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Rights To 'Crying Indian' Ad To Go To Native American Group

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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Since its debut in 1971, the anti-pollution ad showing a man in Native American attire shedding a single tear has become an indelible piece of TV pop culture.

Since its debut in 1971, the anti-pollution ad showing a man in Native American attire shedding a single tear has become an indelible piece of TV pop culture.

Since its debut in 1971, the anti-pollution ad showing a man in Native American attire shedding a single tear has become an indelible piece of TV pop culture.
Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Green Ancestors: Decoding the Secrets of 600 Million Years of Plant Life

A research team from Göttingen University leads an investigation into 10 billion RNA snippets to identify “hub genes.” The majority of the Earth’s land surface...

A study by the University of Göttingen on Mesotaenium endlicherianum, an alga closely related to land plants, revealed crucial genetic insights. By analyzing the alga’s response to various environmental conditions, researchers uncovered shared genetic mechanisms between algae and land plants, deepening understanding of plant evolution and resilience. A research team from Göttingen University leads an investigation into 10 billion RNA snippets to identify “hub genes.” The majority of the Earth’s land surface is adorned with a diverse array of plants, which constitute the majority of biomass on land. This remarkable diversity spans from delicate mosses to towering trees. This astounding biodiversity came into existence due to a fateful evolutionary event that happened just once: plant terrestrialization. This describes the point where one group of algae, whose modern descendants can still be studied in the lab, evolved into plants and invaded land around the world. An international group of researchers, spearheaded by a team from the University of Göttingen, generated large-scale gene expression data to investigate the molecular networks that operate in one of the closest algal relatives of land plants, a humble single-celled alga called Mesotaenium endlicherianum. Their results were published in Nature Plants. Liquid samples of Mesotaenium endlicherianum in a laboratory flask, which are about to be combined with fresh medium under sterile conditions. Credit: Janine Fürst-Jansen Unveiling Algal Resilience Using a strain of Mesotaenium endlicherianum that has been kept safe in the Algal Culture Collection at Göttingen University (SAG) for over 25 years and the unique experimental set-up there, the researchers exposed Mesotaenium endlicherianum to a continuous range of different light intensities and temperatures. Janine Fürst-Jansen, researcher at the University of Göttingen, states: “Our study began by examining the limits of the alga’s resilience – to both light and temperature. We subjected it to a wide temperature range from 8 °C to 29 °C. We were intrigued when we observed the interplay between a broad temperature and light tolerance based on our in-depth physiological analysis.” Microscope image of one of the closest algal relatives of land plants, a single-celled alga called Mesotaenium endlicherianum (20 micrometers corresponds to 0.02 millimeters). Credit: Tatyana Darienko How the algae respond was not only investigated on a morphological and physiological level, but also by reading the information of about 10 billion RNA snippets. The study used network analysis to investigate the shared behavior of almost 20,000 genes simultaneously. In these shared patterns, “hub genes” that play a central role in coordinating gene expression in response to various environmental signals were identified. This approach not only offered valuable insights into how algal gene expression is regulated in response to different conditions but, combined with evolutionary analyses, how these mechanisms are common to both land plants and their algal relatives. Samples of Mesotaenium endlicherianum that have been kept safe in the Algal Culture Collection at Göttingen University (SAG) for over 25 years. This image shows the unique experimental set-up that allowed the researchers to expose Mesotaenium endlicherianum to a continuous range of different light intensities and temperatures. Credit: Janine Fürst-Jansen Discovering Evolutionary Genetic Mechanisms Professor Jan de Vries, University of Göttingen, says: “What is so unique about the study is that our network analysis can point to entire toolboxes of genetic mechanisms that were not known to operate in these algae. And when we look at these genetic toolboxes, we find that they are shared across more than 600 million years of plant and algal evolution!” As Armin Dadras, PhD student at the University of Göttingen, explains: “Our analysis allows us to identify which genes collaborate in various plants and algae. It’s like discovering which musical notes consistently harmonize in different songs. This insight helps us uncover long-term evolutionary patterns and reveals how certain essential genetic ‘notes’ have remained consistent across a wide range of plant species, much like timeless melodies that resonate across different music genres.” Reference: “Environmental gradients reveal stress hubs pre-dating plant terrestrialization” by Armin Dadras, Janine M. R. Fürst-Jansen, Tatyana Darienko, Denis Krone, Patricia Scholz, Siqi Sun, Cornelia Herrfurth, Tim P. Rieseberg, Iker Irisarri, Rasmus Steinkamp, Maike Hansen, Henrik Buschmann, Oliver Valerius, Gerhard H. Braus, Ute Hoecker, Ivo Feussner, Marek Mutwil, Till Ischebeck, Sophie de Vries, Maike Lorenz and Jan de Vries, 28 August 2023, Nature Plants.DOI: 10.1038/s41477-023-01491-0

The Members of This Reservation Learned They Live with Nuclear Weapons. Can Their Reality Ever Be the Same?

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara peoples are learning more about the missiles siloed on their lands, and that knowledge has put the preservation of their culture and heritage in even starker relief.

