Fossils of Largest Snake to Ever Live Discovered in India

Scientists have unearthed fossil vertebrae from the largest snake that ever existed.
Scientists have unearthed fossil vertebrae from the largest snake that ever existed. Credit: lovine. CC BY 2.0/flickr

Fossil vertebrae excavated during a mine dig in western India are the remains of one of the largest snakes that ever existed, a creature thought to be up to 15 meters in length – longer than a T-rex.

Scientists have recovered 27 vertebrae from the monster snake, including a couple that are still in the same position as they would have been when the creature was alive. They claimed the snake, which has been named Vasuki Indicus, would have looked like a large python, with no venom.

The lignite mine where the snake fossil was unearthed is in Panandhro, in the western state of Gujarat.

“Considering its large size, Vasuki was a slow-moving ambush predator that would subdue its prey through constriction like anacondas and pythons. This snake lived in a marshy swamp near the coast at a time when global temperatures were higher than today,” said Debajit Datta, a postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and the lead author of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday – as reported by the Guardian.

Due to the incomplete nature of the Vasuki fossil, the scientists have given an estimated length range of 11-15 meters and one ton in weight.

Was the Vasuki Snake Fossil larger than Others Found Previously?

Vasuki, named after the snake king linked to the Hindu god Shiva, comes close in size to another enormous prehistoric snake called Titanoboa, the fossils of which were found in a coal mine in northern Colombia in 2009. Titanoboa, believed to be around 13 meters long and more than one ton in weight, lived between 58 million and 60 million years ago. The largest living snake today is Asia’s reticulated python, coming in at 10 meters.


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“The estimated body length of Vasuki is comparable to that of Titanoboa, although the vertebrae of Titanoboa are slightly larger than those of Vasuki. However, at this point, we cannot say if Vasuki was more massive or slender compared to Titanoboa,” Sunil Bajpai, a palaeontologist, professor at Roorkee, and the study’s co-author told the Guardian.

These snakes existed during the Cenozoic era, which began after the dinosaur age ended 66 million years ago.

The largest Vasuki vertebra fossil was around 11cm wide, and the snake seems to have had a broad, cylindrical body perhaps around 44cm wide. The skull was not found.

“Vasuki was a majestic animal,” Datta said. “It may well have been a gentle giant, resting its head on a high porch formed by coiling its massive body for most parts of the day or moving sluggishly through the swamp like an endless train.”

The research team is not certain what prey Vasuki would have eaten, but taking into account its size, it may have included crocodilians. Other fossils found in the area included crocodilians and turtles, as well as fish and two primitive whales, kutchicetus, and Andrewsiphius.

Vasuki was a member of the madtsoiidae snake family that existed roughly 98 million years ago but went extinct around 12,000 years ago. These snakes proliferated from India through southern Eurasia and into north Africa after the Indian subcontinent collided with Eurasia around 50 million years ago, Bajpai told the Guardian.

Villa of First Roman Emperor Augustus May Have Been Found in Italy

Remains of what is believed to be a furnace used to heat Roman Emperor August's bath.
Remains of what is believed to be a furnace used to heat Roman Emperor Augustus’ bath. Credit: University of Tokyo.

A nearly 2,000-year-old building has been discovered in Southern Italy at a site with ancient Roman ruins buried in volcanic ash. The research team posits it may have been a villa owned by Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BC-14 AD). Augustus was the first emperor of Rome.

The team of researchers from the University of Tokyo, led by Mariko Muramatsu, a professor of Italian studies, began excavating the Somma Vesuviana ruins on the northern side of Mount Vesuvius in the Campania Region in 2002.

As recorded in accounts from antiquity, Augustus died at his villa northeast of Mount Vesuvius, and a memorial was erected there afterwards in memory of his accomplishments. However, the precise location of that villa remained a mystery.

The research team has uncovered part of a structure that was thought to be used as a warehouse. One wall of the building contains lots of amphora ceramic containers organized in rows.

On top of this, they found the ruins of what was likely a furnace that was used to heat the bath. A section of the wall had collapsed, scattering ancient roof tiles along the floor.

Amphora ceramic containers lined along a wall of a structure at the Somma Vesuviana
Amphora ceramic containers lined along a wall of a structure at the Somma Vesuviana site. Credit: University of Tokyo

Carbon dating of material taken from the furnace showed that most samples were from around the first century. Researchers hold that no material was dated back to the subsequent period, and they believe the kiln was no longer in use at this point.

What was the villa like?

Experts also claim there is a possibility the building was Roman Emperor Augustus’ villa, as it had a private bath—a luxury which was typically only bestowed upon influential figures of the time. In addition, they said the bath was out of use around the same time that Augustus died, and what appeared to be a large temple was later built on the site.

The volcanic material covering the ruins was found to have originated from the pyroclastic flow of lava, rocks, and hot gases which spewed from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, according to a chemical composition analysis conducted by the researchers. Pompeii on the mountain’s southern slope was destroyed by that same eruption.

The excavation site at Somma Vesuviana.
The excavation site at Somma Vesuviana. Credit: University of Tokyo

“We have finally reached this stage after 20 years,” said Masanori Aoyagi, professor emeritus of Western classical archaeology at the University of Tokyo, who originally led the research team that started excavating the site in 2002. “This is a major development that will help us determine the damage caused to the northern side of Vesuvius and get a better overall idea of the eruption in 79.”

Who was Augustus, the first Roman emperor?

Augustus, also known as Octavian, was the founder of the Roman Empire. He ruled as the first Roman Emperor from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD. The reign of Augustus began an imperial cult, as well as an era associated with imperial peace (Pax Romana) during which the Roman world was largely free of armed conflict.

