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The Argentines who speak Welsh

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Nearly 150 years ago a group of intrepid Welsh settlers headed to Patagonia in South America. Prof E Wyn James of the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, asks what lessons they might offer about migration and integration.

I’ve recently returned from a visit to Patagonia – to the province of Chubut in southern Argentina. Although very memorable and enjoyable, it was also rather surreal.

Indeed, it was a little like visiting a parallel universe. That was not just because I was leaving a Welsh autumn for a Patagonian spring, because Chubut is very different from Wales in so many ways. Yet, in the Chubut Valley, I found myself singing Welsh hymns, eating a Welsh tea, watching Welsh folk dancing, and witnessing the traditional ceremony of the “chairing of the bard” in a cultural festival we in Welsh call an eisteddfod.

The reason for this rather incongruous scenario is that 150 years ago, in 1865, just over 150 Welsh people sailed from Liverpool intent on establishing a Welsh settlement in the Chubut Valley. And although Spanish is now the main community language, there are perhaps as many as 5,000 people in Chubut today who still speak Welsh, and in recent years there has been a significant revival of interest in all things Welsh.

But why was this Welsh outpost established, and why in Patagonia of all places? The main reasons people emigrate are economic, but there are others, especially those linked to the desire for political and religious freedom, which in turn are closely linked to identity.

In the mid-19th Century, a period of political radicalism and growing Welsh national consciousness, most of the population of Wales were Welsh in language and Protestant Nonconformist in religion, all of which contrasted sharply with the ruling classes.

One of the most prominent among the radical Nonconformist leaders in Victorian Wales was Michael D Jones. A man of strong religious and political convictions, he placed much emphasis on the importance of nation and community. In 1848, on a visit to family members who had emigrated to America, he noticed that Welsh immigrants assimilated quite quickly into the English-speaking world around them, gradually losing their language, customs and religion.

Michael D Jones (1822-1898) by Ap Caledfryn

Many immigrants, in all periods, are happy, indeed often anxious, to put the old world behind them and forge a new identity. But for others, as we can see today, this loss of culture and identity can be a matter of great concern.

This loss of Welsh identity was a matter of great concern to Jones, and he began arguing strongly that, if Welsh emigrants were to retain their language and identity, Welsh emigration would have to be channelled to a specific Welsh settlement somewhere remote from English influences, where the Welsh would be the formative, dominant element.

He became the leader of a group of like-minded people, who attempted to realise this objective of a Welsh-speaking, self-governing, democratic and Nonconformist Wales overseas. A number of locations were considered, including Palestine, and Vancouver Island in Canada, but they eventually agreed upon the Chubut Valley in Patagonia – a remote area of South America, with no European settlements, only nomadic indigenous peoples.

Jones didn’t settle there himself – he didn’t really approve of emigration – the better option, in his view, was to stand one’s ground in Wales itself. But he accepted that emigration was a universal phenomenon, and if it was inevitable then he was strongly of the opinion that it should be channelled to create a new Wales overseas.

Despite a very difficult start, by the end of the 19th Century the Welsh settlement in Chubut was experiencing something of a golden age, both economically and culturally. During that period Welsh was the language of education, religion, local government, commerce and cultural life in general, and it looked as if the vision of a new Welsh-speaking Wales overseas would be realised.

The first Welsh settlers landed in 1865 and lived in caves in the cliffs

But with economic success came the seeds of failure. People from other parts of the republic began to move in, the Argentine government began to involve itself increasingly in the life of the settlement, insisting in 1896, for example, that schools changed from being Welsh to being Spanish. Immigration from Wales more or less ceased with World War One, and with no injection of new Welsh-speakers from the old country, and the increasing emphasis by the Argentine Government on assimilation, the Welsh language and its culture went into steep decline in the mid-20th Century – Welsh becoming excluded from public life, and restricted to all intents and purposes to the home and to chapel. Things looked very bleak for the fortunes of the Welsh language in Chubut.

However, celebrations of the centenary of the settlement in 1965 brought increased contact with Wales, and this has grown steadily ever since. There have been changes in government policy, with less emphasis on assimilation and more on cultural diversity, and a new appreciation of the pioneering role played by the Welsh settlers. As a result, recent years have seen a significant revival of interest in Welsh language and culture in Chubut.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Dreadnoughtus schrani

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Battleship beast: colossal dinosaur skeleton found in southern Patagonia

Dreadnoughtus schrani unearthed in Argentina is most complete skeleton of plant-eating titanosaur recovered anywhere in world

Artist’s impression of the enormous newly discovered dreadnoughtus schrani. A complete skeleton has been unearthed in southern Patagonia, Argentina. Photograph: Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The spectacular remains of one of the largest beasts ever to walk the planet have been unearthed by fossil hunters in southern Patagonia.