This podcast is Part 5 of a five-part series. Listen to Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. The podcast series is a part of “The New Nuclear Age,” a special report on a $1.5-trillion effort to remake the American nuclear arsenal. [CLIP: Music] Jayli Fimbres: You know what’s crazy? I’ve always had dreams of explosions going off in the west. And, like, we’re, we’d always be hunkered down in gymnasiums or, like, even in, like, ceremonies. I’ve had dreams we’re all, like, in a ceremonial setting waiting for an explosion to go off. Ella Weber: I met Jayli Fimbres at the recently opened MHA Nation Interpretive Center in New Town, North Dakota, the most populous town on the Fort Berthold reservation. While she says she doesn’t know much about nuclear weapons, she’s been dreaming about nuclear war. Fimbres: I think I’ve, even within those dreams, I had dreams of surviving those things as well. But there was, like, radioactive damage and stuff. And we were, like, mutating, but we, like, learned to get through it. Weber: You are listening to Scientific American’s podcast series, The Missiles on Our Rez. I’m Ella Weber, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, a Princeton student, and a journalist. This is Episode 5: “What Happens Now?” [CLIP: Music] Weber: This is the last episode of our series. Throughout the first four episodes, we learned about how nuclear missiles arrived on our reservation. We also learned how the Air Force failed to appropriately describe the human and environmental consequences associated with its plans to modernize existing nuclear missile silos.  Those plans included placing new missiles on our land for the next 60 years.  We discussed the risks associated with living with these weapons for the tribe —  and what it really meant  for our members—including my family—to live in a national nuclear sacrifice zone. In this final episode, I’m returning to my tribe, the MHA Nation, to share what I found. Weber: I met with my grandma, Debra Malnourie, to find out when she first learned about the missile silos. She grew up on the reservation and currently resides there. Debra Malnourie: Then, like I said, I was driving around, and I was like, “What are these places?” And then I don’t even remember who told me that they were missile sites, that missiles [are] down in there, and I was like, “How do you know?” And I knew nothing about it. It wasn’t even in my radar, actually. Probably still isn’t right now. Weber: Debra didn’t know much about this. Malnourie: But I always thought if there was a big war, we’d all end up going. And truthfully, I would not want to be one of the ones that didn’t go. Because what [are] you going to do? I don’t know. This is some scary stuff. And it’s real. [CLIP: Music]  Weber: I first came to the Fort Berthold reservation to try to figure out how the 15 missiles ended up on the rez — and how much the community actually knows about them. It was only eight months ago when I first learned about them in an e-mail from my Princeton University professor, Ryo Morimoto. I first went to the reservation in March of this year. That’s where I met Edmund Baker, environmental director of the MHA Nation. He knew a little bit about the missiles. Edmund Baker: What I’ve heard is that, yeah, there are nuclear warheads that are stored on the ground in certain places, silos, along the way.  Minot Air Force Base does regular trainings. I suppose that they have to, to keep the military up to speed and protocols or whatnot.  But anything beyond that is not information that I’ve ever read, or [it] was never really disclosed. I haven’t been privy to any meeting with the tribal council on anything involving this point.  Weber: As we mentioned in the last episode, Edmund would later find out from our Nuclear Princeton research team, and Princeton researcher Sébastien Philippe, that the entire 3,000-page environmental impact statement, or EIS package–first published in June 2022 in draft form–didn’t actually  go into a great amount of detail about the ramifications of potential nuclear strikes on the silos and the surrounding community. I returned to the reservation in June to continue to investigate the topic further. In the three months between the trips, I’ve had more time to learn about the history of successive assaults against our tribe and land by the U.S. military. As I mentioned in Episode 2, the Garrison Dam, constructed in 1947 by the Army Corps of Engineers, was built adjacent to our land — and against our will. There’s a famous picture of chairman George Gillette crying as he signed the agreement in 1948. When the dam flooded in 1953, countless tribal families were displaced, and our homes were destroyed. It separated our remaining reservation into five areas—another assault on our language and culture.  It turns out there’s actually a link between the historical destruction of our community by the U.S. government and the loss of our language. People such as Jayli Fimbres—who you first heard in the beginning of this episode—are trying to bring our language back. Fimbres: There’s no writing. We’re speaking. It’s—we’re learning a language. And so sometimes I’ll have, like, my flash cards and stuff. I won’t even write on a board or anything. But that’s been a powerful thing, like, getting people to speak. Weber: The thing is, this nuclear modernization project is going to deeply affect our tribe again, including people such as Jayli, who are fighting to save the last remnants of our cultural heritage.  If our people are used as collateral damage, our language also dies. And that’s after so much damage has already been done. Even the Air Force admits that the project will have consequences, but not completely. Here’s a clip from a video about the project. [CLIP: Ground-based strategic deterrent (Sentinel) draft EIS video: “As a whole, the proposed action would likely result in significant adverse effects on cultural resources, public health and safety, socioeconomics, and utilities and infrastructure.”] Weber: In every single resource area listed in the EIS’s environmental consequences summary, the “no action alternative” has effects that are either equal to or less negative than the proposed action. Despite the negative effects associated with the nuclear modernization program that the Air Force listed in the environmental impact statement, I found that the impacts are much farther reaching than what is described in the scope of the document. Baker: What’s the purpose of a nuclear warhead? Depends on who you talk to. “They defend freedom.” No, they’re meant to kill. They’re meant to destroy. That was never in part of our land, intentional land spirit. Weber: That’s Edmund Baker who says that not only do warheads go against our land spirit—but they also go against the core concepts in our Hidatsa language. Baker: How you speak also informs the concepts in your mind.  