Lesser Known Ancient Greek City-States

Lesser Known Ancient Greek city-states
Ephesus: An ancient Greek city-state in Anatolia. A well-preserved facade of the Celsus Library. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

While Athens and Sparta dominate history book pages, there are lesser known ancient Greek city-states that played an important role in the spread of Greek civilization.

City-states such as Thebes in Central Greece, Argos and Corinth in the Peloponnese, the island of Rhodes, and the Ionian Ephesus and Miletus on the Anatolia coast contributed greatly to the glory of ancient Greece and its priceless influence on the Western World.

The Theban city-state

Thebes in Boeotia, north of the Attica region in Central Greece, spans five millennia of history and has a rich mythology. It had contacts with the Minoan civilization as ruins of the palace at Cadmea attest. It was an important Mycenaean center in the middle to late Bronze Age and a powerful city-state in the Classical period. The kingdom of Thebes played an instrumental role in the Persian Wars (492-449 BC) and sided with Sparta against Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

According to legend, Thebes was the birthplace of mighty Heracles and the place where the Sphinx, the mythical creature with a woman’s head and a winged lion’s body, terrorized the area until her riddle was solved. It was also the place where the legendary tragedies  Oedipus the King and Antigone by Sophocles took place.

In the 6th century BC, a league of Boeotian cities was formed and led by Thebes. In the 5th century, Thebes clashed with the Plataea city-state, located on the border with Attica.  Hostility to Athens over mutual interest in the Plataea area encouraged the Thebans to collaborate with Persia and later with Sparta. When Sparta won the Peloponnesian War, Thebans suggested the annihilation of Athens, but the Spartans refused.

Eventually, Thebes and Sparta clashed, and the Spartans won. They disbanded the Boeotian League and occupied Cadmea in 382 BC. Three years later, Thebes managed to reorganize the league and responded by taking back Cadmea. They fought two victorious battles against the Spartans at Tegyra in 375 BC and Leuctra in 371 BC. The latter sealed the dominance of the Thebans in the region and proved to be of great importance, as the Leuctra battle tactics were copied by Philip II of Macedon who was living in Thebes and studying war techniques under Theban General Epaminondas at the time.

For the next ten years, Thebes was the first military power in Greece. Its commander Epaminondas invaded the Peloponnese (370–362 BC) and died at the Battle of Mantineia.  After that, the power of Thebes declined. In 346, civil strife forced Thebes to admit Philip II of Macedon. When Thebes fell out with Philip, the Macedonian king destroyed its army in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC and dissolved the Boeotian League. In 336 BC, Philip II was assassinated, and the Boeotians revolted. This time, Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes completely after he massacred all the men and sold all women and children to slavery.

Thebes was rebuilt by Alexander’s general, Cassander, in 316 BC and for years wavered between independence and subjugation, forming alliances as circumstances required. The Thebans participated in the Achaean revolt against Rome and eventually were conquered. Roman general Sulla stripped Thebes of half its territory in 86 BC.

Argos city-state
Aerial view of the castle of Argos, one of the oldest city-states in Ancient Greece. Credit: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Argos: One of the oldest Greek city-states

Argos in the northeastern Peloponnese is one of the oldest ancient Greek city-states and one of the oldest towns in Europe, as it has been inhabited since 3000 BC. It was named after Argos (or Argus), the son of Zeus, and Niobe. Argos was favored by goddess Hera and it held the Panhellenic Heraia festival from the 7th century BC onwards. A sanctuary dedicated to Hera has been found six miles from the city.

Ancient Argos was an important Mycenaean town during the Late Bronze Age (1700-1100 BC), reaching its peak in the 14th and 13th centuries BC. In the 7th century BC, during the reign of King Pheidon, Argos witnessed its greatest growth and strength. It started controlling the rest of the Argolid cities and became a powerful opponent of Sparta’s supremacy in the Peloponnese. Argive warriors beat the Spartans in the Battle of Hysiae in 669–668 BC. For some historians, this ended Spartan rule. Pheidon introduced such military innovations as hoplite tactics and double-grip shields.

During that period, Argos was famous for its rich agriculture, horse rearing, pottery and bronze workshops, sculpting schools, tanneries, and clothing manufacturers. It hosted at least twenty-five events in addition to the usual expositions of local goods.

During the Persian Wars of the 5th century, Argos declined to join the Hellenic League of Greek nations in 481 BC and afterward either stayed neutral or showed a pro-Persian stance. Taking advantage of the turmoil in Greece at the time, Argos absorbed neighboring kingdoms like Tiryns, Mycenae, and Nemea. From 415 BC until approximately 330 BC, it hosted the biannual Panhellenic Games, which had previously been hosted in Nemea.

Argos remained neutral during the wars of Philip II of Macedon. In 281 BC, he became a member of the Achaean League (281-146 BC). When Rome took control of Greece from 146 BC on, the city’s mythical heritage meant that Argos enjoyed a certain prestige even in Roman times. Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD) built several buildings and structures in the city, including an aqueduct and baths.

Corinth: Connecting Central Greece with the Peloponnese

The site of ancient Corinth in northern Peloponnese was first inhabited in the Neolithic period (6500-3250 BC). Its strategic location at the intersection of land routes from mainland Greece towards the Peloponnese and waterways that connect the Western Mediterranean to its Eastern counterpart and Asia Minor offered the region enormous potential for communication, growth, and prosperity.

