However, he failed to implement his grand project.

A Caccobius bug

Size: 4x3 mm

The Kliment Timiryazev Biological Museum has in its collection a tiny Caccobius bug of the Caccobius mundus species, one of the numerous relatives of the divine Egyptian scarab, if ten times smaller in size. The Caccobius bugs dwell in the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa, where their habitats are located at a height of up to 2,500 metres. The museum’s specimen was discovered in Azerbaijan in 1967.

The beetle was first described by the French entomologist Edouard Menetries in 1838. Despite his French roots, he spent most of his life in the Russian Empire, where he was known as Eduard Petrovich. Menetries was Russia’s first professional entomologist, which meant that he was paid for doing his job.

Fossil shells

Size: 2 to 3 mm in diameter

Assilina is one of the tiniest fossil shells in the Darwin Museum’s collection. It belongs to the Foraminifera species, single-celled organisms and is believed to be nearly 55 million years old.

While the size of modern Formanifera varies between 0.1 and 1 millimetre, their Paleogene next of kin were much larger.  For example, the Nummulites could reach 16 centimetres in diameter and are to this day the biggest of the single-celled organisms.

The inside of a Formanifera shell has a complex spiral structure and consists of numerous chambers. The majority of Formanifera are bottom-dwellers and feed on single-celled algae, which they catch with their thread pseudopodia.

Known to science are over 40,000 fossil Foramanifera species and about 10,000 modern species.  

Source: mos.ru

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