Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Georgia's Forgotten People

In pictures: Georgia's forgotten people

  • 19 September 2016
  • From the sectionMagazine

Marium Gabisonia, aged seven-years-old, looks out the second story window of the room she shares with her sisterImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Twenty-five years after the fall of the USSR, many people struggling to find a home and a job in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have made their home in abandoned buildings.
Some are refugees from Abkhazia, a Georgian region which fought a war of secession in 1992-93. A quarter of a million people were internally displaced in the conflict. Others became homeless after simply falling on hard times.
Approximately 400 are living in harsh conditions in an abandoned Soviet-era military hospital in the capital, Tbilisi. Photographer Jacob Borden captured what life is like for these people living on the margins of society.

Maia Daiauri, aged 45, begins to prepare a former hospital room into a liveable environmentImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Maia Daiauri, aged 45, works to turn one of the rooms in the former hospital into a liveable space. All of the occupied rooms have windows, and almost all of the residents have a small gas canister and burner to cook on. Most rooms have small wood-burning stoves, used as heaters in the winter. Those who do not have access to heating or plumbing share with their neighbours. There is a strong sense of community. As one resident says: "We don't have much, all we have is each other."

A view of the building and courtyard as seen from an adjacent buildingImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

The derelict hospital is unsafe, and utilities such as electricity are diverted through a patchwork of wires and pipes, while raw sewage often trickles down walls because of broken plumbing. In 2015, a young boy died in a fire caused by faulty wiring.

Nikoloz Beriashuili, aged two-years-old, sleeps in the one room he shares with his mother, father and sisterImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

About 80 children live in the building and the majority are under six years old, like Nikoloz Beriashuili, aged two, who sleeps in the same room as his mother, father and sister. Some of the children who live in the building skip school, saying they do not find it useful. Older children who have also dropped out of school often take care of their younger siblings.

Residents walk through the first floor hallway at duskImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Most of the residents rely on state benefits. They prefer to spend the 300 Lari (£97.99) they receive each month on food, rather than use it to rent poor-quality housing, and they avoid taking official jobs for fear of losing this cash lifeline.

A lone Soviet era car sits in a parking lot outside the buildingImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

A Soviet-era car sits in a parking lot outside the building. Some older residents remember the communist era with nostalgia, as they say they had homes, jobs and stability then. Most are embittered and feel they have been left behind by Georgia's shift to a market economy.

Matiko Pirtskhulava, aged 46, stands in her two room unit. She lives alone while her two teenage children attend seminary schoolImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Matiko Pirtskhulava, aged 46, stands in her two-room unit. She lives alone while her two teenage children attend a seminary. In the building there are many women who live by themselves or with children, some have been widowed and subsequently left homeless.

A conch shell provides shelter for the lone minnow in a fish tank in a bedroomImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN
White line 10 pixels
A pet dog is kept chained in the kitchen of one of the unitsImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

The residents do their best to improve the building and make the rooms they live in comfortable. Wallpaper and flooring scavenged from the neighbourhood are used to transform the concrete rooms into a home. A large conch shell provides shelter for a solitary minnow in the fish tank of one bedroom.

Marium Gabisonia, aged seven-years-old, pauses during a game of tag with her siblingsImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

There are approximately 150 families living in the building. Marium Gabisonia, aged seven, shares a room with her sister and plays childhood games like tag in the corridors of the former hospital.

Ia Ochiauri, 42, a mother of two lives with her husband and his brother . They do odd jobs when they canImage copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Ia Ochiauri, 42, a mother of two, lives with her husband and his brother, doing odd jobs to get by.

Matiko Pirtskhulava, aged 46, says: “I do not feel like I am a part of [Georgian] society"Image copyrightJACOB BORDEN

Matiko Pirtskhulava, aged 46, says: "I do not feel like I am a part of [Georgian] society." Many residents feel they have been overlooked by modern society, and watch while the echoes of Georgia's past crumble before their eyes.
All photographs by Jacob Borden. Additional reporting by Tbel Abuseridze.

