Friday, 24 February 2017

One of us: Altamura Man

Neanderthals are a species or subspecies of Hominids within the genus Homo that went extinct some 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals and modern humans share 99.7% of their DNA. Since humans have inherited 1 to 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals, we must have had sex with our ancestral brothers and sisters (scientists call this 'interbreeding')[1]. To produce offspring, both species must be genetically very close. Therefore my suggestion is that it would probably be better to regard both modern man (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) as subspecies of Homo sapiens, which means that the former should be called Homo sapiens sapiens and the latter Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.
In 1993, a fossil hominin skeleton was discovered by cave explorers in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy. The remains were embedded in rock and were covered in a thick layer of calcite, leaving only the head and part of a shoulder visible. They lie in a karst borehole rich in limestone amid running water. It was thought that excavating the remains would cause irreparable damage and thus, they have remained in situ for over twenty years, leaving researchers to rely on casual observation for their studies. For that reason, there was some debate initially about morphology and age.

Recently, the retrieval from the cave of a tiny fragment of the right shoulder blade allowed the first dating of the individual, indicating that it belongs to Homo neanderthalensis (or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), with some peculiarities that appear consistent with a date of around 150,000 years[2]. Thus, the skeleton from Altamura represents the most ancient Neanderthal from which endogenous DNA has ever been extracted. And that's a feat in itself.

[1] Lari et al: The Microcephalin Ancestral Allele in a Neanderthal Individual in PloS One – 2010. See here.
[2] Lari et al: The Neanderthal in the karst: First dating, morphometric, and paleogenetic data on the fossil skeleton from Altamura (Italy) in Journal of Human Evolution – 2015

Friday, 17 February 2017

Tilos Dwarf Elephant

When fossil remains of dwarf elephant or dwarf mammoths were found in the Mediterranean basin, these remains were once usually attributed to trade[1].
Two groups of remains of dwarf elephants have been found on the island of Tilos. Since no migration route between the any other island can be proved, the species should be named Tilos Dwarf Elephant (Elephas tiliensi). It was the latest paleoloxodontine to survive in Europe. They didn't become extinct until around 4000 BC, so this elephant survived well into the Holocene and thus was alive during the the start of the Egyptian civilisation.

The Tilos dwarf elephant is the first dwarf elephant whose DNA sequence has been studied. The results of this research are consistent with previous morphological reports, according to which it is more closely related to Elephas than to Loxodonta or Mammuthus[2].

The most recent research confirms that the origin of the Tilos and Cyprus elephantids is consistent with a lineage within the genus Elephas, while the DNA-sequence from the Cretan sample falls clearly within the mammoth clade[3]. Thus, the scientific name of the Cretan Dwarf Mammoth Mammuthus creticus rather than Elephas creticus, seems to be justified for this form.

[1] Theodorou, Symeonides : The excavations of the last ten years at Charkadio cave on Tilos Island, Dodekanese, Greece in The World of Elephants – 2001
[2] Poulakakis et al: Molecular phylogeny of the extinct pleistocene dwarf elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus falconeri from Tilos Island, Dodekanisa, Greece in Journal of Molecular Evolution – 2002
[3] Poulakakis et al: Ancient DNA forces reconsideration of evolutionary history of Mediterranean pygmy elephantids in Biology Letters – 2006

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Did dwarf elephants survive until the Bronze Age?

Earlier I wrote about the Cretan Dwarf Mammoth and the Cypriot Dwarf Elephant that once roamed the Mediterranean islands. On a beautifully decorated tomb wall of Rekh-mi-Re, vizier during the reigns of Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II (from about 1470 to 1445 BC), we can find a strange image: a small, tusked, hairy elephant, shown as being waist-high to the accompanying people[1].
[Part of Rekh-mi-Re's tomb]
Suppose that the elephant in Rekh-mi-Re's tomb is a depiction of one of the dwarf Mediterranean island-dwelling species. Most of the dwarf Mediterranean elephants were Pleistocene animals that were long extinct by the time of the Pharoahs, but one researcher noted that a population of dwarfed elephants (Elephas tiliensis) seems to have lingered on in isolation on the Greek island of Tilos (located between Rhodes and Kos)[2].
[Detail of image above]
Radiocarbon dating of the Tilos Dwarf Elephants apparently puts some of them as recent as about 4300 years old (+/- 600 years), meaning that they overlapped with the presence of Bronze Age people on the island[2]. If we stretch the dates to its absolute maximum, we get 4300 minus 600 minus 2017 is 1683 BC. As Rekh-mi-Re died around 1445 BC, we're still around 240 years short, but maybe the artist pictured a dwarf elephant as it was known to exist.

Therefore, the remote possibility exists that one or more of these dwarf elephants from Tilos were captured by ancient Aegeans and then traded between Aegeans, Near Eastern people and Egyptians – in fact, trade was already occurring between these regions during the late Bronze Age. This sequence of events might be the answer as to why an image dwarf elephant appears on a wall in a tomb of Rekh-mi-Re

[1] Rosen: Mammoths in ancient Egypt? in Nature – 1994
[2] Masseti: Did endemic dwarf elephants survive on Mediterranean islands up to protohistorical times? in La terra degli Elefanti – 2001. See here.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Koum Kuat of Corfu

Kam kwat (金橘) in Cantonese may well originate from kin-ku in Chinese. Translated it means 'golden orange' and it is the origin of the name of both the tree and the fruit called 'kumquat'. The tree grows to about four meters in height and is cultivated for its fruit but it is also a decorative indoor plant. Its leaves are dark green, bayonet shaped and its flowers similar to that of the orange tree. Its fruit is either round or oblong shaped depending on the variety and reaches a diameter of about four centimeters. When raw, its taste is tangy and bittersweet and the fruit is not particularly juicy.
The tree has been extensively cultivated on the Greek island of Corfu since its introduction in around 1860 by British botanist Sidney Merlin (1856–1952). He also introduced a variety of orange, the Washington Navel, to his estate on Corfu in 1925.

Today the kumquat, which has earned a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status in 1994, is mainly cultivated on northern Corfu near the village of Nimfes. Annual production amounts to about 140 tonnes.

Most of the crop ends up as liqueur, but the fruit is also used in cooking. It even finds its way into perfumes.
Kumquats are ideal for liqueurs, jams, marmelades and glyka tou koutaliou ('spoon sweets'), which is fruit in syrup. Koum Kuat of Corfu is a pleasant liqueur made from kumquat fruits, with an aroma and taste that resemble oranges and strawberries. It is produced exclusively on the island of Corfu.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Kitron of Naxos

Kitron of Naxos is a citron liqueur produced solely on the Greek island of Naxos. It is made from the fruit and leaves of the citron tree (Citrus medica), which is similar to the lemon tree (Citrus x lemon) but stronger and slightly different in taste.
Once, the citrons were exported in large quantities preserved in seawater and braced by additional salt. The cultivation of the citron tree and the marketing of its fruit constituted an integral part of agricultural economy. It flourished on the island of Naxos for at least three centuries, before gradually decreasing in the post-war years. The drink was briefly fashionable during the early 1980s, but is difficult to find today outside Naxos due to a shortage of citron trees.