Our Hidatsa language is—just as an example, everything is moving and flowing. Okay, so that affects your worldview, how you look at things. Things don’t seem so discrete, separate, objectified. And the relationship between you and that becomes different because you’re also moving, flowing. The breath of life is moving through you, the elements. These are all encapsulated in our language. Silos, buildings, projects, all of that—we’re investing in things that are going to crumble and neglecting the things that should last beyond us…in here [taps chest]. Weber: Unlike in the 1960s, when the missiles first arrived, the state of affairs with Indian nations has changed. We live in a post–American Indian Movement, or AIM, and post–Dakota Access Pipeline era, meaning there is much more advocacy around Native and Indigenous issues. The former tribal historic preservation officer Pete Coffey—who turned out to be a relative of mine—was part of AIM’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Pete Coffey: AIM did what it was intended to do. It made everyone an activist. It made all Native people an activist. Weber: Pete helped start the local radio station, KMHA. He gave a voice to the community. He was also the MHA Nation’s tribal historic preservation officer until November 2021. The Air Force claimed it consulted him as part of the EIS process in 2020. According to Pete, it didn’t. Coffey: [The year] 2020? No, I don’t recall that. I was still in the office. I don’t recall that. Weber: As a 20-year-old student and member of this community, I have a question. Why would we allow something whose sole purpose is to destroy to be housed on our land? Edmund agreed with me. Baker: Why would you want a killing machine within your homeland? Weber: Although neither Edmund nor Pete recall being consulted, our chairman signed an agreement with the Air Force. In it, the Air Force promised not to disrupt cultural and historical sites while undertaking this project. [CLIP: Music] Despite all the depressing things I learned, I also found out about the hard work and advocacy that was taking place on the reservation, helping the MHA Nation reclaim its identity and relationship with the land. That could be language revitalization through teaching Hidatsa. Or, cultivating community gardens that played a central role in sharing intergenerational knowledge and ways of life — before the dam. [CLIP: Walking sounds; Eagle calls] I met Melanie Moniz tending the community garden in Twin Buttes. Melanie Moniz: I have realized that the most important thing that we can do is reconnect to what has been not taken, right, but has been attempted to be taken from us because we carry the blood memory of our ancestors. So we have all the knowledge. We just need to reconnect to it. Weber: Melanie’s gone through a long journey to end up where she is now. She’s done policy work, ran for office and is a community organizer. But at the forefront, she is a mother who has realized the importance of reconnecting with our culture. Moniz: Having my kids right there with me and watching them with their hands in the soil reconnecting and learning about how we mound, how we mounded one time, how when we plant, we plant facing the sun, and, you know, all of these things are so important. It’s going to be the only thing that gets us through. Weber: Throughout this project, I came to understand how the story of the U.S. government’s land theft and attempts at destroying our culture are directly related to the history of how the missile silos got here. And our community has been fighting to survive for as long as we’ve been around. This is just another test. Moniz: So, in closing, should something go wrong, should something happen with all these warheads that are on our tribal nation, our children, our future generations, what we’re working to reclaim and reconnect and revitalize will all—could be diminished. It could be diminished. Thinking about that and thinking about what could go wrong–what could happen–really puts things into perspective, and in closing I would urge…not encourage, but welcome more folks to the work. And let’s keep going and let’s get this out there. People need to know what’s happening. Our people need to know what’s happening. Baker: For the future, to keep our people, our land, intact, what’s left of it–our unity…to try to give some space to work on our values, and re-remember who we are… it would make it this much easier if you just get these silos out of here. You know, you’d help that way, if you really care about us, federal government. Weber: Lastly, I talked to my mom, Jenipher, about the research that I’ve been doing: Weber (tape): What do you think about the project? Jenipher Weber: I hope it opens a lot of eyes. I hope it…I would like to know how it came about and how the silos got here and why and the effects of everything. I always thought they took the silos out because the Cold War was over. So that’s how always— Weber (tape): They just took out the Grand Forks ones.  Jenipher Weber: Yeah, they never take out ours, huh? Hmm. [CLIP: Music] Weber: Will things continue as they are but with people now being aware of what the missile silos mean for us? Could the silos be removed from the reservation? Could communities in North Dakota, Native and not, work together towards a different future—with no missiles in the state? I don’t know. What makes me hopeful, though, is the new generation of people willing to continue the fight for our tribe, our land, our rights, our culture, and our futures. For the rest of us, the question is simple: What will we do? While this is the end of the podcast series, it may be the beginning of a new chapter for the tribe. Resilience and survival runs deep in the MHA Nation, and one thing is certain: things can change. This show was reported by me, Ella Weber, produced by Sébastien Philippe and Tulika Bose. Script editing by Tulika Bose. Post-production design and mixing by Jeff DelViscio. Thanks to special advisor Ryo Morimoto and Jessica Lambert.  Music by Epidemic Sound. I’m Ella Weber, and this was The Missiles on Our Rez, a special podcast collaboration from Scientific American, Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, Nuclear Princeton, and Columbia Journalism School. [CLIP: Music] 

