Thursday, July 19, 2007

Father and son discover 10th century Viking hoard buried in field

By Arifa Akbar
Published: 20 July 2007

The most important Viking treasures to be discovered in Britain for 150 years have been unearthed by a father and son while metal detecting in North Yorkshire.

David and Andrew Whelan uncovered the hoard, which dates back to the 10th century, in Harrogate. The British Museum said yesterday that the treasures were of global significance and could shed new light on the period.

Andrew Whelan, 35, said it had initially felt like an unlucky day when they drove out to the countryside with their metal detectors one Saturday morning in January.

He and his father, 65, had been turned away from two farms and had had a squabble before reluctantly visiting a field as a "last resort" because they had only ever discovered buttons there.

The pair then unearthed a bundle which included 617 silver coins, a gold arm-ring and a gilt silver vessel so rare it is only the second of its kind ever to be found in Britain, and is among six or seven in Europe.

Mr Whelan Jnr, who has been metal detecting for six years, said it quickly became apparent they had stumbled upon an extraordinary find.

"My father got a strong signal and a cup tumbled out after a couple of scoops of earth. There was a coin sat on top of this bundle. We knew then it was something big and we were shaking with excitement as we lifted it out," he said.

After transporting the hoard to their home, they left it on their kitchen counter while they went to report it to their local finds liaison officer in Leeds. It was transferred to the British Museum where conservators carefully examined each item over months.

It is thought that the treasure was buried for safekeeping by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest that followed the conquest of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria in AD 927 by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39).

One of the coins, which bears the Latin inscription, Rex Tiotius Britanniae, dating to 927, is the earliest indication of Britain being under one ruler, at a time when the country was split between Viking and Anglo-Saxon control. The medieval objects were found to have come from Afghanistan, Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.

The gilt vessel, made in France in the first half of the ninth century, has roundels inscribed with seven animals around it, and was believed to have been intended for use in church services. It was probably looted from a monastery by Vikings or given to them in tribute.

Most of the smaller objects were hidden inside the vessel. The coins included several new and rare types, suggesting that there were more mints in the country than previously thought.

The coroner, Geoff Fell, declared the hoard as a treasure, at a court hearing in Harrogate. "Treasure cases are always interesting, but this is one of the most exciting cases that I have ever had to rule on. I'm delighted that such an important Viking hoard has been discovered in North Yorkshire. We are extremely proud of our Viking heritage in this area," he said.

Margaret Hodge, the Culture minister, added: "Finds such as this are invaluable in teaching us about our history. I commend David and Andrew Whelan for their prompt and responsible reporting of this hugely significant find, which will enrich our understanding of the Vikings."

The hoard will be valued and then the British Museum and York Museum Trust plan to appeal to the Heritage Lottery Fund for its acquisition so they can exhibit it.

The Vikings in Britain

* In the year 793, Viking pirate raiders sailed across the North Sea to attack a Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in north-east England and pillage the surrounding area. Viking raids spread across Britain soon afterwards.

* In 865, a huge army of Danish Vikings invaded England. The fighting went on for several years.

* Vikings conquered all of northern, central and eastern England, and seized much of the land for their own farms. They called the area The Danelaw.

* In the ninth century, Norwegian Vikings sailed to northern and western Scotland and seized land. They also settled on the Isle of Man and Wales.
Found in India: the last king of France,,2025636,00.html

· Indian lawyer acclaimed as head of royal house
· Prince Philip's cousin sets out 'incredible' theory

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Saturday March 3, 2007
The Guardian

Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, a jovial Indian lawyer and part-time farmer, has always been fascinated by France. Framed pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the palace of Versailles implausibly decorate his house in a dusty, bustling suburb of the central Indian city of Bhopal. He gave his children French names even though he has never set foot in France.
But he may soon make his first trip to Paris, after he was visited by a relative of Prince Philip, who told him that he is the first in line to the lost French throne
This Indian father-of-three is being feted as the long-lost descendent of the Bourbon kings who ruled France from the 16th century to the French revolution. A distant cousin of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he is alleged to be not only related to the current Bourbon king of Spain and the Bourbon descendants still in France, but to have more claim than any of them to the French crown.
The story of a potential Asian dauphin to one of the most important royal houses of Europe appears to be a poke in the eye for colonial history, and has sparked a rush of interest among royals in Europe.