DNA hints at earlier human exodus from Africa

DNA hints at earlier human exodus from Africa

Rock art from southern AfricaImage copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionThe early migrants were hunter-gatherers, like the people depicted in this much more recent rock art from South Africa
Hints of an early exodus of modern humans from Africa may have been detected in living humans.
Present-day people outside Africa were thought to descend from a group that left their homeland 60,000 years ago.
Now, analysis of nearly 500 human genomes appears to have turned up the weak signal of an earlier migration.
But the results suggest this early wave of Homo sapiens all but vanished, so it does not drastically alter prevailing theories of our origins.
Writing in the academic journal Nature, Luca Pagani, Mait Metspalu and colleagues describe hints of this pioneer group in their analysis of DNA in people from the Oceanian nation of Papua New Guinea.
After evolving in Africa 200,000 years ago, modern humans are thought to have crossed through Egypt into the Arabian Peninsula some 60,000 years ago.
Until now, genetic evidence has shown that every non-African alive today could trace their origins to this fateful dispersal.
Yet we had known for some time that groups of modern humans made forays outside their "homeland" before 60,000 years ago.
  • Fossilised remains found at the Qafzeh and Es Skhul caves in Israel had been dated to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago.
  • Then in 2015, scientists working in Daoxian, south China, reported thediscovery of modern human teeth dating to at least 80,000 years ago.
  • An additional piece of evidence recently came from traces of Homo sapiens DNA in a female Neanderthal from Siberia's Altai mountains. The analysis suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals had begun mixing around 100,000 years ago - presumably outside Africa.
Child in Papua New GuineaImage copyrightARIS MESSINIS/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe faint signature of an earlier out of Africa migration may be found in people from Papua New Guinea
In order to reconcile this evidence with the genetic data from living populations, the prevailing view advanced by scientists was of a wave of pioneer settlement that ended in extinction.
But the latest results suggest some descendents of these trailblazers survived long enough to get swept up in the later, ultimately more successful migration that led to the settling of Oceania.
"The first instance when we thought we were seeing something was when we used a technique called MSMC, which allows you to look at split times of populations," said co-author Dr Mait Metspalu, director of the Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, told BBC News.
His colleague and first author Dr Luca Pagani, also from the Estonian Biocentre, added: "All the other Eurasians we had were very homogenous in their split times from Africans.
"This suggests most Eurasians diverged from Africans in a single event... about 75,000 years ago, while the Papuan split was more ancient - about 90,000 years ago. So we thought there must be something going on."
It was already known that Papuans, along with other populations from Oceania and Asia, derive a few per cent of their ancestry from Denisovans, an enigmatic sister group to the Neanderthals.
The researchers tried to remove this component, but were left with a third chunk of the genome which was different from the Denisovan segment and the overwhelming majority which represents the main out of Africa migration 60,000 years ago.
Qafzeh remainsImage copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionFossil evidence from Israel, like this individual from Qafzeh cave, suggests modern humans were already living outside Africa at least 90,000 years ago
Daoxian teethImage copyrightS XING, X-J WU
Image captionTeeth from Daoxian suggest Homo sapiens had reached southern China by at least 80,000 years ago
"This third component had intermediate properties which we concluded must have originated as an independent expansion out of Africa about 120,000 years ago," Dr Pagani told BBC News.
"We believe this makes up at least 2% of the genome of modern Papuans."
In a separate paper in the same edition of Nature, Prof David Reich and Swapan Mallick, both from Harvard Medical School, along with colleagues analysed 300 genomes from 142 different populations around the world.
They found no evidence of substantial ancestry from an early African exodus in Papuans and other related populations such as indigenous Australians. They conclude that, if the genetic legacy of such a migration survives in these populations, it can't comprise more than a few per cent of their genomes.
A similar conclusion is reached in a third study on the genomes of indigenous Australian by the University of Copenhagen's Eske Willerslev and Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, along with colleagues.
Commenting on the Reich Lab study, Dr Metspalu told BBC News: "They do not detect an early Out of Africa, but they also do not reject it as long as it is just a few per cent in modern humans."
Dr Pagani added: "All three papers all reach the same conclusions. That in Eurasians and also Papuans - the majority of their genomes come from the same major migration."
Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, who was not involved with the genomic studies, commented: "The papers led by Mallick and by Malaspinas favour a single exit from Africa less than 80,000 years ago giving rise to all extant non-Africans, while that led by Pagani favours an additional and earlier exit more than 100,000 years ago, traces of which they claim can still be found in Australasians.
"Unfortunately, the signs of past interbreeding with a Denisovan-like archaic population which are found at a level of about 4% in extant Australasians, according to the Malaspinas paper, complicate interpretations, as well as the possibility that there may have been yet other ancient interbreedings which are so far poorly understood."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sri Varavimada Kalimman temple in Toa Payoh (1860s)

Image result for Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman temple toa payoh

The Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman temple in Toa Payoh can trace its roots to the 1860s, when it was a resting spot in the Orchard area for Indian plantation workers and dhobis (washermen). It then evolved into a place for Hindus to pray and sing devotional songs.