The unique haul of bones includes a metre-wide neck vertebra, a thigh bone that stands as tall as a man, and ribs the size of planks, representing the most complete skeleton of a colossal plant-eating titanosaur recovered anywhere in the world.

The new species was so enormous that researchers named it Dreadnoughtus schrani after the dreadnought battleships of the early 20th century on the grounds that it would fear nothing that crossed its path.

From measurements of the bones, scientists worked out that Dreadnoughtus weighed nearly 60 tonnes and reached 26 metres from snout to tail, making it the largest land animal for which an accurate body mass can be calculated.

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The colossal dreadnoughts lived around 77m years ago in a temperate forest at the southern tip of South America. Its bodyweight equates to as many as a dozen African elephants or more than seven of the Tyrannosaurs rex species, according to Kenneth Lacorvara, a paleontologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Details of the find are published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

Another giant prehistoric animal, Argentinosaurus, was probably of comparable size but its dimensions are known only from a clutch of backbone vertebrae, a shinbone and a handful of other bone fragments. The diplodocus, which lived 80m years earlier than dreadnoughtus, weighed in at a comparatively measly 16 tonnes.

Lacorvara caught a first glimpse of the remains during a field trip to the stunning but barren scrubland of southern Patagonia in 2005. What appeared to be a small collection of bones soon became an extensive haul of more than 100 bone fragments, exquisitely well preserved when the animal apparently drowned in quicksand.

Kenneth Lacovara with the right tibia of dreadnoughtus schrani Kenneth Lacovara Photograph: Kenneth Lacovara

Though staggering in its dimensions, close inspection of the bones revealed that the animal was not fully grown when it died. “That was a real shock to us,” Lacorvara told the Guardian. “When you look at the bones of dreadnoughtus, it’s clear this individual was still growing fast. There are no indications of a cessation of growth.”

It took Lacorvara’s team, working with Argentinian experts, four successive years to excavate the entire skeleton which amounts to more than 45% of the animal’s bones. Only a single tooth and a small fragment of the dinosaur’s jaw were found from the head. The loss of much of the skull is common in fossils of giant plant-eaters, because the skull bones are relatively small and light to enable the dinosaur to lift its head. During the excavation the team unearthed the remnants of a second, smaller titanosaur.

Source: TheGuardian Read and see video and more photos

Babies Unbottled

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Odon childbirth device: Car mechanic uncorks a revolution

 

A “potentially revolutionary” device to help women during difficult births has come from an unlikely source – a car mechanic from Argentina, who based the idea on a party trick.

Apart from having five children of his own, Jorge Odon had no connection with the world of obstetrics. He did however have a talent for invention.

“It comes naturally – for instance if I have a problem in my workplace I will go to bed and my head will think it through and I will wake up in the middle of the night with a solution,” he says.

But until 2005, all his patents – eight in total – were in the field of mechanics, stabilisation bars, car suspensions and the like.

All this changed after Odon’s staff at the garage showed him a YouTube video revealing how to extract a loose cork from inside an empty bottle. It’s remarkably simple. You tilt the bottle, stuff a plastic bag down the neck and blow into the opening. The bag balloons inside the bottle, wrapping itself tightly around the cork. Then you just pull it out.

Odon immediately challenged a friend, Carlos Modena, to a bet over dinner. He placed a bottle containing a cork on the dinner table, and laid out several objects, including a bread bag. Thoroughly puzzled, Modena insisted the only way of getting the cork out would be to smash the bottle. So Odon showed him his trick, and won the bet.

But that night, as he slept next to his wife, Odon had a lightbulb moment – what if he used the same principle to help women give birth? At 04:00 he tried to wake her up. “Marcela, this cork trick could make labour easier!” he said. His wife mumbled, “That’s nice,” turned over and went back to sleep.

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Did the Dinosaurs Shit in the Woods?

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Giant prehistoric toilet unearthed

Each poo is a time capsule to the dawn of the dinosaurs

A gigantic “communal latrine” created at the dawn of the dinosaurs has been unearthed in Argentina.

Thousands of fossilised poos left by rhino-like megaherbivores were found clustered together, scientists say.

The 240-million-year-old site is the “world’s oldest public toilet” and the first evidence that ancient reptiles shared collective dumping grounds.