Prince Michael of Greece, the cousin of Prince Philip, this week published a historical novel called Le Rajah de Bourbon, which traces the swashbuckling story of Mr Bourbon's first royal ancestor in India. Prince Michael believes Jean de Bourbon was a nephew of the first Bourbon French king, Henry IV. In the mid-16th century Jean embarked on an action-packed adventure across the world which saw him survive assassination attempts and kidnap by pirates to be sold at an Egyptian slave market and serve in the Ethiopian army.

In 1560, he turned up at the court of the Mogul emperor Akbar. It was the beginning of a long line of Bourbons in India, who centuries later would serve as the administrators of Bhopal and become the second most important family in the region.

Michael of Greece, who lives in Paris and is of Bourbon descent, believes his detective work on his newfound Indian "cousins" is more than just the latest whimsy in a history of attempts to uncover relatives of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

"If I am right - and I don't have absolute proof, but I completely believe in my theory - then Balthazar Bourbon would be the eldest in the line," he told the Guardian.

"This is the cherry on the cake. Mr Bourbon is head of a decent, dignified, middle-class Indian family. They look so Indian and yet bear this name. When you look at them, it seems incredible. The more unbelievable it is, the more I believe in it."

He said several of his royal relatives in Spain and France were "quite excited and thrilled to have found a new branch". He was in favour of a DNA test, perhaps from a surviving lock of Bourbon hair, to establish the facts.

From his home in the Bhopal suburbs, Mr Bourbon, 48, said he would be glad to take a DNA test, but remained stoical about the "hypothetical question" of whether he was heir to the throne. Conscious of the bloody outcome for royals in France, he felt royal status could bring "trouble", not to mention questions from skeptical historians.

Still, he has long had a brass plaque above his front door reading "House of Bourbon" with the fleur-de-lis crest of the French monarchy. His wife runs the neighbouring school for local children, called the Bourbon school. The family is Catholic and keeps Bourbon relics, including a sword, in their home. He said he felt "a sense of pride" when contemplating the picture of Versailles on his wall.

But he is aware that his family's fortunes waned in Bhopal long ago. He describes the Indian branch of the family as Bourbons on the rocks.

"From the day I was born, I was made to understand that I belonged to the family of the Bourbons," he said.

"I may be from a royal family but I live my life as a commoner. I didn't have time to learn French as a teenager because my father's death meant I had to work to look after my mother and sisters. Life has been very tough for me."

When his sister went to France on holiday she visited a castle once owned by Bourbon kings. It was closed to the public but she showed her Indian passport with the Bourbon name and was allowed in.

"I don't know if any of this will change my life," Mr Bourbon said. "The fact is, we've been having visitors from England, France and across Europe for years, curious about our family name.

"All these travellers, all this publicity, but nothing has happened yet. So how can I believe that something will change now?"


War, assassinations, child kings, opulence and revolution marked the two centuries during which the Bourbons ruled France. They were known as much for their colourful personal lives as their politics. The first king, Henri IV, came to power in 1589 and was reputed to have more than 60 mistresses and 11 illegitimate children. Later Louis XIV, the Sun King, became the most powerful ruler in French history and one of the longest reigning kings in Europe. In 1793, Louis XVI was guillotined by revolutionaries, followed months later by his wife Marie Antoinette. Different branches of the Bourbons were restored to the throne from 1814 until the revolution of 1848.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unveiled: The Pakistani tribe that dares to defy the fundamentalists

In the North West Frontier Province, the mullahs' word is law and the veil is worn. But one ancient tribe refuses to cover up. Jerome Taylor reports from the Rumbur Valley

Published: 18 July 2007 (The Independent)

In Pakistan's deeply conservative North West Frontier Province, the veil is simply a way of life. Whether in the bazaars of the capital Peshawar or high up in the myriad of Himalayan villages bordering Afghanistan, women wishing to leave their houses do so under the cover of a niqab or a billowing burqa. So important is the Islamic concept of purdah that the fort-like houses in the tribal areas usually contain separate living quarters for women and men.