Homer described the city-state as “prosperous” in the Iliad because of its especially fertile soil. The great output of agricultural products meant extensive trade activities mainly towards the Western Mediterranean. In the 8th century BC, the Corinthians established colonies on Corfu in the Ionian Sea and Syracuse in Sicily, playing an important role in the history of the ancient Mediterranean world. The economic prosperity of the city-state reached its apogee in the 7th to 6th centuries BC under the administration of the tyrant Cypselus and his son Periander.

During its time of prosperity, Corinth erected grandiose buildings like the Temple of Apollo (560 BC) and promoted the Isthmian Games at the Corinthian sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite at Isthmus to the status of the Panhellenic Games (584 BC), further increasing the fame and influence of the city.

However, from the end of the 6th century BC, Athens entered sea trade with its dominance in the production of ceramic vases. It soon eclipsed Corinthian trade in the Mediterranean,  particularly after the Persian Wars (490-479 BC), during which, despite their powerful participation, the Corinthians were forced to yield to the primacy of the Athenians.

In the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), Corinth openly allied with Sparta, exhorting the Spartans to attack Athens. Corinth hoped the Athenians would direct their resources in the war and reduce sea trading activities. However, despite the defeat of Athens and its involvement in a number of other military campaigns, such as the so-called “Corinthian War” against Sparta (395-387 BC), the city-state of Corinth did not manage to regain its former glory.

When Philip II of Macedon organized a Panhellenic Conference in Corinth in 337 BC, the city-state temporarily returned to center stage. Nevertheless, it quickly succumbed to the Macedonians. When Aratus of Sicyon kicked out the Macedonians in 243 BC, Corinth joined the Achaean League, a union of city-states of southern Greece. However, the fighting between the League and Rome led to the battle of Leukopetra in 146 BC in the region of Isthmus, where the Greek troops were crushed by the Roman legions under Lucius Mummius. What followed was the complete destruction and devastation of Corinth.

Ephesus: The Anatolian coastal jewel

Ephesus was founded by Ionian Greeks who arrived on the west coast of Anatolia around 1000 BC. The area became known as Ionia. The ancient Greek city-state grew into an important commercial port, a religious center for the cult of Artemis, and one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League.

Legend has it that its founder was Androklos, son of Kodros, a legendary king of Athens who drove out the native people. The city-state became famous for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It was first built in 550 BC, and in the early 3rd century, the Ionians finished an even more magnificent temple.

Ephesus was conquered by the famous Croesus, king of the neighboring Lydia, around 560 BC. Croesus, renowned for his wealth, enlarged the city. It is said that he may have introduced coinage to Ephesus. However, Croesus was defeated in battle by King Cyrus the Great, and Ionia became part of the Persian Empire in 546 BC.

Nonetheless, in 498 BC, Athens backed the Ionian Revolt of the dissatisfied city-states against Persian King Darius the Great, who had appointed tyrants to the city-states of Ionia. This led to the Battle of Ephesus in which the Greeks were defeated, forcing Athens to stop the backing of the Ionians. Consequently, Persian King Darius and his successor, Xerxes tried to conquer Greece in the Greco-Persian Wars. The Greeks kicked the Persians off the mainland and most of the Greek islands.

After that, with the help of Athens in 479 BC, the Ionians pushed out the Persians from the coastal areas of Anatolia. A year later, the Ionian cities joined the anti-Persian Delian League, led by Athens, with Ephesus contributing money to the league.

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III and freed the Greeks of Anatolia. Following his death in 323 BC, his generals and successors waged war on each other for control of parts of his empire. Eventually, in 301 BC, Lysimachus took control of Ionia and decided to rebuild Ephesus by moving the city, as it was prone to flooding due to River Cayster. While the city was situated around the Temple of Artemis, Lysimachus had the unpopular idea of relocating the city.

The Ephesians were very attached to their temple, and Lysimachus is said to have had to force them to move by flooding the plain. The new tyrant took it a step further and renamed the city Arsinoeia after his wife Arsinoe, who later became Queen Arsinoe II of Egypt, the scheming daughter of Ptolemy I. This never caught on, and after Lysimachus’ death in battle against the army of Seleucus I Nicator in 281 BC, the city reverted to its old name and became part of the Seleucid Empire.

When King Antiochus II Theos and his Egyptian wife were murdered in 246 BC, pharaoh Ptolemy III invaded the Seleucid Empire and took over. The Ptolemies ruled Ephesus for half a century until 197 BC. Seleucid King Antiochus III the Great tried to regain the Greek cities of Asia Minor and recaptured Ephesus in 196 BC, but he found himself facing Rome. After a series of battles, treaties, and different rulers, the city-state came under the rule of Eumenes II, the Attalid king of Pergamon. When his grandson Attalus III died in 133 BC without male children to inherit the throne, it passed to the Roman Republic.

Miletus: The oldest city-state

Miletus was a wealthy city-state from the 4th millennium BC. It was a famous trade hub standing at the gate of the East to the West and vice versa. It was a Middle Bronze Age Minoan colony (1700-1500 BC) as the important architectural remains, wall paintings, and pottery show. Between 1400 and 1100 BC, Miletus developed into a flourishing Mycenaean settlement with an imposing wall reinforced with towers and houses of the megaron plan. There was also the elaborate temple of Athena.

According to mythological tradition, Miletus was founded by Neleus, son of King Kodros of Athens, in the 11th to 10th century BC. It was the home of Greek natural philosophers such as Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, the historiographer Hekataios, and the town planner Hippodamos, whose rectangular grid system the city follows.