The dung contains clues to prehistoric diet, disease and vegetation says a study in Scientific Reports.

Elephants, antelopes and horses are among modern animals who defecate in socially agreed hotspots – to mark territory and reduce the spread of parasites.

But their best efforts are dwarfed by the enormous scale of this latrine – which breaks the previous record “oldest toilet” by 220 million years.

Fossil “coprolites” as wide as 40cm and weighing several kilograms were found in seven massive patches across the Chanares Formation in La Rioja province.

Some were sausage-like, others pristine ovals, in colours ranging from whitish grey to dark brown-violet.

“There is no doubt who the culprit was,” said Dr Lucas Fiorelli, of Crilar-Conicet, who discovered the dung heaps.

“Only one species could produce such big lumps – and we found their bones littered everywhere at the site.”

The culprits were dicynodonts – ancient megaherbivores

The perpetrator was Dinodontosaurus, an eight-foot-long megaherbivore similar to modern rhinos.

These animals were dicynodonts – large, mammal-like reptiles common in the Triassic period when the first dinosaurs began to emerge.

The fact they shared latrines suggests they were gregarious, herd animals, who had good reasons to poo strategically, said Dr Fiorelli.

“Firstly, it was important to avoid parasites – ‘you don’t poo where you eat’, as the saying goes.

“But it’s also a warning to predators. If you leave a huge pile, you are saying: ‘Hey! We are a big herd. Watch out!”

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The high road: Argentina to Chile by bus

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Buses are usually just a means of getting from A to B, but the journey across the Andes from Argentina to Chile is a true adventure, showcasing magnificent scenery, rare wildlife and, at times, extreme weather

A llama herd at around 4,000 metres. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

On the upper deck of the trans-Andes bus, the gap-year backpackers from every advanced economy of the globe did not appreciate the danger we were in. Not yet. When I looked back from my seat at the front, I saw that many of them were busy with iPads and iPhones, a few were asleep and the rest were chatting.

No one was watching the digital display that recorded the outside temperature. It had been falling ever since we left behind the last human habitation, in Argentina. Now it was below zero and still dropping. Rolling sheets of ice particles were scouring the road, while the midday sky remained an imperturbable blue.

We had spent several hours winding westwards towards Chile, up into inhospitable realms, passing vast salt lakes presided over by snow-capped peaks and seeing signs of life disappear. Now there were no more vicuña and guanaco, the wild llamas of the Andes, no suri, the giant flightless bird. At 4,800m, even the golden tussock grass had given up and there was nothing, only the jagged peaks rising from a barren plain. The bus lowed, then gave a shudder as an icy blast hit it broadsides.

Crossings are often the best part of any journey, whether it’s over a border or pass, or through straits. Humans have long known that such moments require the greatest concentration, for in those crossings comes the greatest danger – and the greatest pleasure. My favourites have always been mountain passes: the modest Lake District, or the dizzying Rockies or Himalayas.

I was looking forward to my first journey over the Andes, and to this pass, from Purmamarca in Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I was expecting something special from the 10-hour bus ride. But I had not considered that a journey over a barrier like the Andes can take a traveller over subtler barriers too – like the one that separates you from the local culture.

The woman across the aisle let out a howl of frustration: “No signal!” Along the deck, headphones were flung aside, screens tapped, phones raised. The bus kept grinding upwards and the temperature gauge settled for -10C. The sheets of ice had become storms of blinding white. Then, with a lurch, we stopped. Ahead of us a lorry was jammed into a bank of driven ice. There was no way past, and our coach could not reverse or turn around. I saw the driver, or one of his assistants, struggling through the blizzard.

Lorries struggle through icy winds. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

“There’s this girl I know on Facebook,” said someone behind me, “she was stuck for two days and then they went back to Purmamarca.”

This news caused alarm: “They shouldn’t allow the buses to go if it’s dangerous!” “I’ve got a flight to catch.”

I pulled on my boots and jacket, grabbed my camera and set off to the lower deck. On the stairs the transition from tourism to adventure travel was drawing differing responses. A few passengers were embracing the excitement, but most were grim-faced. “The toilet’s blocked.” “I’m cold.” We’d been stopped less than 10 minutes.

Fortunately for me the adventure had started a day earlier and I was already in the mood. Sometimes a trip does that: jumbling any plans and demanding that you leap from tourist to traveller. My plan had read: “Transfer by car from Salta to Purmamarca via the famous tourist attraction of Humahuaca Gorge, then take the bus across the Andes to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.” That was not exactly what had happened.

