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Posts Tagged ‘madagascar

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber praises Candice Delmas’ new book on the duty of resistance to injustice.
  • D-Brief looks at how the designers of robots took lessons from wasps in designing a new robotic swarm that can pull relatively massive objects in flight.
  • Dead Things notes new evidence that the now-extinct elephant birds of Madagascar were nocturnal.
  • Far Outliers notes how the reeducation of Japanese prisoners of war by Chinese Communists helped influence American policy towards Japan, imagining a Japan that could be reformed away from imperialism.
  • At the Island Review, Alex Ingram profiles–with photos–some of the many different people who are the lone guardians of different small isolated islands removed from the British mainland.
  • JSTOR Daily notes how asteroids can preserve records of the distant past of the solar system.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money has contempt for Pence’s use of Messianic Jews to stand in for the wider, non-Christian, Jewish community.
  • At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen considers the consequence that a decline of art galleries might have on the wider field of modern art.
  • The NYR Daily considers the lessons that Thucydides, writing about Athens, might have for the United States now.
  • Anjali Kumar at Roads and Kingdoms writes about a meal of technically illegal craft beer served with raw shrimp in Bangkok.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel illustrates the six different ways a start can end up in a supernova.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that official Russian efforts to reach out to the Russian diaspora do not extend to non-Russian minorities’ own diasporas, like that of the Circassians of the North Caucasus.
  • Arnold Zwicky, starting by noting the passing of Dorcas, she who invented green bean casserole, looks at different pre-prepared foodstuffs.

[ISL] Five islands links: Unalaska, Haida Gwaii, Taiwan and Polynesia, Greenland, Madagascar

  • The BBC reports on the Alaskan island of Unalaska, part of the Aleutian chain and fought over during the Second World War.
  • Airbnb and short-term stays are apparently contributing to a housing crisis on Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Global News reports.
  • Duncan De’Aeth at Taiwan News writes about the Hawaiki Project, an initiative to connect the indigenous tribes of the Pacific with the tribes of Taiwan, distant relatives on Austronesians’ island of origin.
  • Though the shedding of icebergs from icecap in Greenland may attract tourists, it also endangers local communities. Wired reports.
  • Marginal Revolution reports that, despite its deep poverty, Madagascar has some of the fastest broadband internet speeds on the planet.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams considers how the especially intense luminosity of young red dwarf stars compared to their more massive counterparts can complicate issues of long-term habitability. (Some worlds which were in the circumstellar habitable zone of the young star might not be, while other worlds which were closer might have been baked.)
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that in binary star systems, the other stars have to be taken into account in calculating habitability.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes China’s long-term plan for space, including a manned space station.
  • Language Log notes a new Cantonese word for shopping, borrowed from the Mandarin.
  • Languages of the World notes how genes and sociolinguistics help explain why Madagascar is dominated by speakers of Austronesian languages.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money features a guest post from Lisa Miller talking about how police racism demonstrates political failure in the United States.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw talks about his own interest in sculpture.
  • Towleroad notes how the Chinese gay social app Blued is working with the government to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy talks about the idea of Sweden having a feminist foreign policy.
  • Why I Love Toronto talks about an upcoming holiday event at the Gladstone Hotel (this Saturday) combining beer-tasting and sweater-knitting.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the Ukrainian launch of a satellite television station directed at Crimea and Russia proper, and notes continuing threats to non-Russian languages in Russia.

[LINK] “The settlement of Madagascar: Thirty lost souls”

The history of Madagascar, an island-nation located off of the southeastern coast of Africa is singular. The Economist‘s article “The settlement of Madagascar: Thirty lost souls” explains why, and points to recent research proving that modern Madagascar has its roots in a surprisingly small movement of people across the Indian Ocean.

Madagascar is renowned for its unusual animals, particularly its lemurs, a group of primates extinct elsewhere on the planet. Its human population, though, is equally unusual. The island was one of the last places on Earth to be settled, receiving its earliest migrants in the middle of the first millennium AD. Moreover, despite Madagascar’s proximity to Africa (400km, or 250 miles, at the closest point) those settlers have long been suspected of having arrived from the Malay Archipelago—modern Indonesia—more than 6,000km away.

There are three reasons for this suspicion. First, it has been recognised for centuries that the Malagasy language, though distinct, borrows a lot of words from Javanese, Malay and the tongues of Borneo and Sulawesi. Second, the islanders’ culture includes artefacts ranging from boats with outriggers to xylophones, and crops such as bananas and rice, that are (or, rather, were then) characteristically Asian, not African. And third, genetic evidence has linked the modern Malagasy with people living in eastern Indonesia as well as farther off in Melanesia and Oceania.

Now, Murray Cox of Massey University in New Zealand and his colleagues have put the matter beyond doubt by showing not only where the first settlers came from, but also how many of them there were. And the answer is surprisingly few. Though Dr Cox is unable, with the method he used, to work out how many men were in the original party, the number of women was 30.

He drew this conclusion, just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, by sampling the DNA of 266 Malagasy people and comparing it with existing samples from 2,745 Indonesians. He concentrated on DNA from mitochondria. These are cellular components involved in energy production that are descended from bacteria which became symbiotic with humanity’s ancestors almost 2 billion years ago, and thus have their own genes. People inherit mitochondria only from their mothers, which is why only the female line of descent can be tracked using them.

[. . .]

Having confirmed that Malagasy and Indonesian DNA separated about 1,200 years ago, which is statistically close to the date archaeologists suggest Madagascar was colonised, the team then asked their data how many women, drawn at random from the Malay Archipelago of that period, would have been needed to explain the variation in mitochondrial DNA in Madagascar. The answer was about 30.

That answer bears on a second question: was the colonisation of Madagascar a deliberate act or an accident? The first is possible. At the time, much of the Malay Archipelago was in the hands of the Srivijayan empire, an entity that could certainly have sent expeditions across the Indian Ocean, had it so willed. But there is no historical evidence that it did. In any case if it had, it is likely that a successful colonisation by one group would have been followed by others, as happened when Europeans discovered the Americas.

Most likely, then, the first Malagasy were accidental castaways, news of whose adventure never made it back home. But there is still a puzzle. Most ships’ crews are male. Though the number of men in the original party will remain obscure until an analysis like Dr Cox’s is done on the Y-chromosome of Malagasy men (Y-chromosomes include DNA passed exclusively down the male line in the way that mitochondrial DNA is passed down the female line), the presence of women on board a trading vessel would have been unusual. Unless, of course, the women themselves were the objects being traded. Possibly, then, Madagascar was colonised by an errant slave ship. Which would make its history even stranger than anyone had previously thought.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 24, 2012 at 3:02 am