The prosperity of Miletus was mainly based on the rich land bearing plentiful agricultural products that the city-state controlled. The production of olive oil, and possibly wine, must have been significant, judging by the widespread Milesian amphorae found in the Eastern and Central Mediterranean.

Miletus was also famous for its own trading products, such as its exceptional pottery, high-quality lamb wool and textiles, and the purple dye. Its reputation continued up until the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Milesians were also involved in large-scale furniture production, making distinctive furniture with rectangular legs and ornate designs. In the 5th century BC, the beds of Miletus were particularly popular and considered valuable possessions. Between 434 and 433 BC, there were ten beds among the offerings of Miletus to the Parthenon of Athens. This increased to sixteen in subsequent years.

From the 8th century BC, the prosperity of Miletus brought along an increase in population and subsequent congestion in the city-state. More importantly, however, the colonies were rich in raw materials such as metals, timber, fish, wheat, and so on. Therefore, Miletus saw a great increase in mercantile activity. Ancient sources report that the Milesians founded ninety colonies, while scholars speak of about forty. Nonetheless, even this number is very impressive. The Milesians played an active role in trade with the West and participated in the foundation of Naucratis in Egypt.

In 494 BC the city-state was destroyed by the Persians and lost its primacy in Ionia and the Black Sea. In 480 BC, when the Greeks defeated the Persians, this restored freedom to the Ionian cities. Miletus joined the Delian League and regained part of its former status. However, since its prosperity was mainly based on sea trade, the rise of Athens as a naval power subsequently led to its supremacy in sea trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

In 386 BC, the Ionian cities again came under Persian control as a result of the Kings’ Peace settlement. Then, in 334 BC, Alexander the Great freed the Ionian cities from Persian rule. During the Hellenistic period, Miletus passed under the control of several dynasties. In the period of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Miletus competed with Rhodes and Athens in trading with Alexandria, showing some signs of prosperity. Finally, it was presented to the Romans by the last king of Pergamon.

Rhodes and its famous Colossus

In Greek mythology, Rhodes was a nymph who bore seven sons to the sun god Helios, patron of the island. Rhodes was a protagonist in ancient Greece throughout the Bronze Age, Archaic, and Classical periods and was particularly prosperous during Hellenistic times. It was also famous as a cultural center and for the Colossus of Rhodes statue, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Rhodes was first inhabited in the Neolithic period as the remains of the prehistoric site of Ialysos town indicate. The settlement became an important Bronze Age center in the 16th century BC when it was in close contact with the Minoan civilization on Crete. Trade and cultural links with the Minoans are evidenced by findings of Linear A script, pottery, fresco designs, and architecture.

In the late Bronze Age, the Mycenaeans established a colony in Ialysos that had previously been destroyed by an earthquake. Pottery and rock-cut tombs arranged in rows attest to the presence of Mycenaean culture. The offerings found inside the tombs included gold and silver items, suggesting prosperity. Furthermore, the presence of Egyptian scarabs and Cypriot seals attests to an extensive trade network in the Mediterranean.

By the 10th century BC, the first Dorian city-states were established on Rhodes, namely Ialyssos, Kamiros, and Lindos. Together with Kos, Cnidus and Halicarnassus formed the Dorian Exapolis, the first economic and political union of the time.

The Persians conquered Rhodes in 490 BC, but their rule did not last long. In 474 BC, Athenian forces liberated the island, and Rhodes became a member of the Delian League, becoming dominated by Athens. In 412 BC, they revolted against Athens and sided with Sparta during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC.) In 408 BC, the island city-states united and formed a federal state for greater commercial opportunities. The capital of the new state was Rhodes at the northernmost point of the island.

In 395 BC, Rhodes cut ties with Sparta establishing Athenian-inspired democracy. In 378 BC, the island became a member of the Second Athenian Confederacy but that did not last long. Then, in 357 BC, Rhodes became subject to the Carian satrap Mausolus, who stationed a garrison on the island. Next, it was Alexander the Great, who established a Macedonian garrison on Rhodes. However, under his successors, the island enjoyed a period of its former glory and prosperity. Positioned near newly established cities in the Eastern Mediterranean and with five harbors in different parts of the island, its trade activity soared.

When Demetrius I of Macedon attempted to conquer the island around 305 BC and failed after a year-long siege, the Rhodians took advantage by selling the siege weapons and using the money to build a gigantic 33-meter (108 feet) tall bronze statue to honor their patron god Helios. They placed it at the entrance to the island’s main harbor. The Colossus of Rhodes became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was sculpted by Chares of Lindus but was toppled by an earthquake in 228 or 226 BC.

Rhodes kept its independence and continued to be a prosperous trading hub in the Aegean Sea. The island cultivated trade relations with several cities in the Mediterranean, mostly with the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt. At the same time, the naval fleet of Rhodes took on the responsibility of policing the Aegean against piracy, as several Aegean islands such as Carpathos and Nisyros were now under the control of Rhodes.

The island allied with Rome in the wars against Alexander’s successors. As thanks, Rome gave Rhodes territory in Caria and Lycia, and its dominance and trade activity was stabilized. However, the Roman decision to make Delos a free port in 167 BC diminished the trading power of Rhodes.

In 88 BC, the legendary king of Pontus Mithridates VI sieged Rhodes, and Roman general Cassius Longinus sacked the island in 43 BC. That was the end of Rhodes as a political power in ancient Greece. Yet, it continued to be an important cultural center, especially in sculpture and philosophy, with philosophers such as Andronicus, Eudemus, Panaetius, or Hecathon, as well as the writer and poet Apollonius of Rhodes.