Give or take the occasional advertising hoarding or glitzy film from Lahore, most men are unlikely to see an adult female face outside of their immediate family until they marry.

But in the remote Chitral region nestled high in the Hindu Kush mountain range are the last remnants of a tribe where the women walk unveiled in bright red and black dresses. Lavishly decorated with orange bead necklaces and colourful hats made from cowrie shells, they dance in public and are often free to marry and take lovers. They are the Kalasha, one of Pakistan's only remaining indigenous non-Muslim communities and a remarkable living throwback to a pre-Islamic era.

Yet according to the Kalasha themselves, their unique way of life is under attack like never before. Thanks to rising extremism among a small minority of Pakistanis and the growing appeal of populist orthodox mullahs who espouse sharia law and Taliban-like austerity, the Kalasha are increasingly in the firing line.

"We've always been called kafirs (infidels) but most people simply left us alone," says Azam Kalash, one of the few members of his 3,500-strong community who managed to go to university and now campaigns for his tribe's welfare. "Now we are deemed enemy number one. Particularly after September 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the missionaries and mullahs are determined to see us wiped out."

Isolated from the outside world by the remoteness of their valleys and the heavy Himalayan snows that block the mountain passes in winter, the Kalash somehow managed to survive successive waves of Muslim invaders and missionaries that pushed back the pre-Islamic Hindu, Buddhist and pagan tribes who once filled the fertile plains of the Indus valley.

Until last century, very few outsiders had ever made it as far as the three valleys of Rumbur, Bumboret and Birir where the Kalasha now live. Even today the valleys are only accessible by 4x4 along a tortuous road perilously carved into the shifting mountain side. But 20 years ago, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of the religious mujahedin, things began to change.

"For a long time the Kalasha lived in total isolation," says Cecil Chaudhury, General Secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. "I remember going there in the 1950s with a mountaineering expedition and they were blissfully happy living in their own distinct social system. But with the mujahedin came the missionaries and the Kalasha were always going to be an easy group to target. Now the extremists are back."

Although the fighters have largely disappeared from the Chitral region, the Kalasha are now outnumbered in their own villages by converts and outsiders. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the notoriously brutal Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar used the valley as his hideout and many believe he has returned to the region to continue his fight against Nato forces and the Afghan government.

After a 10-year lull, the missionaries are returning and many fear that if orthodox preachers, such as those who, until recently, ran Islamabad's Red Mosque, continue to increase their appeal, the country's last non-Muslim tribe may sink into oblivion.

No Kalasha would mean no Zonor Bibi. The mother of five sits on the front porch of her mud-walled house perched high above the swollen glacial river that roars through the heart of her village. It is harvest time and apricots lie drying in the summer sun eyed by her eight-year-old daughter Walena.

Zonor's husband has just set off on the daily three-hour walk to the grazing meadows that lie high above the village but that does not stop Zonor from welcoming outsiders with open arms, an act that would be unthinkable to her Muslim neighbours.

Deeply proud of her culture, she bursts into laughter when asked how long it takes to make the iconic cowrie shell hats that all Kalasha women wear.

"They take us months," she says. "It is important to continue our traditions so not to anger our spirits and god."

Kalasha believe that failure to practice their ancient traditions has profound religious implications and can bring disaster on the village which may explain why their dress and distinct practices have managed to survive against such odds.

The role of women in Kalash society is perhaps the most obvious aspect that separates their culture from their Muslim neighbours. Where Muslim women in the region generally remain indoors or hidden from public view, their Kalash counterparts are conspicuous in the fields working alongside their men. During the festivals that celebrate the various summer harvests and preparations for winter, it is not unusual to find Kalasha women drinking apricot wine and dancing in public with males that are neither their husband nor family. Although some marriages are arranged by families, it is perfectly acceptable for Kalasha women to choose their husbands. If they are treated unkindly during the marriage the women are expected to leave the house and take a lover.