The production of Kitron of Naxos begins with the harvest of the leaves, when their aroma is at its peak, i.e. from October to February. Any dry or unsuitable parts are removed from the leaves, which are then placed into traditional copper stills along with their stems and peels, water and alcohol. They are left to infuse the alcohol for at least twelve hours and subsequently distilled until the 100% citron distillate is obtained.
The distillate is then diluted with water, whereas sugar and natural colorants are in turn added to distinguish the various types of the Kitron of Naxos liqueur. The driest and strongest liqueur (36%) is yellow, there's an intermediate version that is colourless and has less alcohol (33%) and sugar, and there's a green one that has the highest amount of sugar content and the lowest alcoholic strength (30%).

The production of Kitron of Naxos started at least two centuries ago. The first proper distillery was established in 1896 in the village of Halki, while the first export was in 1928.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Mountain Tea is giving Greeks economic hope

It was in 2011 that Demetri Chriss, chief operating officer of Tuvunu—a Greek producer of all-natural beverages, traveled to Trace, near the Greco-Turkish border.

Demetri envisioned a future in which people from the farming communities of Thrace cultivated their land to produce Sideritis for a new, all-natural bottled version of the drink that everyone’s grandmother calls a cure-all. Sideritis (or Greek mountain tea) grows wild in the mountainous areas of Greece. For centuries, it has been used to prepare a hot infusion, a folk remedy for winter colds and sore throats.
Those mountainous villages of Thrace are home to a small community, the Pomaks, Greek Muslims who speak a local Slavic dialect and who, until 1993, were subject to discriminatory policies that barred them from leaving their villages after sunset or having visitors from outside the area without authorization. Now, most of the local men are working at shipyards in Germany.

It still is an extremely poor area that is mostly known for the farming of tobacco, a crop that is under increasing threat from diminishing subsidies and health issues.

Now, farmers gather a large number of seeds from each crop they produce and, along with Tuvunu agronomists, provide new Sideritis farmers both with the plants and the expertise needed for them to obtain optimal results from the very beginning.
The factory receives the dried Sideritis. Local honey and freshly sqeezed lemons from southern Greece are put with the Sideritis in a 17,000-liter tank containing warm water, essentially replicating the way Sideritis has been traditionally boiled in homes around Greece since antiquity, but on much larger scale.
Gathering wild Sideritis plants is strictly prohibited by law and Tuvunu refuses to accept any plants that cannot be traced to a certified grower in order to conserve the wild flora of the species.

Some women have gone from being unemployed to becoming an employer themselves: they hire men to hoe the fields. The cultivation of Siteritis have made a number of women financially independent and that is a tremendous leap forward for women, who until recently were expected to stay at home in their predominantly patriarchal communities.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

EU: Western Sahara not part of Morocco

Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert bordering on Morocco. A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people. A 16-year-long insurgency ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence which has yet to take place.
Although under the de facto administrative control of Morocco, the status and sovereignty of Western Sahara remain unresolved and numerous direct talks have failed to break the political deadlock.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on September 12, 2016, ruled that the Western Sahara is not part of the territory of Morocco. The ruling in favour of the Sahrawi people stipulates that the European Union (EU) and its Member States do not recognise Morocco as having sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

According to Advocate General, Melchior Wathelet, the ruling also means that neither the EU-Morocco Association Agreement nor the EU-Morocco Agreement on the liberalisation of trade in agricultural and fishery products apply to the Western Sahara.

A statement from the ECJ highlighted that “since 1963, Western Sahara has been included by the UN on its list of non-self-governing territories, which comes within the scope of its resolution on the exercise of the right to self-determination by colonial peoples.”

Last year the General Court of the European Union annulled the agricultural and fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco stating that the measures were illegally applied to the Western Sahara and infringed upon the fundamental rights of the people of the territory.

Morocco isn't likely to secede the territory because it has large phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast, Western Sahara is also believed to have as yet untapped large offshore oil deposits.

Why do I see so many similarities between Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and Turkey's occupation of northern Cyprus?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Europe's oldest tree lives in Greece

A Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii) growing in the highlands of northern Greece has been dendrocronologically dated to be more than 1075 years old. This makes it currently the oldest known living tree in Europe.

"It is quite remarkable that this large, complex and impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a land that has been civilized for over 3000 years" says Swedish dendrochronologist, Paul J. Krusic, leader of the expedition that found the tree. It is one of more than a dozen individuals of millennial age, living in a treeline forest high in the Pindos mountains.
In our research, we try to build long chronologies to construct climate histories, so finding living trees of old age is one of our motivations. To age the tree, we needed to take a core of wood, from the outside to the center. The core is one meter and has 1075 annual rings" says Krusic.

The scientists hope the annual variations of the tree rings from trees like this and those fallen in centuries past, yet still preserved on the ground, will provide an informative history of climatic and environmental conditions, going back thousands of years. Considering where the tree was found, and its venerable age, the scientists have named this individual 'Adonis' after the Greek god of beauty and desire.

"I am impressed, in the context of western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree; all the empires, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, all the people living in this region. So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years." says Krusic.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

2,400-year old tomb discovered on Cyprus

Details on a 2,400-year-old tomb of a high-status family that was excavated in Soli or Soloi (Greek: Σόλοι), Northern Cyprus, are finally being unveiled. Jewelry, weapons, human remains, figurines, and so-called symposium vessels were found at the tomb and the early analysis of these artifacts provides a glimpse into the social structure and trade practices of ancient Soloi.

The tomb complex, constructed between 400 BC and 350 BC, consists of three burial chambers, one of which was looted. The others contained the artifacts. Of these objects, one of the most impressive is a golden wreath in the shape of an ivy plant, complete with details such as berries.
These goods led the archaeologists to believe that the tomb belonged to an aristocratic family. In one of the burial chambers the remains of a man, woman, and young girl were found. There were also a woman and young girl buried in another chamber. The looted chamber did not contain any human remains. Hazar Kaba, archaeologist, said that the artifacts further suggest that there was trade between Soloi and Athens 2,400 years ago: "This tomb complex proves that Soloi was in direct contact with Athens. Soloi was supplying Athens with its timber and copper, and in return, was obtaining luxurious goods such as symposium vessels.”

The archaeologist said that the golden wreath is similar to those placed in the tombs of wealthy Macedonians. Furthermore, the 16 symposium vessels and some of the jewelry are comparable to the styles used in the contemporary Achaemenid Empire. Symposium vessels are vessels used to serve people attending a "symposium," an event where men drank, talked and enjoyed entertainment. Some of these symposium vessels also may have come from Ionia and Macedonia. This accumulation of imported high-class objects further supports the idea that the family was part of the elite class in Soloi.

Soloi was one of the most important cities in Cyprus and was first populated by Mycenaean settlers in the late Bronze Age. It was probably chosen because the site was rich in copper, water and had rich soils. Soloi was prosperous for many years and did especially well throughout the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Early Christian periods.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Gaza's ancient shrines crumble

Most of the population of Gaza is claiming to be a devout Muslim. It certainly helps to get vast amount of donations from Saudi Arabia, but there is not much to show for it in Gaza itself.

