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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.

Video here

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

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