First They Mined for the Atomic Bomb. Now They’re Mining for E.V.s.

Serge Langunu is a graduate student in botany at the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In May, he and I were sitting on a bench in the parking lot of a hospital just outside Lubumbashi’s downtown, looking at photos of plants on his laptop.  I met Langunu at the hospital to see an experimental plot of metal-loving plants cultivated by the university’s agronomy department. This understated garden was growing in the shadow of a massive chimney, looming across the street in the mostly abandoned grounds of the old copper smelter named after the state mining corporation, Gécamines. Lubumbashi is Congo’s second-largest city and the capital of Katanga province, founded in 1910 by the Belgian colonial regime to exploit Katanga’s otherworldly mineral wealth. For about 80 years, the smoke from the smelting of ore from the Étoile du Congo copper mine drifted out of that chimney over the homes of mine workers and their families on the west side of the Lubumbashi River, while mine administrators and other colonial officers enjoyed the cleaner air on the other side. As a result, the soil at the hospital and throughout the surrounding neighborhood is heavily contaminated with copper, cobalt, lead, zinc, and arsenic. The university’s experimental garden uses species from Katanga’s endemic flora, much of which has evolved to be resistant to, or even dependent on, concentrations of metals that would stunt or kill most other plants, to decontaminate the poisoned soil. “This one is Crotalaria cobalticola,” said Langunu, pointing to an image of an angular, pea-like flower with a vivid yellow hue. “It grows mainly in zones with a high concentration of copper and cobalt.” I leaned in to look closer. Crotalaria is what is known as an obligate metallophyte—it requires the presence of cobalt in order to survive. Cobalt has become the center of a major upsurge in mining in Congo, and the rapid acceleration of cobalt extraction in the region since 2013 has brought hundreds of thousands of people into intimate contact with a powerful melange of toxic metals. The frantic pace of cobalt extraction in Katanga bears close resemblance to another period of rapid exploitation of Congolese mineral resources: During the last few years of World War II, the U.S. government sourced the majority of the uranium necessary to develop the first atomic weapons from a single Congolese mine, named Shinkolobwe. The largely forgotten story of those miners, and the devastating health and ecological impacts uranium production had on Congo, looms over the country now as cobalt mining accelerates to feed the renewable energy boom—with little to no protections for workers involved in the trade.The city of Kolwezi, which is 300 km (186 miles) northwest of Lubumbashi and 180 km from the now-abandoned Shinkolobwe mine, sits on top of nearly half of the available cobalt in the world. The scope of the contemporary scramble for that metal in Katanga has totally transformed the region. Enormous open-pit mines worked by tens of thousands of miners form vast craters in the landscape and are slowly erasing the city itself. The U.S. government sourced the majority of the uranium necessary to develop the first atomic weapons from a single Congolese mine, named Shinkolobwe.The global shift toward renewable energy has hugely increased the world’s demand for metals for batteries, creating a new opportunity for Congo, the world’s largest producer of cobalt. Companies like Tesla, Apple, Samsung, and Chrysler source significant percentages of their cobalt from the country. Much of the cobalt in Congo is mined by hand: Workers scour the surface level seams with picks, shovels, and lengths of rebar, sometimes tunneling by hand 60 feet or more into the earth in pursuit of a vein of ore. This is referred to as artisanal mining, as opposed to the industrial mining carried out by large firms. The thousands of artisanal miners who work at the edges of the formal mines run by big industrial concerns make up 90 percent of the nation’s mining workforce and produce 30 percent of its metals. Artisanal mining is not as efficient as larger-scale industrial mining, but since the miners produce good-quality ore with zero investment in tools, infrastructure, or safety, the ore they sell to buyers is as cheap as it gets. Forced and child labor in the supply chain is not uncommon here, thanks in part to a significant lack of controls and regulations on artisanal mining from the government.Congo’s mineral resources are found in two broad geographical curves, arcs of mineral-rich surface-level rock that converge on the city of Lubumbashi. This region, known as the Copperbelt, has been mined for more than a century for minerals like copper, cobalt, nickel, gold, and uranium. Some of those deposits are among the richest of their kind in the world, and the workers in those mines are among the most exploited on the planet. Conditions in the mining regions have changed little in the century since the opening of the Shinkolobwe mine, whose highly concentrated uranium ore supercharged both the U.S. and German military projects to develop atomic weapons during World War II.For the 15 years after its use in the bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of the uranium mined for the Manhattan Project’s subsequent bomb-building efforts came out of the Shinkolobwe mine, sited at the edge of the arc of Congo’s richest metal-bearing soils. Shinkolobwe’s intensely powerful ore was essential to the rapid design, development, and detonation of the world’s first atomic weapons, and the construction of the thousands that followed. Shinkolobwe was opened in 1921 by the Belgian colony’s minerals consortium, Union Minière. Although many of the Katanga region’s mines were focused on veins of copper-bearing malachite, Shinkolobwe was mined for decades for its radium, which was used in cancer treatments and to make watch dials glow in the dark. The masses of bright-yellow uranium ore that came up along with the radium were initially discarded as waste rock: There were scant commercial usages for uranium until the war began.When later atomic research found that uranium’s unstable nucleus could be used to make a powerful bomb, the U.S. Army’s Manhattan Project began searching for a reliable source of uranium. They found it through Union Minière, which sold the United States the first 1,000 tons it needed to get the bomb effort off the ground.The Manhattan Project sent agents of the OSS, precursor to the CIA, to Congo from 1943 to 1945 to supervise the reopening of the mine and the extraction of Shinkolobwe’s ore—and to make sure none of it fell into the hands of the Axis powers. Every piece of rock that emerged from the mine for almost two decades was purchased by the Manhattan Project and its successors in the Atomic Energy Commission, until the mine was closed by the Belgian authorities on the eve of Congolese independence in 1960. After that, the colonial mining enterprise Union Minière became the national minerals conglomerate Gécamines, which retained much of the original structure and staff.Dr. Celestin Banza Lubaba, a professor of toxicology in the School of Public Health at the University of Lubumbashi, researches the health conditions of mine workers in southeast Congo’s minerals sector. What complicates his work, he told me, is that many of the ores in the Copperbelt are amalgams of different metals: the richest cobalt veins occur in heterogeneous masses that combine cobalt with copper, manganese, nickel, and uranium. The intermixing of the ores makes assessing the specific health effects of working with one or another metal very difficult. Dr. Lubaba showed me the small battery-operated Geiger counters that he uses in the field to measure radioactivity. He had begun the process of trying to find and interview the descendants of the Shinkolobwe miners, but he explained that tracing the health consequences of working in that specific mine would be difficult: Many long-established villages in the area have been demolished and cast apart as cobalt