Rapprochement With Turkey Reduced Illegal Migration to Greece, PM Says

Greece Illegal Migration
Greek Coast Guard vessels prevent a migrant boat from arriving to Lesvos. Credit: Greek Coast Guard

The policy of rapprochement with Turkey had helped decrease illegal migration flows, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said from Lesvos.

“Greece is one of the few countries, if not the only one, which has effectively handled the problem of refugee flows with tangible results, with a significant reduction of flows, through the exceptional work done by our coast guard but also through cooperation with Turkish authorities,” Mitsotakis said, adding that the improvement in relations with Turkey had measurable results in daily life.

“The reduction, therefore, of migration flows, of illegal migration, the increase in legal visits that are the flip side of this coin, are hands-on proof that this policy of rapprochement between Greece and Turkey has real results that bring a substantial economic ‘dividend’ of growth for Lesvos and all the islands of the Eastern Aegean,” Mitsotakis added.

New flashpoint for illegal migration to Greece is in the southern Aegean

Around 10,163 migrants reached Greece by sea so far this year.

Greece is a major arrival point for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union. For years, most headed for the eastern Aegean Sea islands, such as Lesvos, Chios, and Samos near the Turkish mainland.

But increased Greek and European Union sea patrols in the area have prompted smuggling gangs to also seek alternative routes, including from Libya to southern Crete and from Turkey to Italy around the southern Greek mainland.

Mitsotakis on the fast-track visa program for Turkish tourists

Mitsotakis also referred to the fast-track visa program for Turkish tourists to the island and others, the prime minister said that this granted a long-standing request of the regional authorities that was not simple to accomplish.

“What you see today, which we accept as more-or-less self-evident, required a great deal of work by the Migration Policy Minister and his team to convince the European Commission that we are ready to meet the high-level requirements of the Schengen [Agreement]. So we are able to issue a visa essentially within minutes,” Mitsotakis said.

Pointing out that this was the only program of its kind in Europe, he stressed that it was “running” “here in the North Aegean,” while adding: “It was a commitment I made and we turned it into action.”

Following Greece’s introduction of the visa-on-arrival program for Turkish tourists, around 20,000 Turks visited five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea throughout the nine-day Eid al-Fitr vacation.

In the first 10 days of April, 3,800 Turkish travelers visited the Greek island of Lesvos, up from only 390 a year ago, while the number of Turks visiting Chios rose from 2,716 to 4,993.

Nearly 6,000 Turkish vacationers traveled to Rhodes during the Eid, up from 2,320 a year earlier. Samos and Kos welcomed 2,851 and 3,300 Turkish tourists, respectively.

The River Of Gold in British Columbia

The River Of Gold
Gold is still found in the Fraser River valley, but it is much less common than it was during the gold rush. Credit: Video screenshot/YouTube/Dan Hurd

The Fraser River in British Columbia has been a source of placer gold for more than 160 years and it has been a meeting point for amateur treasure hunters ever since.

It all began in 1858 when the discovery of gold sparked a massive influx of miners to the Fraser River valley, leading to the establishment of new towns and the rapid development of the region.

The Fraser Gold Rush was sparked by James Douglas, the then Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in British Columbia. In February 1857, Douglas sent a sample of gold to the San Francisco Mint for assaying. The news of the discovery quickly spread, and by the spring of 1858, thousands of gold seekers from California and other parts of the world had descended on the Fraser River valley.

The miners, hoping to strike it rich, set up camps along the river and began panning for gold in the gravel bars. They also used sluice boxes and rockers to sift through the gravel, and some even built dredges to mine the riverbed.

The Department of Mines of British Columbia reported a yield of $28,983,106 in the period from 1860 to 1869. This placer gold at today’s price would be worth more than 300 million dollars.

Gold still found at Fraser River

Gold is still found in the Fraser River valley, but it is much less common than it was during the gold rush. The gold deposits that were easily accessible have been largely mined out, and the remaining gold is more deeply buried and difficult to find. However, there are still occasional reports of people finding gold flakes or small nuggets in the riverbed.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in gold panning in the Fraser River valley. This is due in part to the rising price of gold, which has made it more profitable to pursue small-scale mining. Additionally, there are now a number of companies that offer gold panning tours and classes, making it easier for people to get started.

In the bed of the river itself at each season of flood, a partial rearrangement of the material occurs and additional supplies of gold are brought in by the wearing away of the banks, a feature having an important bearing on the probable successful application of hydraulic mining to some of these deposits.

Though no longer exceptionally rich, the bars and benches of the Fraser River seem to afford a practically inexhaustible supply of gold.

While the chances of striking it rich are slim, gold panning can be a fun and rewarding activity. It is a great way to get outdoors, enjoy nature, and learn about the history of the Fraser River Gold Rush.

Related: The Places Where Gold Can Still Be Found in America

How Ancient Greek Knowledge Was Saved by the Islamic Golden Age

Painting depicting a group of Islamic golden age scholars
Scholars at libraries across the Arab world, particularly in the House of Wisdom, translated and preserved ancient Greek knowledge during the Golden Age of Islam. Painting of scholars in an Abbasid library by Yahya al-Wasiti, 1237. Credit: Public Domain

The Islamic Golden Age was a period during which science, literature, geometry, astronomy, and other fields of knowledge flourished from the eighth to the thirteenth century. Without the scholars of this period, who translated the works of the Ancient Greeks, it is likely that much of ancient knowledge would have been lost.

Algebra, which comes from an Arabic word ( al-jabr,الجبر)  was developed during the period, and we owe our numerals to Arabic scholars. Doctors made advances in the diagnosis of cancer and even performed complex surgeries during that period.