After years of neglect, a large number of holy shrines and tombs have simply disappeared. Now only six remain and they are in a pittyful state. All that is left of the Sheikh Youssef shrine is a room surmounted by a dome made of ancient marble. Located on the main road in the village of Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Yunis, the shrine houses a tomb that Gazans believe contains the remains of a mysterious but righteous Muslim man. Although the shrine is in a crowded area, it has become so derelict over the past few years that it has now been closed to the public.
[Sheikh Youssef's shrine, Gaza]
The largest ancient shrine is the shrine of Sayyid Hashim, the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, located inside Sayyid Hashim Mosque in Gaza City. But people are starting to forget all about it as well. Certainly, not one government authority pays attention to it anymore.

The al-Khodr shrine, shabbily rebuilt in the 1930s, is considered a holy place for Muslims who believe that a Muslim sheikh named al-Khodr is buried there. However, the writing on the tombstone indicates that the shrine holds the remains of a Christian saint named Hilarius who escaped Roman persecution in the fourth century, when Emperor Julian recanted from Christianity and destroyed the monastery built by Hilarius on the shore of the Sea of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip. Which is at the very least indicative of the lack of professionalism of Gaza's historians.

Yet, Gaza has an official Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Jamal Abu Rida, head of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage says that his ministry is interested in preserving the shrines and other archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip. Well, if I were him, I would say the same thing, but the reality is that nothing has been done for years to preserve Gaza's cultural heritage. Saudi Arabia will not like that.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Cretan Earthquake of AD 365

Earthquakes are not an uncommon occurrence in the eastern Mediterranean. Every now and then the earth trembles, but sometimes the earth trembles a lot.
Historian Ammianus Marcellinus (ca AD 325-391) documented the devastating effects of a tsunami hitting Alexandria, Egypt, on July 21, AD 365. He wrote: "For a little before sunrise there was a terrible earthquake, preceded by incessant and furious lightning. The sea was driven backwards ... [then] the waves ...rose ... beat upon the islands and the extended coasts of the mainland, leveling cities and houses wherever they encountered them. ... vessels of great size were driven on shore by the violence of the wind, and cast upon the house-tops. … and some were even driven two miles inland[1].

Based on geophysical surveys and sediment cores from the Ionian Sea research shows that the 20–25 m thick layer of sediment was triggered, not by the perhaps better known Santorini caldera collapse, but by the 365 AD Cretan earthquake cum tsunami[2].
The magnitude of this quake is estimated at 8.3–8.5, which makes it a quite a large one. What happens is that such an extreme earthquake will not 'only' produce a devastating tsunami, but the earth itself can move in unexpected directions. Western parts of Crete rose as much as 9 meters, leaving harbours high and dry.

Can such an event happen again in our lifetime? The processes that resulted in the AD 365 earthquake are still at work. Plus, they also occur along the rest of the Hellenic subduction zone. The 1303 AD earthquake (also one of about magnitude 8) and tsunami are thought to have originated near Rhodes, so the entire Hellenic subduction zone may represent a tsunami hazard for the eastern Mediterranean. We should expect an 365-like earthquake every ~ 800 years[3]. That there has been only one other such event (in AD 1303) in the past 1,650 years should focus our attention on the modern-day earthquake and tsunami hazards in the Eastern Mediterranean. Remember that 1303 plus 800 makes 2103, which is already perilously close to our own era.

[1] Marcellinus: Res Gestae: 26.10.16–19. See here.
[2] Polonia et al: Mediterranean megaturbidite triggered by the AD 365 Crete earthquake and tsunami in Scientific Reports – 2013
[3] Shaw et al: Eastern Mediterranean tectonics and tsunami hazard inferred from the AD 365 earthquake in Nature – 2008. See here.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

An Ancient Wine from Cyprus

Commandaria's history dates back at least 3,000 years, although it was called Mana for much of that time. The ancient Greeks drank it at festivals celebrating Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who, according to myth, was born from the sea foam on the shores of Cyprus. The wine's modern name can be traced to the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Knights Templar and Knights of St. John established a headquarters (or commandery) in the growing region on the foothills of the Troödos mountains. and began to produce and export the wine commercially. Commandaria proved so popular with European palates that it is rumoured to have been served at King Richard the Lionheart's wedding.

Commandaria is a sweet dessert wine, with a dark amber to light brown color, and an intriguing taste that starts like honeyed raisins and figs and ends like coffee. To some it reminds them a bit of Hungarian Tokaji wine, while others say they find it pleasantly similar to Portuguese Madeira.

This ancient wine is made from two kinds of native grapes: white Xynisteri and red Mavro, which are partially dried in the sun to concentrate the juices even more before pressing and fermentation. While often a fortified wine, through its production method it often reaches alcohol contents of around 15% even before fortification.

By law, Commandaria wines must be aged for at least two years in oak barrels, but many of the best are aged for a decade or more.

Although its international popularity faded in the centuries after the knights lost power, Commandaria has been staging a comeback in recent decades. The name has been given "protected designation of origin status" in the European Union, the United States and Canada, and there is an official Commandaria wine region in southern Cyprus.

If you ever visit Cyprus (again), please give the Commandaria a try. You'll be surprised.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Mediterranean invaded by poisonous lion fish

The common lion fish (Pterois volitans) was originally 'only' found in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, South Africa and east of Sumatra. Lion fish are carnivores with a life span of up to 15 years. The largest of lion fish can grow to about 40 centimeters in length. Predators of lion fish are mostly larger lion fish. Despite the problems it causes, lion fishes are very suitable for human consumption.

The lion fish has now made its way to the Aegean Sea, particularly in the waters around the Greek island of Rhodes. It first appeared in the summer of 2015 after it swam into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

The Hydrobiological station of the Greek Center of Sea Research based on Rhodes recently issued an announcement on the appearance of the common lionfish in the Aegean Sea. 

The station warned that the fish’s venomous spines inject a powerful protein-based toxin in their prey. In fact they are so poisonous that they even might be deadly to humans. Its population is known for rapidly multiplying and for this reason is listed as an invasive species. First caught in fishing nets in January 2016 in the shallow waters off Faliraki beach and then off Lindos, both specimens are now on display at the Rhodes Aquarium.

But if these lionfishes are caught in waters around Rhodes, the surely must swim around Cyprus too? And yes they do. They are a danger to fishermen, divers, swimmers and spear hunters even though they use their spines to sting for defensive reasons, not offensive. Someone could touch a dead lion fish and still get injured. Even though they are not usually fatal, the pain and allergic reaction can be severe. If stung by a lion fish, it is recommended to immerse the wound in hot (but not scalding) water for about 30 minutes as soon as possible - the toxin quickly– this helps denature the lionfish venom and decrease pain.

Venomous or poisonous?