extraction has torn through the landscape. His initial inquiries suggested that at least some of the descendants of the Shinkolobwe miners had been drawn into the maelstrom of digging in the region around Kolwezi.The miners who extracted some of the most powerful stones ever found with rudimentary tools and their bare hands are hardly mentioned in histories written about the bomb. In her book Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade, historian Gabrielle Hecht recounts the U.S. Public Health Service’s efforts to investigate the effects of uranium exposure on people who worked closely with the metal and the ore that bore it. In 1956, a team of medical researchers from the PHS paid a visit to Shinkolobwe while the mine was still producing more than half of the uranium used in America’s Cold War missile programs. Most of their questions went unanswered, however, as Shinkolobwe’s operators had few official records to share and stopped responding to communications as soon as the researchers left.The miners who extracted some of the most powerful stones ever found with rudimentary tools and their bare hands are hardly mentioned in histories written about the bomb.The invisibility of Shinkolobwe mine workers in the historical record arises partly from the culture of secrecy imposed on the mine and its products during the production of the bomb. In Dr. Susan Williams’s book Spies in the Congo, a history of the Manhattan Project in Africa, she describes how the OSS was engaged in a complex and lethal struggle against the Nazi military to deny it access to the Shinkolobwe ore. After the Manhattan Project commandeered the mine in 1943 and forced miners to work round-the-clock shifts in the open pit under searchlights, the mine’s name was formally interdicted from reproduction and erased from maps. “Don’t ever use that word in anybody’s presence. Not ever!” Williams quotes OSS agent Wilbur Hogue snapping at a subordinate who had said the mine’s name in a café in Congo’s capital. “There’s something in that mine that both the United States and Germany want more than anything else in the world. I don’t know what it’s for. We’re not supposed to know.”“We don’t know what the health consequences are for prolonged exposure to many of these metals,” said Lubaba. “We do know that the fish that people used to get out of the rivers next to these mines are all gone. The water is undrinkable.” One of the few medical papers describing the consequences of lengthy exposure to cobalt dust, based on research in Katanga, was published in The Lancet in 2020; it found a correlation between exposure to high levels of cobalt and arsenic and the high rate of birth defects in the region’s children.Lubaba showed me photos of artisanal miners in the shadow of massive tailings piles near the town of Manono. Canadian company Tanatalex Lithium Resources is currently processing the tailings for the lithium left behind by previous operations. Manono sits at the southern end of the other major arc of Congolese minerals: the Tin Belt, which stretches north toward Rwanda and yields huge quantities of lithium, tin, and coltan, essential for various forms of high-tech manufacturing. Many artisanal miners find their work digging through the leftovers of industrial interests that have moved on. “There’s something in that mine that both the United States and Germany want more than anything else in the world. I don’t know what it’s for. We’re not supposed to know.”I asked if I could visit Shinkolobwe; Lubaba told me the site itself is restricted and off-limits to foreigners. I mentioned that I had noticed a new operation adjacent to Shinkolobwe’s abandoned pit while surveying the area via Google Maps. He said that could be one of the many new Chinese-run operations that have opened across Katanga over the course of the last 15 years. “They say they are mining gold, but many presume that they are also pursuing uranium,” he said. “They are certainly after cobalt, like everyone else.”Chinese metals firms took over the old Gécamines smelter in Lubumbashi, along with many of Congo’s industrial mining operations, after Western mineral interests like De Beers, Freeport McMoran, and BHP Group cut their losses following the financial collapse of 2008. Over the next decade, deals between Chinese metals consortiums and former President Joseph Kabila saw some tens of millions generated from the sale of state-owned capital funneled directly to the president’s family. Corruption probes into these deals resulted in further consolidation, with firms like China Molybdenum closing deals worth $3 billion to extract Katanga’s cobalt. At the abandoned Shinkolobwe mine, the activities of artisanal miners are visible on Google satellite images; concavities and tunnel mouths where miners have been digging for cobalt in recent years stipple the satellite images of the 60-year old refuse heaps surrounding the collapsed mine shaft at the center of the site. The national army closed the mine and burned the nearby villages after a lethal tunnel collapse in 2004. The government limits access to the area now, Lubaba said, but they are allowing people to dig the site in secret, usually at night.Professor Donatien Dibwe Dia Mwembu of the History Department at Lubumbashi University wrote his dissertation in the 1960s on the history of mine worker health in the Katanga region. “During my research into the morbidity and mortality of miners in Katanga, I found myself reading about silicosis in the Gécamines archives and was chided by the director not to publish what I read,” he told me. “Some months later that entire archive was disappeared by the authorities—and this was simply information about silicosis, the most common mine worker ailment. The effects that uranium had on the miners were much worse.” The delayed onset of the effects of prolonged exposure to the dust of cobalt and uranium has made it difficult to accurately describe the health problems that people face, he said, and mining interests have always been eager to avoid responsibility for worker illness.It’s not just Congolese miners who felt health impacts from the making of the bomb. In the U.S., Shinkolobwe’s uranium has left a deadly impact on towns across the country where it was processed, as residents still grapple with the cancers, blood diseases, and soil pollution that the contamination caused. There is a common story about Shinkolobwe miners, which I heard from Dibwe and from several other sources across Lubumbashi, including artists at the Picha Art Center, scientists at the office of the Atomic Energy Commission, and taxi drivers. The story goes that men who had worked in the Shinkolobwe mine would return to their villages on the weekends for rest, and that when those men entered the village bar for a beer, the signal on the television would distort and the screen would fill with static. “According to the story, this happened in their homes as well,” said Dibwe. In the hospital parking lot, Langunu scrolled through photos of a team of graduate students in white coveralls and yellow plastic helmets, posing around a battered pickup truck full of native plants in a landscape of bare, scraped dust. Under one of the few environmental rules that regulate Katanga’s minerals sector, newly licensed industrial mining operations are required to invite teams from the university to survey for the endangered plants that rely on metallic soils.  “When we find the endemic plants,” he said, “we either relocate them to a site established for their maintenance or try to collect and preserve their seeds. After the mining concessionaires finish extracting the minerals, we reinstall the plants in the disturbed site.” At least one plant, Crepidorhopalon perennis, is now found only in the university’s gardens, its entire habitat having been destroyed by the Étoile du Congo mine.I recalled the city-size holes that I’d seen from the air on my approach to Lubumbashi airport. How much was it possible to preserve? “We save what we can,” said Langunu. “The hill no longer exists, and the plant is functionally extinct, but we hope at some point to restore it.”

