Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by tourist train project

Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by tourist train project
Aquatic archaeologist Octavio del Rio discovered the shattered skull and skeleton in a cave near where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed tourist train through the jungle. (Peter Broger via AP)
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Updated 14 September 2022

Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by tourist train project

Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by tourist train project
  • Some of the oldest human remains in North America have been discovered in the sinkhole caves
  • Activists say the heavy, high-speed rail project will fragment the coastal jungle

MEXICO CITY: A prehistoric human skeleton has been found in a cave system that was flooded at the end of the last ice age 8,000 years ago, according to a cave-diving archaeologist on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Archaeologist Octavio del Rio said he and fellow diver Peter Broger saw the shattered skull and skeleton partly covered by sediment in a cave near where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed tourist train through the jungle.
Given the distance from the cave entrance, the skeleton couldn’t have gotten there without modern diving equipment, so it must be over 8,000 years old, Del Rio said, referring to the era when rising sea levels flooded the caves.
“There it is. We don’t know if the body was deposited there or if that was where this person died,” said Del Rio. He said that the skeleton was located about 8 meters (26 feet) underwater, about a half-kilometer (one third of a mile) into the cave system.
Some of the oldest human remains in North America have been discovered in the sinkhole caves known as “cenotes” on the country’s Caribbean coast, and experts say some of those caves are threatened by the Mexican government’s Maya Train tourism project.
Del Rio, who has worked with the National Institute of Anthropology and History on projects in the past, said he had notified the institute of the discovery. The institute did not immediately respond to questions about whether it intended to explore the site.
But Del Rio said Tuesday that institute archaeologist Carmen Rojas told him that the site was registered and would be investigated by the institute’s Quintana Roo state branch Holocene Archaeology Project.
He stressed that the cave — whose location he did not reveal because of a fear the site could be looted or disturbed — was near where the government has cut down a swath of jungle to lay train tracks, and could be collapsed, contaminated or closed off by the building project and subsequent development.
“There is a lot more study that has to be done in order to correctly interpret” the find, Del Rio said, noting that “dating, some kind of photographic studies and some collection” would be needed to determine exactly how old the skeleton is.
Del Rio has been exploring the region for three decades, and in 2002, he participated in the discovery and cataloguing of remains known as The Woman of Naharon, who died around the same time, or perhaps earlier, than Naia — the nearly complete skeleton of a young woman who died around 13,000 years ago. It was discovered in a nearby cave system in 2007.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is racing to finish his Maya Train project in the remaining two years of his term over the objections of environmentalists, cave divers and archaeologists. They say his haste will allow little time to study the ancient remains.
Activists say the heavy, high-speed rail project will fragment the coastal jungle and will run often above the fragile limestone caves, which — because they’re flooded, twisty and often incredibly narrow — can take decades to explore.
Caves along part of the coast already have been damaged by construction above them, with cement pilings used to support the weight above.
The 950-mile (1,500-kilometer) Maya Train line is meant to run in a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.
The most controversial stretch cuts a more than 68-mile (110-kilometer) swath through the jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.
Del Rio said the route through the jungle should be abandoned and the train should be built over the already-impacted coastal highway between Cancun and Tulum, as was originally planned.
López Obrador abandoned the highway route after hotel owners voiced objections, and cost and traffic interruptions became a concern.
“What we want is for them to change to route at this spot, because of the archaeological finds that have been made there, and their importance,” said Del Rio. “They should take the train away from there and put it where they said they were going to build before, on the highway ... an area that has already been affected, devastated.”


Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
Updated 28 January 2023

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
  • The defendant was made to pay the claimant over $2,000 in compensation

LONDON: A laughing emoji at the end of a Facebook comment amounted to defamation, Italy’s supreme court has ruled.

The country’s top judges sent a case back to court for the offense to be reassessed.

Phrases mocking a person’s physical disability, when combined with laughing face emojis, amounted to defamation, the supreme court judges said.

The court reconsidered a dispute that started on Facebook in the northern town of Luino, The Times reported.

A user openly criticized the poor eyesight of another person in a chat, ending his statement with several laughing emojis.

The defendant was convicted of defamation by a court in Varese, northern Italy, fined about $870 and ordered to pay around $2,175 in compensation to the claimant, a local businessman.

The verdict was then overturned by an appeal court in Milan, which ruled that the online conflict amounted to the use of insulting language, but did not constitute a crime.

However, the supreme court in Italy eventually ruled that the phrases, punctuated with the emojis, amounted to defamation, sending the case back for reassessment of the offense.

The defendant’s lawyers, during the earlier appeal hearing, argued that “a sight deficit doesn’t diminish the value of a person,” highlighting that their client had merely “shown himself in a bad light.”

After further studying the legal distinction between an insult and defamation, the supreme court deemed the Facebook exchange defamatory.

Francesco Micozzi, a lawyer and professor at Perugia University, said the use of the emoji in this case emphasized the defendant’s intended mockery.

The use of emojis in online correspondence is becoming increasingly subject to legal analysis. A US study revealed that emojis had been cited in court about 50 times a year between 2004 and 2019.


Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
  • Instead, Ghashghavi placed his hand on his chest and bowed slightly

LONDON: Iranian Ambassador to Spain Hassan Ghashghavi refrained from shaking hands with Queen Letizia during a reception on Wednesday for Madrid’s diplomatic corps at Zarzuela Palace.

In footage shared on Twitter, Ghashghavi shook hands with King Felipe VI but not Queen Letizia, who was standing beside him.

Royal fans, according to The Daily Mail, believe the Iranian ambassador’s gesture to be “disrespectful” and “awkward.”

Social media commentators, however, highlighted that his placing his right hand on his chest and slightly bowing to the queen instead showed he was following Iranian customs.

Others speculated that the queen’s lack of movement toward the Iranian diplomat suggested that she had been advised by her staff about her guest’s protocol.

In several Islamic cultures, physical contact with the opposite sex, including handshakes, is often discouraged or even prohibited.


US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
Updated 25 January 2023

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
  • A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the US military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The US space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is $110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

 


New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
Updated 27 January 2023

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
  • He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's next prime minister does not draw adoring crowds like his predecessor Jacinda Ardern, but is well known throughout the country for his political nous, poor dress sense and a love of diet Coke.
Chris Hipkins, 44, was on Wednesday morning officially sworn in to replace Ardern, his friend of more than 20 years, who resigned because she no longer had "enough in the tank".
The straight-talking Hipkins was the architect of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and is widely seen as a personable politician with a safe pair of hands.
"Hopefully New Zealanders know me as someone who is upfront, doesn't mind admitting when they've made a mistake and can laugh at themselves," he told reporters after being touted for the role last week.
Hipkins has somewhat mellowed since his early days as a firebrand of student politics.
He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education.
Political commentator Josie Pagani has described Hipkins, with more than 14 years in opposition and government, as "sensible, likeable, tough and capable".
He will now be tasked with turning around the sagging popularity of Ardern's Labour government, which has been hampered by a looming recession and a resurgent conservative opposition.
Hipkins won plaudits for his near two-year term as the Covid response minister in a country that shut its borders to keep the coronavirus out, only fully reopening to the outside world in August last year.
Hailing from the working class Hutt Valley in New Zealand's North Island, Hipkins has held high-profile portfolios including police and education.
"I think I am relatively upfront, I'm relatively inclusive. People won't die wondering what I think," he has said.
"My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I."
His diet has drawn the attention of his colleagues, with a former boss once remarking that Hipkins "appears to eat nothing more than sausage rolls and diet Coke".
Justice Minister Kiri Allan, one of Labour's senior Maori MPs, who had been considered a potential prime minister herself, has described Hipkins as decisive and an "incredibly strong" leader.
"He is extremely competent, with a track record of delivering for New Zealand as one of our most senior ministers over the past six years," she said.
Hipkins told journalists he liked cycling, gardening, DIY work and being outdoors, but conceded: "Maybe I don't have the best fashion sense in parliament."
Asked whether having a red-haired prime minister would be a historic moment for the country, he said: "I think it was about time we had a ginger at the top."
The incoming New Zealand leader studied politics and criminology at Victoria University in the capital Wellington and then worked in the industry training sector.
Before becoming an MP in 2008, he worked as a senior adviser to two education ministers and former prime minister Helen Clark.
Although known as a personable and laid-back operator, Hipkins is also capable of playing hard-nosed politics -- and was involved in some high-profile spats with Australia's former conservative government.
In 2021, he accused Australia of "exporting its garbage" to New Zealand -- a reference to Canberra's controversial policy of deporting criminals back to their country of birth.
Hipkins was admonished by Ardern in 2017 after he was accused of orchestrating the resignation of Australia's then-deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce.
Information released to Hipkins showed Joyce was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand -- which disqualified him from sitting in parliament under Australia's constitution.

 


US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
Updated 24 January 2023

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
  • Program focuses on startups in MENA that are growing their businesses

RIYADH: Techstars, a US venture capital firm, announced a new partnership to continue the Techstars Riyadh Accelerator in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Raed Ventures and the National Bank of Saudi Arabia. 

The accelerator focuses on startups in the Middle East and North Africa that are establishing and growing their businesses, with the goal of paving the way for future innovation in the region’s digital economy. 

“I am very excited about the growth of the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom, and between the Kingdom’s investment in entrepreneurship and its pivotal location, Riyadh can attract global emerging talent to the entire region,” Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet said. 

“The best entrepreneurs can influence the world no matter where they are, and part of what we do at Techstars is help them connect their innovations to the rest of the world,” Gavet added.

Abdullah Al-Shamrani, director of digital entrepreneurship at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, emphasized the importance of technological and innovative entrepreneurship in achieving Vision 2030. 

The accelerator is accepting applications for a 13-week program from June to September 2023. Funding and fundraising opportunities, as well as curated workshops and resources, will be available to each company. Participants will also benefit from a network of mentors from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the National Bank of Saudi Arabia and Raed Ventures.