Such comparative sexual and social freedom has led to the false but commonly held perception among many lowland Pakistanis that the tribe's women are sexually promiscuous. But while Kalasha men do seem to extend a greater level of physical and social freedom to their other halves, the lives of their women-folk are still strictly regimented.

To the Kalash the world is divided into two states, onjesta (pure, sacred) and pragata (impure, profane). Women are considered pragata, particularly during menstruation and childbirth where they are exiled to special huts away from the village. Only once they have purified themselves can they return to the tribe. Certain fields and shrines considered pure and sacred to the community are also out of bounds for the tribe's women.

Such peculiarly distinct customs have fascinated anthropologists, linguists and travellers alike for centuries, not just because the survival of the Kalasha in a sea of Islam is so unusual but because no one is sure exactly where they came from.

Their tongue, like many of the dialects spoken in the Hindu Kush range, is closest to the Dardic branch of the Indo-European languages of Central Asia. But Kalash oral history tells a different story, that they are descended from Shalak Shah, one of Alexander the Great's generals whose armies conquered as far as the Indus river before turning back towards Europe. Although blond hair and blue eyes are common amongst the Kalash, recent genetic testing has suggested that they may be an aboriginal group that are, in fact, indigenous to the area.

But how did the Kalasha manage to cling on to their distinct polytheistic pagan traditions in an area renowned for its particularly orthodox brand of Islam?

"I think they were just lucky," says Siraj Ul Mulk, a direct descendant of the Sunni Muslim royal family that once ruled the Chitral region until they ceded to Pakistan in the 1960s.

"Despite their orthodox appearance, Chitralis have always been very relaxed about the Kalasha and other minorities. The missionaries always tend to come from outside." Walking through the dusty fort that his father, the Mehtar of Chitral, once used as his summer palace, Mr Ul Mulk also offers another explanation for why the Kalasha of Pakistan remained unharmed: India's partition. "Under British partition we were lucky enough to be placed on the Pakistani side," he says. "If we'd ended up in Afghanistan I doubt the Kalasha would have survived."

Two hundred years ago Afghanistan was also home to numerous Kalasha tribes, known locally as the Red Kafirs, but they were annihilated at the end of the 19th century. After receiving a bloody nose in two disastrous conflicts with the Afghans, the British simply stood by as the founding father of modern Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan, systematically forced the non-Muslim tribes in the east of the country to convert at the point of a sword. A small number of Afghan Kalasha managed to flee towards Chitral and can still be seen in the upper valleys wearing their distinctive red dresses but all Kalasha are fully aware of the threat that extremist beliefs pose to their very survival.

That the Kalash are frightened of the current climate in Pakistan is testament to how seriously they take the current threats. They survived the marauding armies of Tamerlaine, the religious zeal of Abdur Rahman and even the anti-Soviet mujahedin. But now, like many of Pakistan's religious and ethnic minorities, they once again feel unprotected and vulnerable.

"We've survived so much over the years and we're not about to give up now," says Azam Kalash. "For centuries we have lived happily alongside our Muslim neighbours but thanks to extremism our numbers are dwindling. Whether we'll survive this century I simply don't know."

Monday, July 16, 2007

The truth about why we walk on two legs: it saves energy
By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Published: 17 July 2007

Walking on two legs uses up a quarter of the energy it takes to walk on all fours, according to a study that could explain why early human ancestors adopted bipedalism rather than the knuckle-walking of chimpanzees and gorillas.

Explaining why humans went from a four-legged gait to a two-legged, upright posture has proven to be one of the most difficult and contentious issues in evolution.

The study suggests that it all comes down to energy expenditure and how costly it is to move around in terms of the food required.

Scientists compared the amount of energy expended by humans and chimps when walking on a treadmill and found that a two-legged gait is about 75 per cent less costly compared with walking on all fours.

The results provide powerful evidence in support of the idea that the bipedal gait of humans became established because it was more energy efficient and so required less food.

David Raichlen, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, said that although in the past scholars have suggested that bipedalism may have something do to with saving energy, there was little hard evidence to support of it.