Serge Langunu is a graduate student in botany at the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In May, he and I were sitting on a bench in the parking lot of a hospital just outside Lubumbashi’s downtown, looking at photos of plants on his laptop.  I met Langunu at the hospital to see an experimental plot of metal-loving plants cultivated by the university’s agronomy department. This understated garden was growing in the shadow of a massive chimney, looming across the street in the mostly abandoned grounds of the old copper smelter named after the state mining corporation, Gécamines. Lubumbashi is Congo’s second-largest city and the capital of Katanga province, founded in 1910 by the Belgian colonial regime to exploit Katanga’s otherworldly mineral wealth. For about 80 years, the smoke from the smelting of ore from the Étoile du Congo copper mine drifted out of that chimney over the homes of mine workers and their families on the west side of the Lubumbashi River, while mine administrators and other colonial officers enjoyed the cleaner air on the other side. As a result, the soil at the hospital and throughout the surrounding neighborhood is heavily contaminated with copper, cobalt, lead, zinc, and arsenic. The university’s experimental garden uses species from Katanga’s endemic flora, much of which has evolved to be resistant to, or even dependent on, concentrations of metals that would stunt or kill most other plants, to decontaminate the poisoned soil. “This one is Crotalaria cobalticola,” said Langunu, pointing to an image of an angular, pea-like flower with a vivid yellow hue. “It grows mainly in zones with a high concentration of copper and cobalt.” I leaned in to look closer. Crotalaria is what is known as an obligate metallophyte—it requires the presence of cobalt in order to survive. Cobalt has become the center of a major upsurge in mining in Congo, and the rapid acceleration of cobalt extraction in the region since 2013 has brought hundreds of thousands of people into intimate contact with a powerful melange of toxic metals. The frantic pace of cobalt extraction in Katanga bears close resemblance to another period of rapid exploitation of Congolese mineral resources: During the last few years of World War II, the U.S. government sourced the majority of the uranium necessary to develop the first atomic weapons from a single Congolese mine, named Shinkolobwe. The largely forgotten story of those miners, and the devastating health and ecological impacts uranium production had on Congo, looms over the country now as cobalt mining accelerates to feed the renewable energy boom—with little to no protections for workers involved in the trade.The city of Kolwezi, which is 300 km (186 miles) northwest of Lubumbashi and 180 km from the now-abandoned Shinkolobwe mine, sits on top of nearly half of the available cobalt in the world. The scope of the contemporary scramble for that metal in Katanga has totally transformed the region. Enormous open-pit mines worked by tens of thousands of miners form vast craters in the landscape and are slowly erasing the city itself. The U.S. government sourced the majority of the uranium necessary to develop the first atomic weapons from a single Congolese mine, named Shinkolobwe.The global shift toward renewable energy has hugely increased the world’s demand for metals for batteries, creating a new opportunity for Congo, the world’s largest producer of cobalt. Companies like Tesla, Apple, Samsung, and Chrysler source significant percentages of their cobalt from the country. Much of the cobalt in Congo is mined by hand: Workers scour the surface level seams with picks, shovels, and lengths of rebar, sometimes tunneling by hand 60 feet or more into the earth in pursuit of a vein of ore. This is referred to as artisanal mining, as opposed to the industrial mining carried out by large firms. The thousands of artisanal miners who work at the edges of the formal mines run by big industrial concerns make up 90 percent of the nation’s mining workforce and produce 30 percent of its metals. Artisanal mining is not as efficient as larger-scale industrial mining, but since the miners produce good-quality ore with zero investment in tools, infrastructure, or safety, the ore they sell to buyers is as cheap as it gets. Forced and child labor in the supply chain is not uncommon here, thanks in part to a significant lack of controls and regulations on artisanal mining from the government.Congo’s mineral resources are found in two broad geographical curves, arcs of mineral-rich surface-level rock that converge on the city of Lubumbashi. This region, known as the Copperbelt, has been mined for more than a century for minerals like copper, cobalt, nickel, gold, and uranium. Some of those deposits are among the richest of their kind in the world, and the workers in those mines are among the most exploited on the planet. Conditions in the mining regions have changed little in the century since the opening of the Shinkolobwe mine, whose highly concentrated uranium ore supercharged both the U.S. and German military projects to develop atomic weapons during World War II.For the 15 years after its use in the bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of the uranium mined for the Manhattan Project’s subsequent bomb-building efforts came out of the Shinkolobwe mine, sited at the edge of the arc of Congo’s richest metal-bearing soils. Shinkolobwe’s intensely powerful ore was essential to the rapid design, development, and detonation of the world’s first atomic weapons, and the construction of the thousands that followed. Shinkolobwe was opened in 1921 by the Belgian colony’s minerals consortium, Union Minière. Although many of the Katanga region’s mines were focused on veins of copper-bearing malachite, Shinkolobwe was mined for decades for its radium, which was used in cancer treatments and to make watch dials glow in the dark. The masses of bright-yellow uranium ore that came up along with the radium were initially discarded as waste rock: There were scant commercial usages for uranium until the war began.When later atomic research found that uranium’s unstable nucleus could be used to make a powerful bomb, the U.S. Army’s Manhattan Project began searching for a reliable source of uranium. They found it through Union Minière, which sold the United States the first 1,000 tons it needed to get the bomb effort off the ground.The Manhattan Project sent agents of the OSS, precursor to the CIA, to Congo from 1943 to 1945 to supervise the reopening of the mine and the extraction of Shinkolobwe’s ore—and to make sure none of it fell into the hands of the Axis powers. Every piece of rock that emerged from the mine for almost two decades was purchased by the Manhattan Project and its successors in the Atomic Energy Commission, until the mine was closed by the Belgian authorities on the eve of Congolese independence in 1960. After that, the colonial mining enterprise Union Minière became the national minerals conglomerate Gécamines, which retained much of the original structure and staff.Dr. Celestin Banza Lubaba, a professor of toxicology in the School of Public Health at the University of Lubumbashi, researches the health conditions of mine workers in southeast Congo’s minerals sector. What complicates his work, he told me, is that many of the ores in the Copperbelt are amalgams of different metals: the richest cobalt veins occur in heterogeneous masses that combine cobalt with copper, manganese, nickel, and uranium. The intermixing of the ores makes assessing the specific health effects of working with one or another metal very difficult. Dr. Lubaba showed me the small battery-operated Geiger counters that he uses in the field to measure radioactivity. He had begun the process of trying to find and interview the descendants of the Shinkolobwe miners, but he explained that tracing the health consequences of working in that specific mine would be difficult: Many long-established villages in the area have been demolished and cast apart as cobalt extraction has torn through the