The terms venomous and poisonous are often used interchangeably, but incorrectly. There is, in fact, a difference between a venomous organism and a poisonous organism. Both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that is injurious or even lethal to another organism. However, the real difference between the two involves how that toxin is delivered.

Venomous organisms deliver or inject venom directly into other organisms. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, do not deliver their toxins directly. The entire body or large parts of it, may contain the poisonous substance. These organisms may be harmful when eaten or even touched.

The short answer is therefore: if it bites you and you die, it is venomous. If you bite it and die, it is poisonous.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Northern Cyprus and Tobacco

While tobacco production has declined in the rest of Europe, farmers in northern Cyprus have again planted tobacco plants. After a hiatus of twelve years, seedlings have been planted in fields around Karpaz (Greek Karpasia/Καρπασία) in the hope of a growing a sustainable crop.

The Karpaz Cooperative Tobacco Sale Company has been operating in the area since 1976, producing 50 to 60 tonnes of tobacco annually. However, since 2004, there has been no market for the crop. An attempt to grow tobacco two years ago failed.
A representative of the Cooperative told the media that Syria had been their main competitor, but the civil war which had caused a lack of production, had led to a gap in the market.

Previously, farmers around Karpaz grew ‘Yayla’ tobacco, which was said to be native to the region. Now, seedlings imported from Turkey will grow into an aromatic plant for pipe tobacco. The plant should be more resilient, as it is suitable for growing in drier regions.

The villagers have completed planting in March (2015), which traditionally was done in February. They hope to harvest the tobacco in June. A successful harvest will bring a profit in a few short months, bringing a much needed economic boost to the troubled region.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Greek Tobacco Production in Decline

Oriental tobacco or Turkish tobacco is a highly aromatic, small-leafed variety of tobacco which is sun-cured. Tobacco was first introduced into Greece in the seventeenth century, shortly after it was introduced into Turkey. It is also grown elsewhere, notably in Macedonia and Turkey. Oriental tobacco covers about 20% of the total area devoted to tobacco growing in the world.

The problem with smoking is, of course, that it is very unhealthy, leading from COPD via lung cancer to death. That is why governments try to discourage smoking. Large sums of money are needed to treat, cure and prevent the negative effects of smoking.
Since Greece's entry into the EU it is subject to its rules. In 2010 a system was phased out where tobacco farmers in 12 EU countries including Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Italy were receiving around €300 million in subsidies. After the subsidies ended, tobacco farming across the EU sharply declined.

Ah, you might think, that is finally an effective policy by those bureaucrats in Brussels. But no, the old subsidy was converted into direct payments (Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 simply gives money to the individual farmer) and rural development support (Regulation (EU) No 1309/2013 simply gives money to the region). The EU hoped to tempt farmers to change crops.
Did it work? A bit. Many Greek growers were reportedly abandoning tobacco farming in favour of other cash crops.

However, the decline of Greek production has mostly hurt the country’s Turkish minority, whose livelihood largely depends on tobacco growing. Some 200,000 ethnic Turks live - largely forgotten - in the north-eastern Greek province of western Thrace, which borders Turkey and Bulgaria, and 90 per cent are involved in tobacco production and trade.

Luckily Turkey has also forgotten about the plight of this Turkish minority and Greece won't face another invasion, like on Cyprus in 1974. Oh, wait.

Friday, 26 February 2016

[Missing person] Annie Constantinou

[Update 18 March, 2016] A woman found dead beside her car at the bottom of a 60-metre drop on the Troodos Karvounas road is believed to be missing Annie Constantinou. Her car was spotted in the morning by a motorist who informed the police. When officers went down the cliff they found the dead body of a woman “who looked like the 47-year-old missing Annie Constantinou”, the police said.
[Update 01 March, 2016] Police are still searching for 46-year-old Annie Constantinou who was reported missing last week. Neither Constantinou nor her car has been located.
[Update 06 March 2016] A Facebook-page has been established to help creating awareness. See here.

Annie Constantinou, 46, has been reported missing from her house in Makedonitissa, a suburb of Nicosia, since Tuesday, 23th of Februari 2016. She is described as 1.65m tall with red hair. She was wearing black leggings and a black and white top. She might have driven her beige Nissan March with licence plates AAS735. On the day she disappeared she had not given the impression that she was going somewhere in particular. She was not having marital or psychological problems. The police said that there is at the moment no suspicion of her disappearance being a criminal act.

Strangely, she does not appear to have her mobile phone with her. Police also looked into the possibility that she might have crossed to the north but it appears she did not, they said.
Georgia Agrios, a close friend of appealed for her to come home. “I understand how you feel,” was the message she wanted send to her friend. “If you have problems there is help which we will find. Just come home to your family.”

“Though I haven’t seen her for some time, we were very good friends,” Agrios said, adding that she hoped Constantinou would see her message.

Police are urging anyone who possesses any information that could help trace her to contact the Nicosia CID at 22802222 or the nearest police station. Or to call 1460.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Cretan Dwarf Mammoth

The smallest dwarf mammoth, standing at about 1 meter at the shoulders, has been uncovered on the Greek island of Crete. As explained here, with little or no predators and limited amounts of food, insular dwarfism might occur in large mammals. In other words: insular dwarfism helps giants survive within the limits imposed by islands.

Over the course of less than 800,000 years — a short stint on an evolutionary scale — these dwarf elephantsare thought to have descended from larger European elephants, weighing 100 times as much, which lived on mainland Europe.

Scientists analyzed dwarf fossils first discovered in Crete more than a century ago[1]. Paleontologists have long argued whether the remains belonged to curvy-tusked mammoths or straighter-tusked elephants. Teeth discovered more recently in the same area in Crete now suggest the animal was in fact a mammoth (Mammuthus creticus). A newly found foreleg bone suggests it was the smallest mammoth known, standing little over a meter high at the shoulders and weighing only approximately 300 kilograms, making it about the size of a modern baby African or Asian elephant.
These dwarf mammoths were not woolly mammoths. "When most people think of mammoths, they think of woolly mammoths," lead-scientist Victoria Herridge said. "We think this dwarf was more adapted to warmer environments, more in appearance like modern African or Asian elephants, with a sparse covering of hair, although they would have had curvy tusks like all mammoths."

The Cretan mammoth is the first evidence for extreme island dwarfism in mammoths. It would have been comparable in size to the smallest dwarf elephant known, the extinct Cyprus dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon cypriotes) from Crete or the Maltese dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon falconeri )from Sicily and Malta, which stood only about 1 m high at the shoulder and weighed only approximately 240 kg.
The fossils suggest this dwarf mammoth was descended from one of the first mammoth species to arrive in Europe from Africa. As such, the researchers suggest dwarf mammoths may have evolved much earlier than previously thought — possibly as far back as 3.5 million years ago.

Given the scant fossils and the uncertainty about Crete's environment during this period, not much is known about how this dwarf might have lived. Still, its teeth do suggest it browsed on shrubs as opposed to grass like woolly mammoths.

Insular mammoths are further known from Sardinia (Mammuthus lamarmorai) and the Californian Channel Islands (Mammuthus exilis), as well as Wrangel Island (northeast Siberia) and St Paul (Pribilof Islands, Alaska) (Mammuthus primigenius).