I’d driven out of Salta early the previous morning with Edgar, my guide there. We were talking about the astonishing Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in the town square.

“It’s still controversial with some people,” Edgar had said. “They don’t like their ancestors to be disturbed.”

Five centuries ago the Incas, revering the eternal sun and the restless volcanoes, had sacrificed children by leaving them to die on the top of particular mountains.

“It’s not a human sacrifice,” said Edgar. “Don’t call it that.”

Their diminutive corpses were discovered in 1999 – preserved by severe cold and depleted oxygen – and removed to Salta. In the museum the story of how they came to be on a remote, 6,700m mountaintop builds to a remarkable moment of ghastly drama, when you come face to face with one of the children. It is a moving experience, giving a glimpse into ancient times, when people believed that mountains were living beings who made war on each other. In those times the few humans who passed that way came as supplicants, filled with a sense of awe and magic.

“Some people still revere the mountains,” said Edgar. “They wanted those children to be left alone.”

Read more with a link to a great photo album

Read more with a link to a great photo album

Comment:

I have done a similar trip from Calama (Chile) through San Pedro de Atacama up over two passes 4,000+ Susques and down to San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina.

When it comes to adventure, sometimes perilous adventure, this is hard to beat.

 

 

Inca mummies: Child sacrifice victims fed drugs and alcohol

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Tests on the 13-year-old’s hair revealed she was given large amounts of alcohol

Tests on three mummies found in Argentina have shed new light on the Inca practice of child sacrifice.

Scientists have revealed that drugs and alcohol played a key part in the months and weeks leading up to the children’s deaths.

Tests on one of the children, a teenage girl, suggest that she was heavily sedated just before her demise.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Emma Brown, from the department of archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, said: “The Spanish chroniclers suggest that children were sacrificed for all kinds of reasons: important life milestones in the lives of the Incas, in times of war or natural disasters, but there was a calendar of rituals too.”

Frozen in time

The mummified remains were discovered in 1999, entombed in a shrine near the summit of the 6,739m-high Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina.

Three children were buried there: a 13-year-old girl, and a younger boy and girl, thought to be about four or five years old.

Their remains date to about 500 years ago, during the time of the Inca empire, which dominated South America until the Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th Century.

“The preservation is phenomenal – they’ve been called the best preserved mummies in the world,” explained Dr Brown.

“These three children look like they are asleep.”

The international team of researchers used forensic tests to analyse the chemicals found in the children’s hair.

They discovered that all three had consumed alcohol and coca leaves (from which cocaine is extracted) in the final months of their lives.

Historical records reveal that these substances were reserved for the elite and often used in Incan rituals.

Death from exposure

An analysis of the teenage girl’s hair, which was longer than the hair of the younger victims, revealed more.

The girl, known as the “Llullaillaco maiden”, was probably considered more highly valued than the younger children, because of her virginal status.

Tests on her long braids revealed that her coca consumption increased sharply a year before her death.

The scientists believe this corresponds to the time she was selected for sacrifice. Earlier research also reveals that her diet changed at this point too, from a potato-based peasant diet to one rich in meat and maize.

Dr Brown explained: “From what we know of the Spanish chronicles, particularly attractive or gifted women were chosen. The Incas actually had someone who went out to find these young women and they were taken from their families.”

The results also revealed that the girl ingested large amounts of alcohol in the last few weeks of her life.

It suggests she was heavily sedated before she and the other children were taken to the volcano, placed in their tombs and left to die.

“In the case of the maiden, there is no sign of violence. She is incredibly well looked after: she has a good layer of fat, she has beautifully groomed hair, beautiful clothes,” said Dr Brown.

“In this case we think with the combination of being placed in the grave with the alcohol and the cold – the mountain is over 6,000m above sea level – she would have passed away quietly.”

The mummies are now housed in the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Salta, Argentina.

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The Earth is Grumbling

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Argentina and Chile order evacuation of Copahue volcano

Residents living near Copahue were also evacuated last year after the volcano erupted (file picture)

Chile and Argentina have ordered the evacuation of some 3,000 people living near the Copahue volcano in the south of their shared border.

The authorities in both countries issued a red alert – the highest possible – saying the Chilean volcano could erupt imminently.

The 2,965m (nearly 10,000ft) volcano – which sits in the Andes cordillera – has so far only spewed gas.

Thousands of minor earth tremors have been registered in the area.

“This red alert has been issued after monitoring the activity of the volcano and seeing that it has increased seismic activity,” Chilean Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said in a news conference.

“There is a risk that it can start erupting.”

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