landscape. His initial inquiries suggested that at least some of the descendants of the Shinkolobwe miners had been drawn into the maelstrom of digging in the region around Kolwezi.The miners who extracted some of the most powerful stones ever found with rudimentary tools and their bare hands are hardly mentioned in histories written about the bomb. In her book Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade, historian Gabrielle Hecht recounts the U.S. Public Health Service’s efforts to investigate the effects of uranium exposure on people who worked closely with the metal and the ore that bore it. In 1956, a team of medical researchers from the PHS paid a visit to Shinkolobwe while the mine was still producing more than half of the uranium used in America’s Cold War missile programs. Most of their questions went unanswered, however, as Shinkolobwe’s operators had few official records to share and stopped responding to communications as soon as the researchers left.The miners who extracted some of the most powerful stones ever found with rudimentary tools and their bare hands are hardly mentioned in histories written about the bomb.The invisibility of Shinkolobwe mine workers in the historical record arises partly from the culture of secrecy imposed on the mine and its products during the production of the bomb. In Dr. Susan Williams’s book Spies in the Congo, a history of the Manhattan Project in Africa, she describes how the OSS was engaged in a complex and lethal struggle against the Nazi military to deny it access to the Shinkolobwe ore. After the Manhattan Project commandeered the mine in 1943 and forced miners to work round-the-clock shifts in the open pit under searchlights, the mine’s name was formally interdicted from reproduction and erased from maps. “Don’t ever use that word in anybody’s presence. Not ever!” Williams quotes OSS agent Wilbur Hogue snapping at a subordinate who had said the mine’s name in a café in Congo’s capital. “There’s something in that mine that both the United States and Germany want more than anything else in the world. I don’t know what it’s for. We’re not supposed to know.”“We don’t know what the health consequences are for prolonged exposure to many of these metals,” said Lubaba. “We do know that the fish that people used to get out of the rivers next to these mines are all gone. The water is undrinkable.” One of the few medical papers describing the consequences of lengthy exposure to cobalt dust, based on research in Katanga, was published in The Lancet in 2020; it found a correlation between exposure to high levels of cobalt and arsenic and the high rate of birth defects in the region’s children.Lubaba showed me photos of artisanal miners in the shadow of massive tailings piles near the town of Manono. Canadian company Tanatalex Lithium Resources is currently processing the tailings for the lithium left behind by previous operations. Manono sits at the southern end of the other major arc of Congolese minerals: the Tin Belt, which stretches north toward Rwanda and yields huge quantities of lithium, tin, and coltan, essential for various forms of high-tech manufacturing. Many artisanal miners find their work digging through the leftovers of industrial interests that have moved on. “There’s something in that mine that both the United States and Germany want more than anything else in the world. I don’t know what it’s for. We’re not supposed to know.”I asked if I could visit Shinkolobwe; Lubaba told me the site itself is restricted and off-limits to foreigners. I mentioned that I had noticed a new operation adjacent to Shinkolobwe’s abandoned pit while surveying the area via Google Maps. He said that could be one of the many new Chinese-run operations that have opened across Katanga over the course of the last 15 years. “They say they are mining gold, but many presume that they are also pursuing uranium,” he said. “They are certainly after cobalt, like everyone else.”Chinese metals firms took over the old Gécamines smelter in Lubumbashi, along with many of Congo’s industrial mining operations, after Western mineral interests like De Beers, Freeport McMoran, and BHP Group cut their losses following the financial collapse of 2008. Over the next decade, deals between Chinese metals consortiums and former President Joseph Kabila saw some tens of millions generated from the sale of state-owned capital funneled directly to the president’s family. Corruption probes into these deals resulted in further consolidation, with firms like China Molybdenum closing deals worth $3 billion to extract Katanga’s cobalt. At the abandoned Shinkolobwe mine, the activities of artisanal miners are visible on Google satellite images; concavities and tunnel mouths where miners have been digging for cobalt in recent years stipple the satellite images of the 60-year old refuse heaps surrounding the collapsed mine shaft at the center of the site. The national army closed the mine and burned the nearby villages after a lethal tunnel collapse in 2004. The government limits access to the area now, Lubaba said, but they are allowing people to dig the site in secret, usually at night.Professor Donatien Dibwe Dia Mwembu of the History Department at Lubumbashi University wrote his dissertation in the 1960s on the history of mine worker health in the Katanga region. “During my research into the morbidity and mortality of miners in Katanga, I found myself reading about silicosis in the Gécamines archives and was chided by the director not to publish what I read,” he told me. “Some months later that entire archive was disappeared by the authorities—and this was simply information about silicosis, the most common mine worker ailment. The effects that uranium had on the miners were much worse.” The delayed onset of the effects of prolonged exposure to the dust of cobalt and uranium has made it difficult to accurately describe the health problems that people face, he said, and mining interests have always been eager to avoid responsibility for worker illness.It’s not just Congolese miners who felt health impacts from the making of the bomb. In the U.S., Shinkolobwe’s uranium has left a deadly impact on towns across the country where it was processed, as residents still grapple with the cancers, blood diseases, and soil pollution that the contamination caused. There is a common story about Shinkolobwe miners, which I heard from Dibwe and from several other sources across Lubumbashi, including artists at the Picha Art Center, scientists at the office of the Atomic Energy Commission, and taxi drivers. The story goes that men who had worked in the Shinkolobwe mine would return to their villages on the weekends for rest, and that when those men entered the village bar for a beer, the signal on the television would distort and the screen would fill with static. “According to the story, this happened in their homes as well,” said Dibwe. In the hospital parking lot, Langunu scrolled through photos of a team of graduate students in white coveralls and yellow plastic helmets, posing around a battered pickup truck full of native plants in a landscape of bare, scraped dust. Under one of the few environmental rules that regulate Katanga’s minerals sector, newly licensed industrial mining operations are required to invite teams from the university to survey for the endangered plants that rely on metallic soils.  “When we find the endemic plants,” he said, “we either relocate them to a site established for their maintenance or try to collect and preserve their seeds. After the mining concessionaires finish extracting the minerals, we reinstall the plants in the disturbed site.” At least one plant, Crepidorhopalon perennis, is now found only in the university’s gardens, its entire habitat having been destroyed by the Étoile du Congo mine.I recalled the city-size holes that I’d seen from the air on my approach to Lubumbashi airport. How much was it possible to preserve? “We save what we can,” said Langunu. “The hill no longer exists, and the plant is functionally extinct, but we hope at some point to restore it.”