This nugget of historical information, part of the Toa Payoh heritage trail, is one of thousands that online users can uncover in a new Web portal launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) yesterday.
Called, the site is a mammoth repository of information on more than 120,000 cultural treasures and historical artefacts from the national collection.
It also includes 85 heritage trails, 72 national monuments, and about 1,000 heritage resources such as research papers and activity sheets.
The portal "presents heritage resources in a much more dynamic manner", Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng told Parliament. "Whether you are a serious researcher, or just a curious young student, will provide a new dimension for you to explore and learn more about our history and heritage," he added.
Produced by NHB's digital team, it was budgeted in 2014 as part of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's digital engagement strategy. It took seven months and cost about $400,000 to piece together. It is targeted at educators and the general public.
The senior manager of NHB's digital team, Mr Shaun Wong, said the portal is one way to better showcase the historic gems under its care. For instance, the team wove an early 19th-century painting from Tanjore, South India, of a dhobi and his wife, into the write-up of the Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman temple.
NHB's existing website, which draws about 300,000 views annually, will now be its corporate site.
Overall, the board chalked up a digital reach of more than 3.07 million views across its digital platforms, including its museum websites and social platforms, last year.
During the debate on the ministry's budget, Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) raised the importance of implementing heritage impact assessments. Minister Grace Fu said NHB adopts a "calibrated and sensitive approach" to balance heritage preservation and development needs. The assessment frameworks of several countries were studied but these were not fully applicable to Singapore, she added.
"We have decided not to adopt such frameworks wholesale at this point of time, but to evolve an approach suited to our local context."
She also said NHB will be able to identify Singapore's heritage assets and better advise on their historical significance when the nationwide survey on the country's tangible heritage is done by mid-2017.

World's oldest fish hooks found in Japanese island cave

World's oldest fish hooks found in Japanese island cave

Archaeologists have found tA pair of ancient fish hooks found in a cave in Japanhe world's oldest fish hooks in a cave on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
The pair, dating from about 23,000 years ago, were carved from sea snail shells and found with other ancient relics, according to a paper.
It is thought humans inhabited the island from at least 30,000 years ago, surviving despite scarce resources.
The findings suggest a wider use of advanced maritime technology in that era than previously thought.
Modern humans first moved to offshore islands some 50,000 years ago.
While fishing has been essential for early humans to spread around the planet, it is unclear how the technology evolved, with evidence limited to sites in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
"The new evidence demonstrates a geographically wider distribution of early maritime technology that extended north to the mid-latitude areas along the western Pacific coast," according to the National Academy of Sciences.
The fish hooks predate ones found in Timor, thought to be at least 16,000 years old, and Papua New Guinea, from at least 18,000 years ago.
Also found in the cave were two partially carved fish hooks, tools, beads and food debris.
The paper's authors even suggest that those who visited the cave did so seasonally, when certain species of crab were at their "most delicious".

Friday, April 15, 2016

18th-century gravestones dug up near historic KL mosque

An old drawing of Masjid Jamek with the staircase used as a landing area for those arriving by sampan. - Photo used with permission of Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM)

An old drawing of Masjid Jamek with the staircase used as a landing area for those arriving by sampan. -Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM)

HISTORY has literally been dug up at the confluence of the two rivers that inspired the name of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.

A staircase adjoining Masjid Jamek, long forgotten in the face of modernisation and development, has been unearthed after works for the River of Life project in the area commenced.
At a glance, it seems a disconnected structure but further digging showed there was more to it than it seems.
Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) heritage conservation committee member and architect Mariana Isa said the staircase was part of the original mosque design from more than a hundred years ago.
“In all early photographs and drawings of the mosque, designed by Federated Malay States’ Public Works Department assistant architect A.B. Hubback, the staircase is featured quite prominently. The mosque was officially opened by Sultan of Selangor Sultan Alauddin Sulaiman Shah in 1909,” she said.
The site had originally been a Malay cemetery that was relocated to Jalan Ampang in order to build the mosque.