"For decades researchers have debated the role of energetics and the evolution of bipedalism," Professor Raichlen said. "The big problem in the study of bipedalism was that there was little data out there."

The study, which is published in the journal Science, measured the oxygen used by four adult humans and five adult chimps as they walked on a treadmill. The scientists also measured the force exerted on the treadmill, which enabled them to calculate the amount of muscle power being used.

The scientists found that there was a clear advantage in bipedalism over knuckle-walking, but that there were also substantial differences between individuals which were masked when the entire group was analysed.

On average, the amount of energy used by chimps to walk on two legs or to knuckle-walk on four legs was about the same. However, the chimps who took longer bipedal strides were more energy efficient than those who took shorter ones.

"We were able to tie the energetic cost in chimps to their anatomy," Professor Raichlen said. "We were able to show exactly why certain individuals were able to walk bipedally more cheaply than others, and we did that with biomechanical modelling.

"What those results allowed us to do was to look at the fossil record and see whether fossil hominins [ancestors] show adaptations that would have reduced bipedal energy expenditure."

Such an analysis has revealed that some early human ancestors had developed slightly longer legs. "This tells us that energetics played a pretty large role in the evolution of bipedalism," Professor Raichlen said.

The study can explain the advantage of a bipedal gait once it had come about, but is less convincing when it comes to explaining why our ape-like ancestor went from a four-legged to a two-legged gait in the first place.

Herman Pontzer, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St Louis, said the central aim of the study was to test the idea that two-legged walking is better than four when it comes to burning calories.

"We now have a tried-and-tested and supported hypothesis for why bipedalism was so successful," Professor Pontzer, a member of the research team, said.

The chimps involved in the study were trained to walk on the treadmill. " It took a long time and a lot of treats [to train them]," Professor Pontzer said. "They weigh as much as you do and are five times as strong - so they won't work with you if they don't want to."

Rival theories

* Tree walking: A recent theory suggests that our tree-living ancestors walked upright on branches, using their arms for balance. The idea is based on observing modern-day orang-utans, which often move around in trees by walking on two legs, gripping the branches with their hands.

* A cooling effect: Another idea is that it was cooler to walk upright in savannah grasslands because by doing so there was less surface area of the body exposed to the Sun.

* Wading in water: If our ancestors had to wade through water, they would have learned to walk on two legs. Modern-day chimps often adopt a two-legged gait when walking through water.
Fishermen catch coelacanth off the coast of Indian Ocean archipelago

By Ali Sultan, Associated Press Writer
Published: 17 July 2007
Fishermen have caught a rare and endangered fish, the coelacanth, off the coast of the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar.

The find makes Zanzibar the third place in Tanzania where fishermen have caught the coelacanth, a heavy-bodied, many-finned fish with a three-lobed tail that was thought extinct until it was caught in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Since then two types of coelacanth have been caught in five other countries: Comoros, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique, according to African Coelacanth Ecosystem Program.

"Fishermen informed us that they caught a strange fish in their nets. We rushed to Nungwi (the northern reaches of Zanzibar) to find it's a coelacanth, a rare fish thought to have become extinct when it disappeared from fossil records 80 million years ago," said Nariman Jiddawi of the Institute of Marine Sciences, which is part of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania's commercial capital.

Trade in the coelacanth is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

"Zanzibar will join a list of sites of having the rare fish caught in its own waters," said Jiddawi, adding the catch weighed 27 kilograms (59.5 pounds) and measured 1.34 meters (4.4 feet).

Four fishermen caught the fish on Saturday, Jiddawi said.

Mussa Aboud Jume, director of fisheries in Zanzibar, said that the coelacanth will be preserved and put on display at the Zanzibar Museum.

A statement of the Institute of Marine Sciences said that 35 coelacanths have been caught since September 2003 in Mtwara, a southern region of Tanzania, and mostly along the coast of Tanga in Tanzania's north.

Coelacanths are the only living animals to have a fully functional intercranial joint, a division separating the ear and brain from the nasal organs and eye, according to an Institute of Marine Sciences statement.