Countless stars were discovered and astronomical theories were developed by scholars during the Islamic Golden Age, as well.

The cultural, scientific, and political growth during the Islamic Golden Age was noted throughout the Muslim world, which stretched from Central Asia, the Middle East, across North Africa, and all the way to Spain.

Yet, the most prominent city during the period was Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, where the House of Wisdom was established by Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the late eighth century.

Baghdad was center of knowledge, progress

As Baghdad was the largest city in the Islamic world at the time and the center of culture and trade, scholars from across the globe journeyed there to study, learn, and write at the House of Wisdom.

As the House of Wisdom, which mirrors the great Library of Alexandria, was destroyed by the Mongols during the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, there is virtually no archeological evidence for the contents and layout of the structure.

There is some debate as to whether the House of Wisdom served as a public academy, where intellectuals and poets gathered to share knowledge or a private library for the Abbasid Caliphs.

Either way, its prominence as an intellectual site is well documented by contemporary writing and the many works of scientific and scholarly importance produced there.

During the Islamic Golden Age, scholars translated massive amounts of important works of poetry, mathematics, and science from ancient cultures around the world, particularly of Ancient Greece.

These scholars, often fluent in Latin, ancient Greek, Arabic, and Syriac, hunted down the most important texts from ancient cultures across the world and translated them into Arabic, allowing them to be widely studied throughout the Islamic world.

islamic golden age ancient greek
A 13th century manuscript of an Arabic translation of the ancient Greek pharmacological text “De Materia Medica” by Dioscorides. Credit: Public Domain

Scholars of Islamic Golden Age translated ancient Greek works

This knowledge was easily spread across the Muslim world because Arabs had learned the art of making paper quickly and effectively from the Chinese, allowing them to disperse manuscripts quite quickly.

Europeans later learned this paper-making technique from the Arabs.

At the time, Arabic was a “lingua franca,” a language used to communicate across many cultures, much like English today.

Using the knowledge of the ancient Greeks, countless Islamic scholars expanded knowledge of biology, geometry, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy.

The movement was characterized by a quest for knowledge that the Abbasid Caliphs considered to be required by the Quran, as it was included in the Hadith, or the record of the Prophet Mohammad’s sayings and actions.

It is inaccurate, however, to assume that all those who participated in the Islamic Golden Age were Muslims. In fact, many Christians, Jews, and members of other faiths were prominent intellectual figures during the time.

Thus, the caliphs spent large sums of their vast wealth sponsoring not only scholars who were conducting research but also translators who worked to disperse the knowledge of ancient cultures.

Islamic golden age scholars preserved the knowledge of ancient Greeks

This wave of intellectual curiosity and state-sponsored research in the Islamic world was a sharp contrast to Europe, which was in what some used to call the Dark Ages, when literacy rates were low and theology was preferred to knowledge from antiquity.

During this time, in much of Europe, much of the works of Aristotle, Archimedes, and other important ancient Greek figures were completely lost or even unknown.

Yet, the Muslim world was alight with the fire of knowledge, as scribes tirelessly translated the works of ancient Greek scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians, whose works later inspired some of the most important intellectuals in history.

While the quest for knowledge led scholars of the Islamic Golden Age to the works of the ancient Greeks, theology also played a part.

Muslims believe that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, contains within its pages the entirety of the world of existence, which includes all realms of art and science.

Hence, many theologians of the period pored over texts from ancient Greek sources in an attempt to find analogous sections of the Quran to prove that Islam was the true faith.

The Golden Age of Islam came to a close in the thirteenth century after years of invasions by Mongol armies.

Some consider the destruction of the House of Wisdom by the Mongols to mark the end of the period.

It is said that the Mongol invaders destroyed so many books from the city by throwing them into the Tigris River that the river itself turned black from the ink of the pages.

Lastly, as the Ottoman Empire began to gain power, the focus of the Islamic world began to shift to Turkey.

Cycladic Islands in Greece ‘Threatened by Surge in Tourism’

Cycladic Islands tourism
Folegandros has been designated among the 7 most endangered places in Europe. Public Domain

Tourism development in the Cycladic islands of Greece, and in particular Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, threatens the islands’ integrity, a recent report by Europa Nostra finds.

Europa Nostra is a pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage, representing citizens’ organizations that work on safeguarding Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. It is the voice of this movement to relevant international bodies, in particular the European Union, the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

The Cyclades, renowned for their unique charm and rich culture, find themselves grappling with a myriad of challenges it says are caused by unchecked construction.

Sifnos Greek island
Sifnos. Credit: Greek Reporter

Tourism creates challenges for Cycladic Islands

Despite driving economic growth, this brings along a host of environmental, cultural, and social issues, including the degradation of natural resources, damage to cultural and natural heritage, water scarcity, waste management problems, and socio-economic disparities.

“The islands are at risk of losing their exceptional and authentic character as increasing tourist-oriented construction threatens to overshadow their inherent allure,” Europa Nostra warns in its report.

It adds that of particular concern are the smaller island destinations within the Cyclades, which bear the brunt of overtourism. The strain on infrastructure and the escalating demand for accommodation present significant challenges. The clamor for new constructions beyond settlement boundaries has reached unprecedented levels.

The report includes data from the National Statistical Authority revealing a steady rise in new building permits from 916 in 2018 to 1,280 in 2022. The built square meters, escalating from 291,722 sqm in 2018 to 419,232 sqm in 2022, underscore the intensification of construction activities, Europa Nostra notes.