The mosque was built to cater to the growing population as well as to replace a nearby mosque that was demolished to make way for a road widening project.
A perspective painting of the mosque that had been in the possession of Hubback’s grandson Dr Peter Barbor showed that the steps were imagined to be a place of human activity as well as a landing spot for sampans, an important mode of transport in the past.
“It would not be impossible to believe that people would also perform their ablutions at the steps with the river water.’’
“It was not until other land transportation such as the train system began developing that the steps slowly started to disappear,” she said, adding that the mosque was built using funds collected among the Malays, the Sultan as well as the British government.
In photos as early as the late 1930s, the river bank had been shored up and the lower half of the steps concealed under the soil.
The recently unearthed steps adjoining Masjid Jamek leads to the discovery of lost history.
The recently unearthed steps adjoining Masjid Jamek leads to the discovery of lost history.
The perimeter walls, originally designed to directly touch the water, was also half hidden behind a bank of soil.
“It was around the time when the LRT was being built that the concrete river bank was built and with it the steps all but disappeared except a few at the very top,” said Mariana, who is also a committee member of the recently established Malaysia branch of non-governmental organisation International Council on Monuments and Sites.
Mariana also said that the spot, a confluence between Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang, had an earlier historical importance as the place the first settlers landed.
DBKL Project Implementation and Maintenance deputy director-general Datuk Mohd Najib Mohd said they were excited with the discovery of the staircase.
“It was unexpected and the plan has shifted a little to include it as part of the River of Life (RoL) rejuvenation plans in the area. This area already has quite a nostalgic air but this staircase can increase this value and also connect us to the city’s past,” he said.
“The Malaysian Historical Society has been asked to help us study the steps. It is about 80% intact while the rest seems to have been damaged during a river deepening project many years ago.
“We are looking into putting some kind of protective coating over the staircase to maintain it. Meanwhile, the contractors doing work near the staircase are not allowed to use machinery and are instead digging manually,” he said.
Moghul architecture: Masjid Jamek, Kuala Lumpur’s oldest mosque at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. It was built in 1907 and officially opened by the Sultan of Selangor on Dec  23, 1909.
Moghul architecture: Masjid Jamek, Kuala Lumpur’s oldest mosque at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. It was built in 1907 and officially opened by the Sultan of Selangor on Dec  23, 1909.
Mariana said Masjid Jamek belonged to the people and nothing from the original design should be removed to retain its full historical value.
“Not even a single pillar should be removed. I had been upset when some of the coconut trees that had been growing in the mosque’s compound were removed.
“Coconut trees had been growing there even during the time the place was a cemetery. This place is like a time capsule that should be preserved as a whole,” she said, adding that it was the little things that made the place unique.”
“The mosque had been the identifying icon of Kuala Lumpur in the times before skyscrapers came about in the city.”
“It was replicated to represent Malaya during the British Empire Exhibition back in 1924. It even made it into an international architecture publication,” she said, adding that the site should belong to the people.

18th-century gravestones dug up near historic KL mosque

KUALA LUMPUR • More than 45 gravestones that are believed to be from the early 18th century have been discovered at a construction site near the historic Jamek Mosque.
These gravestones are mostly made of granite, with a few made of marble and sandstone, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.
The writing was still legible on some of the gravestones, which date back nearly 200 years and were unearthed between December last year and last month, the report added. The mosque's head administrator Mohd Faisal Tan Mutalib said: "These are exciting discoveries. Our knowledge of the area's history is limited, but what we do know is that there was a Muslim graveyard here in the early 18th century."
He added: "It is not surprising to find old gravestones in this area. Some are quite grand and beautiful. They need to be documented."
The gravestones that have been recovered have been tagged and will be studied, although it is not clear which party will be in charge of this study.
The construction works are part of the RM4.4 billion (S$1.5 billion) River of Life project announced in 2012 to turn the Klang River into a vibrant waterfront.
The entire river is being cleaned up, and beautification and development works are being carried out along a 10.7km stretch in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
The 108-year-old Jamek Mosque is also undergoing major upgrading works as part of the project.
The area had been the centre of commercial activity as early as the 18th century, and was inhabited by early settlers who did tin mining work for a living.
The Jamek Mosque area and its surroundings have been declared a National Heritage site by Malaysia's National Heritage Commission.
Workers who are now building a water fountain at the site have been alerted to look out for more artefacts that may emerge, and to report any new findings to the commission.
A consultant with construction firm Ekovest, one of the companies in charge of the River of Life project, said: "We have been finding all sorts of artefacts from the project site since late last year. First it was broken ceramic bowls, glasses, bottles, and pots."
"Some of the gravestones looked quite fancy, while others had Jawi scripts embossed on them," he added, referring to the Arabic alphabet which Malay was written in before it was romanised.