[1] Herridge, Lister: Extreme insular dwarfism evolved in a mammoth in Proceedings of the Royal Society B – 2012

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Cyprus Dwarf Elephant

The Cyprus dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon cypriotes) is an extinct species of elephant related to the living Asian elephant. It was among the only mammals on Cyprus before humans arrived, and it is thought the Cyprus dwarf elephant came to the island during the last Ice Age.

This species was only about one meter in height and is a case of 'insular dwarfism'. The factors responsible for the dwarfing of island mammals are thought to include the reduction in available food, a reduction or even absence of predation and competition. The Cyprus dwarf elephant became extinct around 11,000 BC.
Believed to be descended from the straight-tusked elephant, this much smaller species inhabited Cyprus. Closely related species roamed some other Mediterranean islands. Remains of the Maltese dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon falconeri) were found on Sicily and Malta (at Għar Dalam, pronounced 'ar dàlam' in Maltese and meaning 'Cave of Darkness'), while those of the Cretan dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon chaniensi) were found in Stylos and in the Vamos cave, near Chania, western Crete.

The estimated body weight of the Cyprus dwarf elephant was only some 200 kilogrammes, a staggering weight reduction of about 98% from its ancestors which weighed about 10 tonnes or more. Their molars however were about just 40% of the size of the mainland straight-tusked elephants.

Remains of the first Cyprus dwarf elephant were first discovered by British palaeontologist Dorothea Bate (1878–1951) in 1902. She found the fossilized bones of the elephant in a cave in the Kyrenia hills of Cyprus.
Human interference leading to the extinction to the Cyprus dwarf elephant has been a controversial topic over the last couple of decades. A rising theory is that most of the elephants died during the settlement of the Mediterranean islands. A claim to support this theory is that the early Greek settlers thousands of years later incorporated the dwarf elephant into their mythology calling them Cyclopses (one-eyed monsters)[1]. An alternative theory is that these early Greeks found a skull of an extinct Cyprus dwarf elephant and, not knowing that it belonged to an extinct elephant, thought it must belong to a mythical figure because the central nasal cavity - where the trunk was attached - could easily have been mistaken for a single eye socket.

[1] Massetti: Did endemic dwarf elephants survive on Mediterranean islands up to protohistorical times? See here.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Macedonia: Stepping on Greek's touchy toes

Macedonia is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. As a result of an ongoing dispute with Greece over use of the name Macedonia, the country still is officially known under the provisional description of 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' (shortened to FYROM).

Why do the Greek care so much about the name Macedonia?
Yes, the country that wants to call itself Macedonia today was called Paionia in antiquity. The geographic situation is made clear by Livy’s account of the creation of the Roman province of Macedonia in 146 BC. The land north of Mount Barnous (modernday Kaimaktsalan) and Mount Orbelos was inhabited by the Paionians. Strabo, writing a few years before the birth of Christ, is even more succinct in saying that Paionia was north of Macedonia and the only connection from one to the other was (and is today) through the narrow gorge of the Axios (or Vardar) River. Source here.

So, yes, the Greek do have a point when they argue that the Republic of Macedonia is misusing the name of their Greek province of Macedonia, even if they share a common border.

But a common name and a common border could also become a great opportunity to trade. Both are virtual backwaters of Europe and are in dire need of economic impulses. Suppose both countries would embrace the name Macedonia then the pros would outweigh the cons immensely.

Greece should retract those touchy long toes and accept those great opportunities of mutual trade, friendship and prosperity.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Cyprus and Santorini

How do you precisely date an event that happened more than three thousand years ago and devasted empires? Well, you could expedite an archeological expedition and try to match artefacts with an existing timescale. But these timescales are themselves often just anyones guess.

Enter ice cones and dendrochronology. When a volcano erupts it emits large quantities of noxious gasses. When the eruption is large enough, you might detect its effects in the environment. Winters may seem endless, summers might not come and it can have a profound effect on nature.
So, when the massive Indonesian Tambora volcano erupted in April 1815, it spewed so much ashes and gasses into the atmosphere that 1816 became known as 'the year without summer'. Next, environmentalists discovered that they can exactly date the Tambora eruption because tree rings showed that trees did not grow as usual in 1816. Gasses like sulpheric acid were trapped into the Greenland ice and, like tree rings, that can also be dated.

There is still some disagreement as to when Santorini, the volcano that ended the 'age of Atlantis', exactly exploded. Wikipedia remains out of the debate by cautiously stating that it 'is estimated to have occurred in the mid-second millennium BCE'. Ice cores are so much more precize and scientists at first concluded that Santorini must have exploded in 1628 BC[1], but there was a problem: small particles of volcanic ejecta have now been found in one of these ice-levels from Greenland. Analysis has shown that their chemical composition does not match that of Santorini[2].

Currently the scientific concensus is is that the eruption actually took place in the 1640s, ans that it had relatively little environmental effect[3].
The effect of that eruption and explosion were immediate: a devastating tsunami raced across the eastern Mediterranean, destroying everything in its path. The Minoan civilization could not survive and withered away. In Egypt the tsunami might even have resulted in the parting of the sea during the time of the exodus. Which is therefore also precisely dated.

Did Cyprus suffer too? While it was not directly in the path of the tsunami, Cyprus was definitely part of the Minoan world. When the fabric of that world was torn to shreds, Cyprus suffered too[4].

[1] Baillie: Exodus to Arthur – 1999
[2] Zielinski, Germani: New ice-core evidence challenges the 1620s BC age for the Santorini (Minoan) eruption in Journal of Archaeological Sciences - 1998
[3] Wiener: Time Out: The current impasse in Bronze Age archealogical dating - 2003
[4] Velikovsky: Ages in Chaos I: From the Exodus to King Ahknaton - 1952

Friday, 11 December 2015

Mediterranean Cyclones

Tropical cyclones are the most devastating weather phenomena on this planet. It is a rapidly rotating massive storm system, characterized by a low-pressure center, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain.

But cyclones also occur in the Mediterranean basin, although they are rare. Due to the specific dry nature of the Mediterranean region, formation of tropical-like cyclones is infrequent, with only 100 recorded tropical-like storms between 1948 and 2014. That is also the reason that, in contrast to their tropical counterparts, Mediterranean cyclones are not given names. No agency is officially responsible for monitoring the formation and development of these Mediterranean cyclones, which leaves an great opportunity for the Cypriot Department of Meteorology or the Greek Hellenic National Meteorological Service.
Unlike their tropical counterparts, Mediterranean cyclones require somewhat different factors to form such as sea surface temperatures below 26°C and an influx of colder air to induce the necessary atmospheric instability and a warm and moist air mass. Instability in the Mediterranean is therefore initiated by the coming together of different air masses while in tropical regions instability depends on the rising of an air mass as a result of a warm sea surface. However, the Mediterranean sea is warm when compared to other regions in the world and this helps in fuelling this region’s cyclones through convection.

