Sands of time: world’s oldest message in a bottle found on Australian beach

The world's oldest-known message in a bottle — a form filled out as part of a German experiment to understand ocean currents — was found on a west Australian beach. Courtesy Kym Illman
Updated 07 March 2018
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Sands of time: world’s oldest message in a bottle found on Australian beach

MELBOURNE: The oldest known message in a bottle was found on an Australian beach 132 years after being thrown from a German ship in the Indian Ocean as part of an experiment to track currents, experts said.
The Dutch gin bottle, with no cork or top, was spotted by Tonya Illman in January in remote sand dunes 180 kilometers north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state.
Inside, her family discovered a note tightly rolled up and tied with string, carrying the date June 12, 1886, and the name of the ship, Paula.
“We took it home and dried it out, and when we opened it, we saw it was a printed form, in German, with very faint German handwriting,” Illman said.
Her husband searched online to find that, in an experiment run from 1864 to 1933 by the Deutsche Seewarte, or German Naval Observatory, ship captains would throw bottles overboard, each with a message giving the date, the ship’s name, its location coordinates, home port and destination.
“It was clearly very exciting, but we needed a lot more information,” said Illman’s husband, Kym. “We wanted to know if what we had found was historically significant or a very inventive hoax.”
The family took their find to the Western Australian Museum, which got experts in Germany and the Netherlands to confirm the bottle was made in Holland in the 19th century, the paper matched the era and the vessel Paula had sailed from Cardiff to Makassar in 1886, as the message stated.
German experts turned up the ship’s journal, with a captain’s entry from June 12, 1886 showing that a drift bottle was thrown overboard. The coordinates, 950 kilometers from Australia’s west coast, matched those on the note.
The handwriting in both journal and note also matched. The find has been authenticated by the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) and Germany’s National Meteorological Service (DWD).
“The forms have changed a lot over the years, but in the 1860 period, the form is exactly what you have,” the BSH said in a report.
Researchers think the bottle probably washed up on the coast within a year of being thrown overboard, to be buried in sand until a storm uncovered it.
The message and the bottle will be on display for two years at the museum in the Australian port city of Fremantle.
“It’s quite stunning, I’ve never experienced anything that corroborates so fully as this,” said Ross Anderson, a specialist in maritime archaeology at the museum.


No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

Updated 20 January 2019
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No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

  • That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics
  • The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths

BAGHDAD: Roaring along Baghdad’s highways, the “Iraq Bikers” are doing more than showing off their love of outsized motorcycles and black leather: they want their shared enthusiasm to help heal Iraq’s deep sectarian rifts.
Weaving in and out of traffic, only the lucky few ride Harley Davidsons — a rare and expensive brand in Iraq — while others make do with bikes pimped-up to look something like the “Easy Rider” dream machines.
“Our goal is to build a brotherhood,” said Bilal Al-Bayati, 42, a government employee who founded the club in 2012 with the aim of improving the image of biker gangs and to promote unity after years of sectarian conflict.
That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics.
“It is absolutely prohibited to talk politics among members,” Bayati told Reuters as he sat with fellow bikers in a shisha cafe, a regular hangout for members.
“Whenever politics is mentioned, the members are warned once or twice and then expelled. We no longer have the strength to endure these tragedies or to repeat them,” he said, referring to sectarian violence.
With his black bandana and goatee, the leader of the Baghdad pack, known as “Captain,” looks the epitome of the American biker-outlaw.
But while their style is unmistakably US-inspired — at least one of Bayati’s cohorts wears a helmet emblazoned with the stars and stripes — these bikers fly the Iraqi flag from the panniers of their machines.
The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths. One of their most recent events was taking party in Army Day celebrations.
Some are in the military, the police and even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a grouping of mostly Shiite militias which have taken part in the fight to oust Islamic State from Iraq in the last three years.
“It is a miniature Iraq,” said member Ahmed Haidar, 36, who works with an international relief agency.
But riding a chopper through Baghdad is quite different from Route 101. The bikers have to slow down at the many military checkpoints set up around the city to deter suicide and car bomb attacks.
And very few can afford a top bike.
“We don’t have a Harley Davidson franchise here,” said Kadhim Naji, a mechanic who specializes in turning ordinary motorbikes into something special.
“So what we do is we alter the motorbike, so it looks similar ... and it is cheaper.”