Archaeologists find Greco-Roman mummy in Egypt

CAIRO (AFP):  A Russian archaeological team has discovered a well-preserved mummy from the Greco-Roman period in a wooden coffin south of Cairo, Egypt’s antiquities ministry said Tuesday. The discovery was made near New Fayoum city, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Egyptian capital, the ministry said in a statement. The team “found inside the coffin a well-preserved mummy, wrapped in linen, with its face covered by a human mask with drawings in blue and gold,” it said. While mummification is mostly associated with ancient Egypt, the practice continued into the Greco-Roman era. The Russian team made its discovery near a monastery in the village of Qalamshah.


“The expedition carried out an initial restoration of the coffin and the mummy, as the coffin was found in a bad condition,” the ministry said, citing the minister’s assistant Mohamed Abdel Lateef. The statement did not say when the discovery was made.

“The cover is broken and the base has several cracks, and it doesn’t have an inscription on it,” it added, citing Abdel Lateef. The Russian mission has been operating for seven years in the area, which has Islamic and Coptic monuments as well as others from the Greco-Roman period (330 BC-670 AD).




Scientists say threats to planet now ‘far worse’

MIAMI (AFP): Twenty-five years after global scientists issued a “warning to humanity” about dangers to the environment, a new update says most of the planet’s problems are getting “far worse.” More than 15,000 global scientists from 184 countries signed on to the letter, called the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” published in the journal BioScience. The initial version, released in 1992 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, was signed by 1,700 experts. Since then, nearly all major threats to the environment have grown more dire, particularly the booming world population, which has added two billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase, according to the update.

Other key threats are global warming and the ever-mounting carbon emissions driven by fossil fuel use, as well as unsustainable farming practices, deforestation, lack of fresh water, loss of marine life and growing ocean dead zones.

“Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends,” said the letter.

“We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats,” it added.

Scientists noted it is “especially troubling” that the world continues on a path toward “potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.”

Animals are suffering as a result of human activities, and are disappearing at an unprecedented pace.

“We have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century,” it said.

Only one problem has seen considerable improvements in a quarter century - the closing of the ozone hole - thanks to a steep reduction in the use of aerosol sprays and pollutants that led to ozone depletion.

This “rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively.”

The letter outlines 13 steps that must be taken, including making contraception more widely available and “estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.”

Other steps include promoting plant-based diets and renewable energy while phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels.

Wealth inequality must be remedied and “prices, taxation, and incentive systems (must) take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment.”

In nature, protected reserves should be established “for a significant proportion of the world,” and the crisis of wildlife trafficking and illegal poaching halted.

“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual,” said the letter.

“This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning.

“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”




Sad farewell as Malaysia-born panda heads to China

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP): Malaysia’s first locally-born giant panda headed to its homeland China on Tuesday, with officials bidding a sad goodbye to the female cub. Two-year-old Nuan Nuan, whose name means “warmth”, was born in Malaysia’s national zoo in August 2015 a year after her parents Feng Yi and Fu Wa arrived in the country on a 10-year loan from China. In the wild, giant pandas can only be found in China’s mountainous central regions where their favourite food, bamboo, grows in abundance. But as part of its policy of “panda diplomacy”, Beijing loans the animals to countries worldwide as a goodwill gesture.

Its agreement with Malaysia provides that cubs born in captivity must be handed back to China at the age of two.

Nuan Nuan was placed inside a container Tuesday and lifted into a Malaysia Airlines freighter for a four and a half hour flight to the Chinese city of Chengdu - home to a special research base for giant panda breeding.

The cub was seen lying comfortably on its stomach with bamboo shoots and carrots by its side.

She will be released into the forest after a period of acclimatisation, Malaysian Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told AFP.

“Goodbye Nuan Nuan. Have a good reunion with your kiths and kins you never knew,” he said.

Mat Naim Ramli, the director of the Giant Panda Conservation Centre at the zoo, said he had mixed feelings.

“A little bit sad and a little bit happy,” he said at Kuala Lumpur airport.

“Sad because the cub is going to China. Happy because Malaysia has contributed towards panda conservation.”

The decision to house the pandas in a special US$7.7 million facility had caused controversy in Malaysia, with environmentalists arguing the money would have been better spent on conservation of local wildlife.

Pandas have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss.

There are an estimated 1,864 in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation, which classes them as “vulnerable.”





READ MORE: Taming the gurus

Rare flying foxes shot in ‘horrific’ Australia attack

SYDNEY (AFP): Dozens of rare grey-headed flying foxes have been shot in remote bushland near Australia’s eastern coast, authorities said Tuesday as locals told of a “horrific scene” when the carcasses were discovered. The alleged killings followed a spate of animal mutilations in Victoria state involving native species including the kangaroo, wallaby and koala. The flying fox, Australia’s largest bat, is listed as a “vulnerable” species nationally with its survival ranked as a “critical priority” under local laws. Rescuer Sammy Ringer said she was alerted to the deaths last week when a local resident in Conondale, a small town in the south of Queensland state, heard some shots being fired.



Earliest evidence of wine-making found in Georgia

MIAMI (AFP): The world’s earliest evidence of grape wine-making has been detected in 8,000-year-old pottery jars unearthed in Georgia, making the tradition almost 1,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said Monday. Before, the oldest chemical evidence of wine in the Near East dated to 5,400-5,000 BC (about 7,000 years ago) and was from the Zagros Mountains of Iran, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed US journal. The world’s very first wine is thought to have been made from rice in China around 9,000 years ago. “We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” said co-author Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto. Scientists on the team came from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia.


They have been working for the past four years to re-analyze archeological sites that were found decades ago.

The fragments of ceramic casks, some decorated with grape motifs and able to hold up to 80 gallons (300 liters), were found at two archeological sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Researchers used a combination of the latest mass spectrometry and chromatography techniques to identify the ancient compounds.

This chemical analysis “confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine,” said the PNAS report.

Researchers also found three associated organic acids - malic, succinic and citric - in the residue from the eight jars.

This “discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6,000 BC, pushing it back 600-1,000 years from the previously accepted date,” according to the study.

The Neolithic period began around 15,200 BC in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4,500 and 2,000 BC.

During this era, the latter part of which coincided with the Stone Age, people were beginning to farm, domesticate animals, make polished stone tools, crafts and weaving, researchers said.

“Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine,” said Batiuk.

“As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly-valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics, and society throughout the ancient Near East,” he said.

People in Georgia cultivated the Eurasian grapevine, Vitis vinifera, which likely grew abundantly under environmental conditions similar to modern-day France and Italy.

Batiuk said the domestication of the grape “eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region.”

“The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia.”

But this might not be the last word, according to lead author Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the biomolecular archeology project for cuisine, fermented beverages, and health at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

McGovern, who co-authored the 1996 Nature study that placed the earliest evidence for grape wine in Iran, said the search for the truly oldest artifacts will continue.

“Other sites in the South Caucasus in Armenia and Azerbaijan might eventually produce even earlier evidence for viniculture than Georgia,” McGovern said.

“The Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey are also a prime candidate for further exploration with its monumental sites at Gobekli Tepe and Nevali Cori at the headwaters of the Tigris River,” dating as far back as 9,500 BC.