Since the Mediterranean is a dry environment, the required abundant moisture required is often transferred to the region by a low pressure system. Therefore, Mediterranean cyclones often develop from an existing low pressure system.
Mediterranean cyclones are generally small in size and may last from just a few hours to not more than a week. Most develop an ‘eye’ for just a few hours and generally feature maximum sustained wind speeds of up to 150 km/h. While small in comparison to tropical cyclones, Mediterranean cyclones can occasionally create havoc.

The majority of the Mediterranean cyclones form over two regions. The first encompasses an area of the western Mediterranean bordered by the Balearic Islands, southern France. and the shorelines of Corsica and Sardinia. The second is in the Ionian Sea encompassing the region between Sicily and Greece and as far south as Libya.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Cypriot lemons facing downward trend

Worldwide, demand for lemons is on the rise, partly because of a focus on positive health effects. Importers in Europe look back on the overseas season with satisfaction. The 2015 harvest around the Mediterranean has started with the Turkish lemons entering the market first, followed by the harvest in Spain and Italy. The prospects are reasonably positive. Although the estimated volume for Spain turns out lower than last year, it's around the multi-annual average. Shortages later in the season are being reckoned with though.

In the United States, the harvest has started, and there are rumours of demand surpassing supply. China can rely largely on domestic cultivation for year-round supplies.
The lemon cultivation on Cyprus is decreasing, the export has virtually stopped. The production volumes of lemons turn out lower and the majority of the harvest is sold on the domestic market. Last year, the total export of the Mediterranean island amounted to a measley 2000 tonnes, negligible compared to other products. In the past 15 years, a large part of the acreage was removed. The current economic situation doesn't encourage growers to invest in lemon production either, because they don't have a long-term perspective.

In the summer months, the island depends on import, particularly from Argentina, the rest of the year Cypriot production is able to meet domestic demand.

It's time for a radical change on the island: let's start growing lemons again together, because only together we can change the world.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Cyprus and Shakespeare

Cyprus was once part of the Stato del Mar, a vast empire of ports and naval bases which flourished under the lion banner of St Mark and whose sole function was to funnel the goods of the world back into the warehouses of Venice. Then as now, Cyprus' fate was precarious and a shift in the balance of power in the region could mean a new overlord.

The Turks took Cyprus from the Venetians in 1570-3 and, though heavily defeated by a Christian navy at the Battle of Lepanto, henceforth dominated the eastern Mediterranean. The loss of Cyprus signalled the slow but unstoppable decline of Venice.
In 1600, Venice was still viewed in London as a major trading rival. English trading houses had representatives in Venice, while their Venetian counterparts were in London. Shakespeare knew about local Venetian customs and Venice was known for its sexual tolerance and their courtesans.

Othello, written in 1602, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare and the plot hinges on Othello's suspicions about his wife's fidelity. Battle hardened Iago has been passed over for promotion by his commander Othello and starts scheming his revenge. In the end, Othello smothers his own wife Desdemona, though she is completely innocent. Too late, Othello sees the truth and tries to kill Iago. Othello condemns himself and commits suicide. Iago is seized and taken away.

Cyprus seems the perfect spot for such a lamentable tragedy and there's even a castle on the island that is nowadays named Othello Castle in Famagusta. Built in the 14th century to protect the port against possible enemy attacks, it was also used as the main entrance to Famagusta. The castle ropened in 2015 after undergoing renovation following decades of decay on the internationally isolated Turkish side of the ethnically divided island.

Occupation hypocrisy: Gaza vs. Cyprus

[Guestcolumn by Victor Davis Hanson]

Cyprus is a beautiful island. But it has never recovered from the Turkish invasion of 1974. Turkish troops still control nearly 40 percent of the island -- the most fertile and formerly the richest portion. Some 200,000 Greek refugees never returned home after being expelled from their homes and farms in Northern Cyprus. The capital of Nicosia remains divided. A 112-mile demilitarized "green line" runs right through the city across the entire island.

Thousands of settlers from Anatolia were shipped in by the Turkish government to occupy former Greek villages and to change Cypriot demography -- in the same manner the occupying Ottoman Empire once did in the 16th century. Not a single nation recognizes the legitimacy of the Turkish Cypriot state. In contrast, Greek Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

Why, then, is the world not outraged at an occupied Cyprus the way it is at, say, Israel? Nicosia is certainly more divided than is Jerusalem. Thousands of Greek refugees lost their homes more recently, in 1974, than did the Palestinians in 1947.

Turkey has far more troops in Northern Cyprus than Israel has in the West Bank. Greek Cypriots, unlike Palestinians, vastly outnumbered their adversaries. Indeed, a minority comprising about a quarter of the island's population controls close to 40 percent of the landmass. Whereas Israel is a member of the U.N., Turkish Cyprus is an unrecognized outlaw nation.

Any Greek Cypriot attempt to reunify the island would be crushed by the formidable Turkish army, in the brutal manner of the brief war of 1974. Turkish generals would most likely not phone Greek homeowners warning them to evacuate their homes ahead of incoming Turkish artillery shells.

The island remains conquered not because the Greeks have given up, but because their resistance is futile against a NATO power of some 70 million people. Greeks know that Turkey worries little about what world thinks of its occupation. Greeks in Cyprus and mainland Greece together number less than 13 million people. That is far less than the roughly 300 million Arabic speakers, many from homelands that export oil, who support the Palestinians. No European journalist fears that Greek terrorists will track him down should he write something critical of the Greek Cypriot cause. Greek Cypriots would not bully a journalist in their midst for broadcasting a critical report, the way Hamas surely would to any candid reporter in Gaza. In other words, there is not much practical advantage or interest in promoting the Greek Cypriot cause.

Unlike Israel, Turkey is in NATO -- and is currently becoming more Islamic and anti-Western under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If it is easy for the United States to jawbone tiny Israel, it is geostrategically unwise to do so to Turkey over the island of Cyprus.Turkey is also less emblematic of the West than is Israel. In the racist habit of assuming low expectations for non-Westerners, European elites do not hold Turkey to the same standards that they do Israel.

We see such hypocrisy when the West stays silent while Muslims butcher each other by the thousands in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Syria. Only when a Westernized country like Israel inflicts far less injury to Muslims does the West become irate. The same paradox seems to hold true for victims. Apparently, Western Christian Greeks are not the romantic victims that Palestinian Muslims are.

In the 40 years since they lost their land, Greek Cypriots have turned the once impoverished south into a far more prosperous land than the once-affluent but now stagnant Turkish-occupied north -- unlike the Palestinians, who have not used their know-how to turn Gaza or Ramallah into a city like Limassol.

Resurgent anti-Semitism both in the Middle East and in Europe translates into inordinate criticism of Israel. Few connect Turkey's occupation of Cyprus with some larger racist commentary about the supposed brutal past of the Turks.

The next time anti-Israeli demonstrators shout about divided cities, refugees, walls, settlers and occupied land, let us understand that those are not necessarily the issues in the Middle East. If they were, the Cyprus tragedy would also be center-stage. Likewise, crowds would be damning China for occupying Tibet, or still sympathizing with millions of Germans who fled a now-nonexistent Prussia, or deploring religious castes in India, or harboring anger over the tough Russian responses to Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine, or deploring beheadings in northern Iraq.