Islands are among the most endangered in Europe

The nomination of the Cyclades, in particular of the islands of Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, to the 7 Most Endangered Program 2024 was made by Elliniki Etairia – Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage.

“The three islands were chosen because of their particularity: they were not very touristic islands, but in recent years they have been changing rapidly. Therefore, we must highlight the problem to preserve them,” said Stathis Potamitis the president of Elliniki Etairia.

“Our organization tries to approach the issues in a balanced way. That is why he does not condemn development, but we raise the issue of tourism development in the Cyclades in terms of sustainability. We must not be carried away by the explosion of their popularity, which will disappear after a few years after it would have caused irreversible damage,” he added.

Elliniki Etairia advocates for strategic policy-based measures to address the pressing issues in the Cyclades, proposing a comprehensive approach to safeguard the islands’ integrity.

Immediate priorities include establishing the Special Spatial Plan for Tourism to regulate and manage activities, along with instituting a binding Regional Spatial Plan of South Aegean.

The proposal also emphasizes the need for Local Urban Plans to define landscape enhancement zones, collaborate between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment for policy convergence, and create specific institutional regulations to integrate carrying capacity into spatial planning.

These are the 11 most endangered monuments and heritage sites in Europe shortlisted by Europa Nostra for 2024:

Archaeological Site of Muret e Portës, Durrës, ALBANIA
Amberd Historical and Cultural Reserve, ARMENIA
Palais du Midi, Brussels, BELGIUM
Working-class Housing (courées) in Roubaix-Tourcoing, FRANCE
Cycladic Islands, notably Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, GREECE
Church of San Pietro in Gessate, Milan, ITALY
Synagogue of Siena, ITALY
Palace in Sztynort, northern Masuria, POLAND
Home of the Yugoslav People’s Army in Šabac, SERBIA
Greek Orthodox Church of St. Georgios, Altınözü / Hatay province, TÜRKIYE
Iron Gate of Antioch, Antakya / Hatay province, TÜRKIYE

Related: Overtourism in Greece Makes Travelers Change Vacation Dates

Ancient Humans of Arabia Lived in Lava Tube Caves, Study Finds

Umm Jirsan Cave
Researchers reveal that ancient humans of Arabia lived in Umm Jirsan cave. Credit: Stewart M / PLOS ONE / CC BY 4.0

Aerial views show thousands of stone structures scattered across the Arabian peninsula. On the ground, ancient tools and fire pits lay near old lakes, with artwork showing hunting scenes on mountain walls.

Archaeologists only recently started exploring these sites, despite their visibility. Some structures date back 10,000 years.

The harsh climate – scorching days, freezing nights, and strong winds – damages many relics. So far, few fossils or layered deposits revealing history have been found, according to The Conversation.

Until recently, no archaeologists had explored the many caves and lava tubes in northern Arabia. In 2019, the researchers started investigating these underground spots. In a new study published in PLoS ONE, researchers reveal the first known human presence in a lava tube in the Arabian Peninsula.

Umm Jirsan tube formed due to cooling of lava

Located about 125 kilometers north of Madinah, the Umm Jirsan lava tube sits within the Harrat Khaybar lava field. Formed by cooling lava, this tube stretches an impressive 1.5 kilometers, with heights reaching 12 meters and widths extending to 45 meters in certain areas.

Upon entering the tube’s dark, winding tunnels, one is immediately struck by the abundance of animal remains. The floor is littered with stacks of bones, containing possibly thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of well-preserved fossils, as reported by The Conversation.

These bone piles are the result of striped hyenas dragging bones underground for various purposes: to consume, store for times of scarcity, or feed to their offspring. Over thousands of years, this process has led to extraordinary accumulations of fossils, unmatched anywhere else in the world.

However, it’s not just bones filling the space. During our survey of the entrances to Umm Jirsan – areas where the roof has collapsed, providing access to the lava tube – researchers discovered hundreds of stone tools crafted from obsidian, chert, and basalt.

Stone artifacts found 75 centimeters below the surface

The researchers conducted excavations at the entrance of the eastern passage, close to a series of semi-circular stone structures whose age and purpose remain unknown.

The dig revealed additional stone tools, all crafted from fine-grained green obsidian, along with animal bones and charcoal.

Moreover, the majority of these stone artifacts were found in a distinct sediment layer approximately 75 centimeters below the surface.

Through radiocarbon dating of the charcoal and optically stimulated luminescence dating of the sediments, researchers determined that this primary occupation phase likely occurred between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago.

In addition to these recent discoveries within the lava tube, experts found intriguing objects scattered across the surrounding landscape. Among these were additional stone tools, circular structures, and a peculiar “I-type” structure.

These constructions are thought to date back approximately 7,000 years, as they are linked to large rectangular structures called mustatils, which experts think were utilized for ritual animal sacrifices.

Mediterranean Diet Tied to Lower Blood Pressure, Greek Study Shows

Mediterranean Diet
A spoonful of olive oil in your daily diet is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. Credit: LexnGer / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Looking at data spanning 20 years, Greek researchers found that people who consistently followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a lower risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) than those with the lowest adherence to the diet.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypertension affects nearly half of all adults in the United States.

It occurs when someone’s blood pressure is 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher. When left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart disease, stroke, and even kidney disease.

Researchers from the School of Health Sciences and Education at Harokopio University of Athens, in Greece, conducted a study that lasted 20 years to see what benefits adhering to the Mediterranean diet can have.

The study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, began in 2002 and lasted through 2022. The researchers invited 4,056 people living in Greece to participate, and of that group, 3,042 signed up.

