Wednesday, July 1, 2020

World's largest graveyard of Dinosaurs found in South Africa

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‘African dinosaurs’ exhibit at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town | Source: Bruce Anderson via Wikimedia

In a village in the eastern cape of South Africa lies one of the most significant dinosaur sites ever found in the world. The site was discovered when a shepherd, Dumangwe Thyobeka found a large bone on his way to his great-grandparents’ graves, in 2015. He then took the bones to a local dinosaur enthusiast, James Rhalene. Commenting on this discovery " Mr. Rhalene said, "Growing up we were told dinosaurs were a myth, I thought they were only tales our grandparents would tell around the fire at story time", and It wasn't until reading some books that I started to believe they may be real. I've been looking into the existence of dinosaurs since 1982. He added, "You can imagine my excitement at being part of this and discovering them in my own backyard. I am so proud. Books will be written about our small village; the world will come to know of us through this discovery.”

These bones are more than 200 million years old, of around the end of the Triassic era and the beginning of the Jurassic one. When the village elder, Sginyane Ralane came to know about the discovery, he reached out to universities in South Africa for looking into it. The news eventually reached Prof. Jonah Choiniere from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and in 2018 Jonah and his colleagues started excavating the site. “It has been one of those places where you sometimes find yourself literally tripping over a dinosaur bone. There are very few other sites I've had the chance to work where we have this richness of fossils.” says Prof Paul Barett, a dinosaur expert at The Natural History Museum, UK, after he joined the team.

A reason why this area is abundant in fossils, Natural History Museum explains, is because of the ancient river systems in the area. The area is arid for most of the year now, and the rivers flow only seasonally. However, in the ancient times, there were vast river systems flowing year-round in the region, with wide, shallow rivers which would consequently form a layer of rock 210 million years old which is up to 500 meters thick in some regions. These rivers supported diverse wildlife, including ancestors of crocodiles, possibly those of turtles and mammals and fish, amphibians and reptile-like animals. The existence of such large rivers meant that dead animals nearby would be buried in sediment before they decomposed.  

This discovery is scientifically important for a number of reasons; the era from which these bones are found is a boundary in which a mass extinction occurred. Prof. Jonah is trying to understand how the animals from before that extinction survived and how they flourished after. In the Triassic era, there were multiple dominating animals, like the crocodiles, big mammal-like animals and dinosaurs. In the Jurassic era, however, the dinosaurs are clearly dominating. Why this happened is unclear, and the rocks and fossils from this site might help with that. There were also other animals along with dinosaurs in this site which make it noteworthy. Of the animals found, there were rauisuchians, which relate to modern-day crocodiles, and were dominant on land during the Triassic. The team also found cyclodonts and dicyclodonts, where the cyclodonts are the early ancestors to all mammals, and dicyclodonts are an even earlier branch of the mammalian family tree.

All of these have a significant impact on the community too; the team signed a memorandum of understanding with the local government with huge. After the signing, local officials visited the site at Qhemega. The team has been trying to use the heavy machinery they had brought for moving fossils for improving access in and to the village. They are also developing a curriculum in high schools to include topics about fossil sites and to add geography to the curriculum, to train the younger generation about the mapping used in excavation and in many other scientific fields especially relevant in the mineral-resource rich South Africa.

So far, this site has only provided benefits for everyone involved; new discoveries and confirming data for the scientific community, and economic access, increased opportunities and a matter for pride for the local community.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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