Instead, accept that the Middle East is not just about a dispute over land. Israel is inordinately damned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous and often powerful. And, of course, because it is Jewish.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cypriot salad

Like virtually all dishes in the Mediterranean basin, both the season and history dictate the use of local ingredients. That means that there may be several recipies for the same sort of salad.

The Cypriot salad is a bit different than the 'regular' Greek Salad in that it uses lettuce and coriander. You can add other ingredients if you wish or use lemon juice instead of vinegar.
- 1 cucumber
- 2 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
- 2 celery stalks, with leaves, chopped
- 200 grams Cypriot or Greek olives
- 1 small red onion, finely sliced
- 40 grams of lettuce
- 1 cup coriander leaves (sometimes caper leaves are used)
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1⁄2 cup olive oil
- 200 gram ounces feta cheese, roughly crumbled
- 1 teaspoon oregano

Peel away the skin of the cucumber. Slice the cucumber, cut into quarters and put in a salad bowl.
Add the tomatoes, celery, olives, onion, lettuce and coriander to the bowl. Season with freshly ground black pepper and mix thoroughly.
Mash the garlic until it is a smooth paste with a pinch of salt and then mix into the vinegar, mixing well until smooth. Whisk in the oil. Pour over the salad and mix gently to combine.
Crumble the feta cheese and oregano over the top before serving.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The origin of the name 'Cyprus'

There still remains some dispute whether the 'Cyprus' was derived from the word kuprum ('copper') or if the name for the ore was derived from the island. Because Cyprus is situated so very close to the mayor civilizations in the Levant one might expect to find some clue in Egyptian hieroglyphs and in the Scriptures.

The West-Semitic word √kpr is a root with many meanings. One is found in the Hebrew kōp(p)er ('henna') used for red dye. If kōp(p)er is 'red' it can also have been in use as (red) copper. Kypros/Cyprus therefore seems a West Semitic name for the island famous for its copper, rather than the toponym originating the metal name found in the Latin cuprum[1].
The island Caphtor is named in the Scriptures. The usual identification is Crete, because the Keftiu bringing presents (vases) to Egyptian pharaohs are thought to be Cretans. But suppose Cyprus is the biblical Caphtor and the Egyptian Keftiu. If Caphtor is not Cyprus, then the Old Testament completely omits reference to this large island close to the Syrian coast. The phonetics of the name also point to Cyprus[2].
But isy is also the origin for our modern word for the entire continent of Asia. Thus Cyprus is both iꝫsy and isy. Isy has evolved into Asia. Which means that an entire continent is named after a little island in the Mediterranean.

ps: Strangely, this site doesn't support hieroglyphs. It changed them into a series of little squares. I had to convert part of my text to an image.

[1] Bernal: Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Volume III: The Linguistic Evidence – 2006
[2] Velikovsky: Capthor –

Friday, 18 September 2015

Cypriot Bananas

The de facto division of the island in 1974 left the Turkish Cypriot community in the north in possession of agricultural resources that produced about four-fifths of the citrus and cereal crops, two-thirds of the green fodder, and all of the tobacco. The south retained nearly all of the island's grapegrowing areas and deciduous fruit orchards. The south also possessed lands producing roughly three-fourths of the valuable potato crop and other vegetables (excluding carrots), half the island's olive trees, and two-thirds of its carob trees.
The climate on Cyprus and neighbouring Greek islands like Crete is perfectly suited for growing bananas. Bananas grow rather unruly on pretty much the whole of island Cyprus, but are grown primarily on banana plantations around Paphos on the southwest coast of Cyprus and the Güzelyurt area in Turkish Cypriot territory.

They stretch along the coast up to the mountains. All products are supplied to the domestic market and have good demand. It has been found that the young banana leaves can help to heal burns and wounds.

Most of the harvest is destined for Cypriot consumers. Smugling cheaper South-American bananas via northern Turkish-Cyprus is rife.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Linaer B, Linear A and Cypro-Minoan

The Greek alphabet is considered to be the oldest European script, but it had some little known predecessors. Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested language form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries and the oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC.

In the 1950s, Linear B was largely deciphered by Michael Ventris, an English linguist, and found to encode an early form of Greek. It is itself descended from the older Linear A, an as yet undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language and found mainly on the island Crete. Although the two systems share many symbols, this did not lead to a subsequent decipherment of Linear A.

Linear A has hundreds of signs. They are believed to represent syllabic, ideographic, and semantic values in a manner similar to Linear B. While many of those assumed to be syllabic signs are similar to ones in Linear B, approximately 80% of Linear A's logograms are unique, which might mean that the script is hieroglypic in nature.

Some scolars accept that the Egyptians helped to create the Greek (and thus Cypriot) civilisation. One of them was Martin Bernal, writer of the book  or rather trilogy, 'Black Athena'. It is therefore not a very farfetched idea to suppose that the earliest transliterations of a Greek language would use Egyptian hieroglyphes.
But there's an even older script: The Cypro-Minoan syllabary (CM) is an undeciphered syllabic script used on the island of Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1050 BC). Little is known about how this script originated or about the underlying language. However, its use continued into the Early Iron Age, forming a link to the Cypriot syllabary, which has been deciphered as Greek. The Cypriot or Cypriote syllabary is a syllabic script used in Iron Age Cyprus, from about the 11th to the 4th centuries BCE, when it was replaced by the Greek alphabet.

I know it all sounds very confusing, but you have to remember that these were all sort of trials that lasted several centuries before these ancient alphabeths were replaced by newer ones. It would eventually lead to our modern alphabeth. We have to thank the Cypriots for that. They were the very first.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

A Cypriot dessert: Mahalepi

Mahalepi is basically corn flour custard in a sweet rosewater cordial. It also may contain local strawberries or cherries macerated in a spiced syrup. Mahalepi is a popular dessert in Cyprus. It is usually served on a hot summer's day with extra sugar and rose water as a cold refreshing dessert.

This sweet dessert originated in Cyprus, but has versions in neighboring countries in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Turkey. In Turkey and the Turkish part of Cyprus the dessert is known as muhallebi, muhallabia, mahallebi or mahallepi. The name means 'custard' in the Turkish language.

It is served in many versions, e.g. with chopped pistachios sprinkled on top (Lebanese style), date syrup topped with walnuts (Israeli style), or with water in place of milk (Turkish: Su muhallebisi, Greek: mαχαλλεπί του νερού (mahallepi tou nerou). Flavorings such as vanilla, orange water, and rose water may be added to the pudding.
6 cups of water, 6 heaped spoons of corn flour or nisiaste (maize powdered starch), rose water or rose syrup, sugar.

Put 5 cups of water in a pot and on fire. Put the 6th cup of water in a bowl and stir in the corn flour. Add this to the pot and stir constantly until it starts to bubble and thicken. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously.