Outrage at plans to develop Turkey’s cultural heritage sites

Archaeologists fear dangerous precedent if court approves new beach facilities at site of Phaselis on the Mediterranean coastThe construction of tourist facilities on two beaches that were part of the ancient city of Phaselis – a tentative nominee for Unesco world heritage status – has caused outrage at what is claimed to be the latest example of the Turkish culture ministry sacrificing heritage for tourism.The Alacasu and Bostanlık beaches, on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast in the province of Antalya, were part of Phaselis, a Greek and Roman settlement thought to be the birthplace of Plato’s student Theodectes. Despite having ruins dating back to the second century BC, the beaches have never been subject to an archaeological dig. Continue reading...

Archaeologists fear dangerous precedent if court approves new beach facilities at site of Phaselis on the Mediterranean coastThe construction of tourist facilities on two beaches that were part of the ancient city of Phaselis – a tentative nominee for Unesco world heritage status – has caused outrage at what is claimed to be the latest example of the Turkish culture ministry sacrificing heritage for tourism.The Alacasu and Bostanlık beaches, on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast in the province of Antalya, were part of Phaselis, a Greek and Roman settlement thought to be the birthplace of Plato’s student Theodectes. Despite having ruins dating back to the second century BC, the beaches have never been subject to an archaeological dig. Continue reading...

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