Archive for January 4, 2013




Archaeologists say Paleolithic production line made cutting tools by the 1000s; Qassem’s inhabitants were possibly early form of Homo sapiens.

In a cave not far from where thousands of Israelis work in hi-tech companies in the Afek Industrial Zone, their Paleolithic ancestors were engaged in some of their own cutting-edge innovation and manufacturing.

Indeed, the people who produced the thousands of knives and other tools in Qassem Cave between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago may have been the world’s first industrial workers, says Ran Barkai, who with two other Tel Aviv University archaeologists, Ron Shimelmitz and Avi Gopher, has been excavating the site.

Their findings, based on the examination of more than 19,000 stone implements produced and used by the cave’s inhabitants, appear in the October issue of The Journal of Human Evolution.

The people of Qassem Cave not only developed what appears to be the earliest system of mass production but engaged in other activities that Barkai and his colleagues describe as modern, such as parceling off their limestone habitation into areas dedicated to specific activities like butchering and eating. That pushes back the date for many practices by tens of thousands of years.

“We must be a bit cautious, but if what we found is what we think it is, it means modern human behavior and modern Homo sapiens appeared earlier than anyone thought before,” Barkai told The Media Line. “Tool production, the use of fire, hunting and meat-sharing practices – these are behaviors that are practiced usually by modern humans.”

Man’s ancestors were making simple stone tools in Africa at the time, but in Qassem Cave the inhabitants set up stone age production lines, as evidenced by the huge number of implements found by the archaeologists  Until now, the earliest instances of mass production date back to no more than 40,000 years ago.

“For many years, archaeologists linked the systematic production of blades to the Late Paleolithic period in Europe 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, and to Homo sapiens, and to such practices as cave paintings,” Gopher said in a statement issued by Tel Aviv University. “This gives us a glimpse into the daily life of the earliest cave people.”

Located about 12 kilometers (8 miles) east of Tel Aviv in the Samarian foothills, Qassem Cave is typical of the area, where caverns are created as acidic water dissolves the limestone rock that predominates the area’s geology. Originally an underground cavern, geological shifts created an opening that enabled the cave to be inhabited for 200,000 years before closing up again.

The cave and its industrial secrets remained lost to the world, the technology employed in it over the millennia never again used or replicated, as far as archaeologists know. The cave was revealed again when construction workers accidentally re-opened it 10 years ago it as they were widening a highway.

Barkai said the mass production of tools was facilitated by the technology developed by Qassem’s inhabitants. They developed cutting techniques that made very efficient use of their raw material, flint blocks, to produce tools with very little waste. They also turned out semi-finished products that could be turned into a completed tool with very little additional work.

The tools they made were highly specialized, designed for the various stages of hunting and butchering. Barkai said that long before place settings were invented, Qassem’s inhabitants may have been using knives as personal implements for eating. But the cave men (and women) of Qassem also had shared the use-and-throw-away culture of the modern era as well.

The tools they made were of very high quality – Barkai says examples he has in his lab look as sharp as new – but Qassem’s inhabitants didn’t trouble to reuse them or sharpen them as their peers did. That could be the reason that Qassem’s denizens needed to produce so much, he speculated.

“It appears they used these knives as expendable tools. They used them for a very short while for a very specific purpose, then for the next stage of work they would produce more,” said Barkai. “We know that the cave was surrounded by very rich outcrops of flint, so they had constant supply of raw material around them and they had very good tools to produce cutting tools quickly and efficiently.”

Who were Qassem’s inhabitants?

Barkai and his colleagues aren’t quite sure, but they speculate that they may have been a very early form of Homo sapiens, that is modern man. If true, that would push back the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens, which now has records up to 200,000 years ago – at the tail end of the Qassem era.

The only direct evidence of who the cave’s people were is some teeth that have been uncovered and show a resemblance to those of modern humans. But the technology itself provides indirect evidence of how they had advanced intellectually and technologically.

“They had the capability of transmitting knowledge and technical skills, which were quite sophisticated,” Barkai said. “I have no doubt they used language.”

The team is by no means done with Qassem Cave. Barkai estimates there is another decade’s worth of excavating to do at the site, with their top goals of finding skeletal remains of the inhabitants that would give them more insight into who the inhabitants were and to better understand how different functions were assigned to different places in the cavern.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.