Rinse 6 small bowls under cold water (you need them to be wet). Put a scoop of mixture into each wet bowl. Allow to cool, then place bowls in the fridge. The next day, take a big bowl and fill it with cold water. Take your mahalepi bowls and tip each one out into the bowl with the water. Place back in the fridge and use when required. Serve each mahalepi in a bowl, sprinkled with a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of rosewater. Rose syrup can be added too.

Tip: for extra fragrance and sweetness, add 4 tbsp rosewater and 2 tsp sugar in the 5 cups of water before boiling.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Cypriot kolokasi seeks PDO

After the recent success of halloumi, that was given a coveted status of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, another application has been filed to the EU. This time for kolokasi, otherwise known as Cyprus taro (Colocasia esculenta), a starchy root vegetable, which is usually stewed in a tomato sauce.
The plant is thought to be native to Southern India and Southeast Asia and, apparently, kolokasi was brought to Cyprus by the Romans, who used it in much the same way the potato is today, but who would cook it in sauce of pepper, cumin, rue, vinegar, oil and liquamen (or garum).
Kolokasi is undoubtedly a traditional product of Cyprus as historical references of its presence in Cyprus exists since the 12th century, but Cyprus was part of the Roman Empire too, which might mean the produce was grown on Cyprus since Roman times. On Cyprus, 85 per cent of taro is produced on fields around the eastern town of Sotira.
It is hoped by Cypriot officials that the application can become an effective tool to promote the produce and thus enhance the local agricultural and gastronomical economy.

However, it should be remembered that kolokasi is essentially poisonous and should be shoaked overnight in cold water to remove the calcium oxalate, which contributes to kidney stones.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Unnatural (but still healthy) olives

When olives remain on their tree for long enough, they ripen and their colour changes from green to dark reddish brown or purplish black. Leave them for too long and they will turn soft and decay looms. You have to harvest black olives at precisely the right time then.

Most olive farmers - and even those from Cyprus - have devised a trick to circumvent that problem: they harvest the olives when they are still firm and green. And then dye them black. Green olives are immersed in a solution of ferrous gluconate (E579), which oxidizes them. That generates a uniform black colour, even darker then they ever would ever become if they would remain on their tree.

Ferrous gluconate is water soluble iron salt of gluconic acid. Gluconic acid occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables, wine and honey.
Is the use of ferrous gluconate a potential problem for your health? No, because the dying of one kilo of olives requires only 15 mg of ferrous gluconate and that is way below the norm of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for iron.

Ferrous gluconate is also an effective medication in the treatment of hypochromic anemia. It gives your iron levels a much needed boost, which means that black olives may be even more healthy than previously thought.

Did I already mention that green olives also get a little make-over too? Their fresh green colour is the result of a bath with a green pigment chlorophyl (E140), commercially extracted from nettles, grass and alfalfa.

The taste of olive oil harmonizes excellently with the fragrance of Mediterranean herbs. In the Mediterranean countries, olive oil is often flavoured with branches of rosemary, lavender, tarragon or, on Cyprus, with fresh capers. Most fresh herbs can be preserved in olive oil; their aroma compounds dissolve better in oil than in an aqueous medium. A most famous recipe of this kind is pesto, a paste of ground basil leaves in olive oil.

Next quake could destroy Istanbul

A powerful earthquake of magnitude 7 or greater may be building up along a now-quiet fault on the coast of Istanbul, a new study finds[1]. Turkey's latest large quake shook Izmit in 1999 with a force of 7.6, killing 30,000 people and causing $6.5 billion in damages.

Different segments of the North Anatolian Fault, one of the most energetic and longest earthquake faults in the world, have fallen silent. This silence may mean that the segment could be building tension that accrues over decades and may eventually release it in a large, seismic event.

The North Anatolian Fault is more than 1,500 kilometers long and stretches from northern Turkey to the Aegean Sea. An analysis of 20 years' worth of GPS data along the fault shows that a seismic gap under the Sea of Marmara at Princes Island, just 8 kilometers west of Istanbul, is likely to cause the next big earthquake. Of course, it is impossible to predict when such an earthquake might exactly happen.
Scientists have discovered that the entire fault is moving about 25 millimeters a year, which may sometimes cause small earthquakes. But the segment at Princes Island isn't budging. Instead of moving 10 to 15 mm per year as it should, the segment is stuck and building up tension.

The Princes Island segment should have slipped about 2.4 to 3.4 meters since its last major earthquake 121 years ago[2], but it hasn't, researchers found. Instead, tension is building up more and more. If that tension were released in a giant, single earthquake, the Earth could move as much as 11 feet in a few seconds, the study found.
Such a blow could destroy Istanbul, a city of about 14 million people. "Istanbul is a large city, and many of the buildings are very old and not built to the highest modern standards," Michael Floyd, a research scientist in MIT's department of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, said in a statement. Marco Bohnhoff, a professor at the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany, said that "unfortunately 90 percent of buildings in Istanbul do not fulfill building codes and might not resist the expected earthquake."

The more time passes before the quake strikes, the more devastating the quake will be. Tick, tack. Tick, tack. Tick tack.

[1] Egintav et al: Istanbul's earthquake hot spots: Geodetic constraints on strain accumulation along faults in the Marmara seismic gap in Geophysical Research Letters – 2014
[2] Parsons: Recalculated probability of M7+ earthquakes beneath the Sea of Marmara, Turkey in Journal of Geophysical Research - 2004. See here

Cypriot cheese helps Cypriot peace

The European Union has solved a long dispute over a special cheese from Cyprus by deciding to recognize it by both its Greek and Turkish name.

The famous Greek-Cypriot halloumi cheese — or hellim for Turkish-Cypriots — is now officially a protected designation of origin (PDO) product with two names, courtesy of the EU. Halloumi is Cyprus’s second biggest export to overseas markets. In 2013, exports were of halloumi were worth €76.4 million. Hellim is mainly exported to Turkey and the Middle East—25% of Northern Cyprus’ economy worth about $30 million annually.
The step is being as seen as a positive move towards the eventual reunification of the divided island of Cyprus. “Halloumi-Hellim cheese symbolizes the shared heritage of the island of Cyprus. It is a tradition that has linked the communities living here for centuries,” the official statement said. This special Cypriot cheese is a significant source of income for the local economy. It is semi-hard, unripened brined cheese traditionally made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk, and sometimes also cow's milk.

In July 2015, the EU announced that the Turkish and Greek sides were in agreement over the “protected designation of origin” issue. The year before, the Cypriot government applied to the EU to recognize halloumi as a PDO. The Turkish side reacted, worried that the recognition of the halloumi name could affect hellim exports.

In May 2015, peace talks between the two sides resumed after the newly elected Turkish-Cypriot leader of the Turkish part of the island, Mustafa Akinci, met with his Cypriot counterpart President Nicos Anastasiades. The agreement over the island’s famous cheese can be considered a concession and a positive sign. Now there remains the question about water to resolve.

But wait, all is not well on the divided island, because inspectors from the government of the Republic of Cyprus are unable to enter the Turkish north to inspect hellim producers—a requirement of the PDO to ensure the recipe is adhered to.