The average age of the participants at the beginning of the study was 41 years, with men making up 44 percent of the group and women making up 56 percent. One of the requirements for participating was that participants could not be hypertensive at the beginning of the study.

The researchers collected a variety of information on the participants at the beginning of the study. They made sure the participants did not have cardiovascular disease, checked glucose and cholesterol levels, checked their body weight and blood pressure, and conducted an interview to gauge their dietary and lifestyle habits.

Participants in the study followed the Mediterranean diet

To see how well the participants followed aspects of the Mediterranean diet at the beginning of the study, they assigned them a MedDietScore, scoring positively based on consuming the following food groups:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • potatoes
  • legumes
  • fish
  • olive oil

The participants received points based on these food groups. Higher scores indicated better adherence to the diet. Participants could lose points for consuming “non-Mediterranean” foods or food groups, including full-fat dairy products, poultry, and red meat.

Over the next 20 years, the researchers followed up with the participants to assess their MedDietScore, check their vitals, and look for the development of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Results of the study

The researchers included 1,415 participants in their final sample. They found that participants who closely followed the Mediterranean diet had the lowest risk of developing hypertension.

Participants in the group who had the lowest MedDietScore – and therefore did more poorly at adhering to the diet – had hypertension rates of 35.5 percent at the end of the study. The middle group had a hypertension rate of 22.5 percent.

In comparison, the group with the highest MedDietScore, who adhered to the Mediterranean diet the best, had a hypertension incidence rate was 8.7 percent.

The scientists also analyzed what differences adhering to the Mediterranean diet had over time. Diet adherence in the study was measured using a longitudinal change in the MedDietScore from the initial assessment in 2002 to a follow-up in 2012.

The researchers were interested in seeing what difference sticking close to the diet consistently, rather than inconsistent adherence, might have.

According to the study paper, “[c]ompared to subjects who were consistently away from the Mediterranean diet, only those who were consistently close exhibited a 46.5% lower 20-year [hypertension] risk.”

Overall, the study results emphasize the importance of eating habits in reducing the risk of developing hypertension. It also shows that the Mediterranean diet can be instrumental in lowering hypertension risk.

Greek Adoptees to Meet in Louisville for Third Annual Reunion

Greek adoptees
Greek-born adoptees gather for the first-ever reunion in front of the Parthenon replica in Nashville, USA in 2022. Credit: Eftychia Project

After the amazing success of the first two Annual Greek Adoptee Reunions in Nashville, TN in August 2022 and in their homeland of Greece in October 2023, Greek-born adoptees are poised to converge on Louisville, KY for the Third Annual Greek Adoptee Reunion, June 20-22, 2024.

Greek adoptees and their family members from across the nation will attend the annual gathering, hosted by the Eftychia Project, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance and support, free of charge, to Greek adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their children lost to adoption.

The organization was founded in 2019 by Linda Carol Trotter, a Greek-born adoptee and activist for Greek adoptee birth and identity rights.

“We are so excited for this event,” says Linda Carol, the President of the Eftychia Project.

“Our first two Reunions were resounding successes, and we are excited to be back in the USA for our third. We chose Louisville because it is centrally located in the eastern US and within a day’s drive of 2/3 of the US population, plus there are so many fun activities to do there.

“The response so far has been overwhelming, and we can’t wait for this opportunity for a special time of fun, fellowship and bonding as we build connection and community in a loving and supporting environment. The camaraderie at these Reunions is truly priceless.”

Greek adoptees
Greek adoptees visited the Parthenon in 2023 during their second reunion. Credit: The Eftychia Project

Thousands of Greek children were sent from Greece for adoption abroad, mainly to the United States, through often questionable means, in Cold War decades of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. While some adoptees were fortunate to have good parents, the lack of oversight by either the Greek or American governments often resulted in others being placed with unsuitable or abusive parents.

Now mature adults, “The ‘Orphans’ from Greece”, as the award-winning documentary from ViceTV describes them, are finding their voices and demanding their birth and identity rights in ever-growing numbers.

Program of the third Greek adoptee reunion

Unlike the two previous Reunions, this one will not have a conference or speakers. Rather, it will be an opportunity for Greek adoptees to meet one another, share their lived experiences and just have fun together. Adoptees are invited to bring their spouse/partner/children/travel buddy along as well.

The host hotel is the Cambria Hotel – Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville, within walking distance to the riverfront, restaurants and many attractions.

The Reunion begins on Thursday evening, June 20 with a Welcome Reception/Cocktail Party in the Backstretch Ballroom, with food, drinks, Greek music & dancing, goody bags and a program guide for all participants.

On Friday, June 21, group activities include a morning visit to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, and an evening ghost tour of Old Louisville, one of the largest Victorian districts and one of the most haunted places in the US.

On Saturday, June 22, the adoptees will visit the Louisville Slugger Bat Factory and Museum in the morning.

“We are not alone”

“Having attended both of the previous two Reunions, these are wonderful opportunities to connect with others like ourselves,” says Dimitrios Christo, a Greek-born adoptee and the Secretary of the Eftychia Project.

“We find we are not alone. There’s an instant bond, especially for those who were only children. You walk away from these Reunions with not just friends but with brothers and sisters.”

Steven Graeter, the Parliamentarian of the organization and also a Greek-born adoptee who was reunited with his biological family through the Eftychia Project, agrees: “These Reunions are all about connection, and they give adoptees a sense of belonging to something or someone. But they also give adoptees the tools, resources and the help they need to aid them in their searches and to connect with their biological families in Greece.”

More information on the reunion of Greek adoptees can be found at the Eftychia Project website.