Political parties angry about election delays, in standoff with generals over banning politicians belonging to Mubarak’s party from running.

CAIRO – Less than two weeks left before campaigning begins for what are supposed to be Egypt’s first ever free and fair elections, a boycott by opposition activists, some political parties and the country’s Christian minority remains on the table as they tussle with the interim military regime over voting rules.

The parties are demanding that politicians belonging to former President Husni Mubarak’s now banned party be barred from running. And, with elections for the lower house of parliament set for November 28, upper house elections in January and the first seating of parliament in March, many activists are objecting to the long lead time to democracy. No date for presidential elections has been set.

Even if the issues are resolved in time for campaigning to get underway, many opposition activists say they are skeptical that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will keep to the promises it has already made to suspend the hated emergency laws during the voting period and end military trials of civilians.

“We’ve seen this over and over again with our rulers,” activist and political organizer Mona Mahmoud told The Media Line. “How can we trust the military when they said it would only be six months they would be in power and now we are in the eighth month since Mubarak was gone? They reactivated the emergency laws and are arresting civilians for speaking. I don’t think they have earned our trust.”

The elections are the latest point of friction between the generals who have been ruling Egypt since Mubarak was ousted last February and the country’s emergent political leaders, who are concerned about the direction Egypt is taking. After a brief efflorescence of freedom, SCAF has revived the emergency laws and clamped down on the media in response to what they say is unacceptable violence and chaos.

Last Friday, as many as 10,000 people took to Tahrir Square, where months ago opposition groups mobilized hundreds of thousands to oust Mubarak, to “reclaim the revolution.”

The latest effort to resolve differences was made over the weekend with 13 party leaders meeting with SCAF’s chief of staff, General Sami Anan. It ended with SCAF agreeing that party candidates could compete for seats previous reserved for independents and to suspending the emergency laws. But SCAF did no more than promise to look into the issue of barring members of Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) from running.

SCAP also enraged activist by insisting the parties sign a declaration stating they “declare their full support to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” and thank the body for “protecting the revolution and working on handing over the power to the people.”

Military leaders plan more meetings with political parties to iron out remaining differences, Major Alaa Iraqi, a spokesman for the Supreme Council, told the Reuters news agency on Monday. Meanwhile the cabinet was set to discuss the Saturday agreement.

Nevertheless, a day later, the liberal Wafd and Nasserist Parties responded to activists’ complaints by disavowing the agreement. Hani Shukrallah, a leading member of the Social Democratic Egyptian Party, submitted his resignation on Monday because its leader had signed the agreement.

Naguib Gobrael, the head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, said Sunday that Copts may resort to boycotting the coming parliamentary elections in protest at their mistreatment at the hands of Egypt’s Muslim majority.

On Thursday, a group of potential presidential candidates issued a joint statement denouncing the continuation of military rule. Led by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and popular candidate, the group said any decision or ruling that comes after September 30 based on the emergency laws would be “void of any legal or constitutional legitimacy.”

Aboul Fotouh told The Media Line that he was hopeful that the new agreement could finally lay the groundwork for the future of Egypt that could see free elections, a return to civilian rule and an end to the decades of corruption brought onto the country by the NDP.

“I hope this will be a turning point for us because the military appears to have agreed with all the political groups’ demands right now,” he said. However, he did admit that he understands the activists’ frustration and worries over the agreement.

“It’s not surprising to see a lot of this country’s youth not believing the SCAF because of past actions and how promises have been made and never followed through, but we have to remain vigilant. At the end of the day we have our feet and voices and this has worked in the past,” he argued.

For many activists, the waiting game coupled with uncertainty appears to be playing out once again. In July, activists demanded a transparent trial for their former president. Initially, that was exactly what they received, with trial sessions aired on Egypt’s national television. But since September 7, SCAF has imposed a blackout against media reporting on the sessions.

“This our future and the lies and empty promises of the military will not be stood for, nor will the political groups if this agreement fails, so we wait and see,” said Hossam Kamel, a 34-year-old financial manager at a local consultancy. “We are a broken country and need change for the better. The time for elections and a free country is now.”

Source: The Jerusalem Post.


Wednesday 05/10/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma’an correspondent reported.

The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA’s suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi.

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”

“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.

The strike affected all of UNRWA’s 243 schools in Gaza.

Hindi told the teachers he would stand against “oppression and injustice” but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved “until the Israeli occupation is removed.”

UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries after hundreds of thousands were displaced from Palestine when Israel was created. The agency’s most recent mandate extends to June 30, 2014.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.

“UNRWA is extremely concerned about the impact of further strikes on the education of 220,000 children in our schools, children whose right to education is being denied,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused UNRWA of trying to create a “parallel authority”.

“The Palestinian people cannot accept the punishment of an employee of the head of the employees union just because of his participation in a regular community activity,” said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman of the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Hamas lawmakers often criticize UNRWA’s education policies and some accuse it of trying to teach material that encourages normalization with Israel or educates pupils about the Holocaust.

Islamist radicals opposed to mixed-gender activities are believed to be behind arson attacks on UNRWA-run summer camps.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.


By Kremena Krumova

October 3, 2011

But hopes arise for the future

While all eyes are on South Sudan, being the youngest country in the world and the 193rd United Nations member after separating on July 9 from the rest of Sudan, little is said about what is going on in the north.

Apart from losing its national pride along with one-third of its territory, North Sudan is facing even bigger problems: harsh repression of civil protests, soaring inflation, and near-war status in the border areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state, as well as in Darfur.

But while many see the future of the Republic of Sudan as bleak, there are indications that the country is stabilizing and starting to open up to the world.

As a result of a referendum in January, the southern portion of Sudan, which has oil, is less developed, and populated mostly by Christians and Animists, decided to split from the north, which is richer, mostly Muslim, and has the pipelines to transport the oil. The act of secession that followed in July put a stop to more than two decades of Sudan’s north-south civil war and paved the way for South Sudan’s independence.

Still, while the separation saw new-found freedom for the south, it ushered in a hard period for the north. Even before the secession, many southerners who had previously lived in the north moved back to the south—either for fear of violence or out of a will to develop their homeland. This made many businesses in the north lose their consumers. In addition, the trade between the north and the south has become difficult since the separation, which has caused food and commodity prices to rise dramatically.

“It is remarkable how inflation flies,” Nico Plooijer, manager of the Horn of Africa Program at IKV Pax Christi, a peacekeeping organization based in the Netherlands, said in a telephone interview.

Plooijer, who visits Sudan regularly and has constant communication with both capitals—Khartoum in the north and Juba in the south—said meat prices have risen 30–50 percent recently. Veal, the favorite meat of the Sudanese, used to cost about 20 Sudanese pounds (US$7.47) per kilo, but now has jumped to more than 30 pounds (US$11.20). Beef, which was usually affordable to poor people, is now eaten by the rich and out of the reach of the poor. Tomatoes, an important part of poor peoples’ diet, used to cost around 2 pounds (US$0.74) per kilo but are now 10 pounds (US$3.74) per kilo.

According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, consumer prices in Sudan will increase by 20 percent in 2011 compared to 13 percent in 2010.

Plooijer pointed out that much of the food and diesel that used to come from the north is now provided by other countries like Uganda and Kenya, which makes things even more expensive.

“Of course, the global crisis also plays a role. The people in Sudan felt it very strongly,” he said.

Khartoum was engulfed by a wave of protests that started Sept. 27 in the eastern Burri area and quickly spread to several other areas in the capital and also to the city of Omdurman, the Sudan Tribune reported. Demonstrators have been shouting slogans denouncing the government and condemning the high food prices.

The country lost 75 percent of its oil reserves after the south seceded and was denied billions of dollars in revenues. Prior to the breakup, Sudan produced close to 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Apart from that, Sudan faces a huge national debt amounting to $38 billion and a devaluating currency that continues to slide sharply against the U.S. dollar.

To make matters worse, international sanctions have been imposed on the country because of the genocide in Darfur. Earlier this week, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti painted a grim picture of the country’s economic situation, describing it as “really serious.”

Some say that the protests may lead to something similar to the Arab Spring, but unlike Libya and Tunisia, Sudan is much more loosely organized and any opposition is being brutally suppressed by the government, which is trying to consolidate its power.

“The unrest has already started but every time the government suppresses the demonstrations and disperses the protesters—even those who went on peaceful ones protesting the food prices hikes,” Ayman Elias Ibrahim, a Northern Sudanese reporter for The Citizen, an English daily based in Khartoum, wrote in an e-mail.

Apart from economic losses, North Sudan seems to have also lost a crucial advocate for human rights.

“Northerners were seeing the south as a source of advocacy for freedom and human rights. Now northerners feel that they have to forget about human rights,” said Waakhe Wudu, a correspondent for the Gurtong Trust project, in a telephone interview from Juba.

“Some fear that after the secession, the NCP [National Congress Party] will reinforce the implementation of Sharia Law. This is because the southerners who advocated for its removal have broken away. The Khartoum regime is a military regime, so you cannot expect something different from what is now.”

Last week, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the National Umma Party (NUP), announced that his party will not partake in the upcoming government because the ruling NCP is “not serious about letting other political powers have a role in decision-making.”

According to some observers, opposition to President al-Bashir is weak and usually chooses to “co-opt into the power system” in order to obtain benefits.

Amir Ahmad Nasr, a leading Sudanese blogger and digital activist, confirmed that being filial to the ruling party can secure a good life.

“If you work for the party, you can get a job very easily, and this job will provide you a decent car and apartment, and decent money, even if you are not qualified for that job,” said Nasr, from Kuala Lumpur.

Nasr, who blogs under the name “Sudanese Thinker,” explained that Bashir and his cronies control the economy and have a lot of influence but little accountability to society.

“They can go and use weapons and be very thuggish, because they have this privilege to be above the law,” he said.

“It is all about interests: ‘If you scratch my back, I will scratch your back,’ and about corruption and making money. They are a bunch of corrupt mafia and want to continue and maintain their power.”

However, he warned that the government of Sudan is not a solid, unified entity but rather a conglomerate of various interests, with Bashir playing a balancing role.

They include Islamists who genuinely want an Islamic state; people who pretend to be Islamists but in fact they care only about money and their businesses; very corrupt businessmen allied with the government; highly educated businessmen who are not corrupt but who also maintain cooperation with the government in order to do business; the intelligence or security services; and the tribal leaders and the military.

“Bashir has to always play a balancing act to make everyone happy. When he wants to make the Islamists happy he says: ‘Oh, after the South secedes, we will have an Islamic state, we are going to have Sharia.’ And when he tries to appeal to the business community, he promises to bring investors from China and Brazil,” said Nasr.

But Bashir has been having trouble appealing to and gaining support from the military, which showed in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state. There, the military launched campaigns without Bashir’s approval. Nasr said there is speculation that tension exists between Bashir and the military because of that.

“I don’t think Bashir is interested or even wants to crush the fighters there, but I also do not think he could stop the attacks even if he wanted to,” said Nasr.

He added that the battles along the border with the south are of interest to the military because they lost soldiers there during the civil war.

He also said there are rumors that Bashir will not continue serving as president and that a successor is in the process of being selected.

But hope is appearing on the horizon. Foreign Minister Ali Karti has just returned from summits in Paris and New York, and will attend an economic forum in Turkey in the beginning of December. Also, Bashir demonstrated political maturity and willingness for peace during the referendum in the south.

“We have seen that Bashir can also play a democratic role, to the extent possible in the framework of the existing regime in Sudan,” said Mariya Nedelcheva, a member of the European Parliament and member of the European Union delegation to Africa, in a telephone interview from Brussels.

Moreover, earlier this week Bashir announced that he will negotiate with the south but without international mediation, which is also seen as a positive sign by political observers.

“This is the most correct way to do it. In order to give the chance to these countries to build themselves as such, they have to do it by themselves,” said Nedelcheva.

She pointed out that Bashir deserves a review of the verdict handed down by the International Court of Justice against him for crimes against humanity in Darfur. But she warned that if South Sudan decides to implement the verdict if Bashir ever visits Juba, it will bring new tensions due to the sensitivity of the topic.

On a positive note, Nedelcheva remembers her travels across North Sudan and said that when she spoke to local people she didn’t detect any sense of resentment toward Bashir. She said that in comparison with the south, there is much more progress in the north.

“While in South Sudan there is almost nothing built, in the north you can see the efforts made by Bashir, and people feel these efforts.”

Source: The Epoch Times.