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Scientists have discovered evidence of ancient human activity in a kilometer-long lava cave in Saudi Arabia, providing a rare glimpse into the lives of nomadic people from thousands of years ago.

This find in the Umm Jirsan cave on the Arabian Peninsula sheds light on how ancient humans used this unique environment for shelter and survival.

Ancient Activity in a Lava Cave

The Umm Jirsan cave, located in a region that researchers have only begun exploring in the past five years, is part of a larger system of caves on the Arabian Peninsula. The recent discovery of human-made objects and signs of human occupation in this cave suggests that ancient humans used these caves for refuge during their nomadic journeys between oases.

According to the study published in PLOS ONE, human activity in the cave dates back 7,000 to 10,000 years.

Mathew Stewart, a researcher at Griffith University's Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, explained: "Our findings in Umm Jirsan offer a rare glimpse into the life of ancient humans in Arabia. It reveals repeated phases of human occupation and sheds light on the pastoralist activities that dominated the area."

Signs of Pastoralism and Human-Made Objects

The archaeological findings in the cave suggest that ancient humans engaged in pastoralism, the practice of breeding and raising cattle. The presence of fossil remains, rock art, and crafted stones with consistent chipping patterns supports this theory.

Researchers also observed clear human-made modifications in a large area near one of the cave entrances, indicating intentional changes to the cave's structure.


The Umm Jirsan cave is formed from cooled lava, making it a unique and intriguing site for archaeological exploration.

The cave's size is impressive, with a height ranging from 8 to 12 meters (26 to 39 feet) and a width of up to 45 meters (148 feet) in some places. It extends 1,481 meters (4,859 feet) into the earth, offering ample space for ancient humans to seek shelter and conduct their activities.

These findings contribute to our understanding of nomadic lifestyles and the development of pastoralist practices in ancient times. 



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Stella Chiweshe Obituary

Stella Chiweshe, who has died aged 76, was a rebel musician who transformed the music scene in Zimbabwe in the 1970s, when the country was still white-ruled Rhodesia. She did so by daring to play the mbira, the “thumb piano”, a small instrument with 22 to 28 metal keys, flattened at the playing end and attached to a wooden resonating box.

Photograph: Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Photograph: Frans Schellekens/Redferns© Provided by The Guardian

Often placed inside a large gourd for further amplification, the mbira plays a key role in the traditions of Shona culture, both sacred and secular, and is used to contact deceased ancestors and tribal guardians during all-night ceremonies. This “telephone to the spirits of people, water, trees and birds”, as Chiweshe called it, was considered so dangerous that it was banned by Rhodesia’s white authorities and by Christian missionaries. Traditionally, the mbira was only played by men, but Chiweshe defied convention, and became Africa’s best-known female mbira player.

A compelling performer, she was a great musician who had the aura of a priestess. Playing her last London show at Cafe Oto in November 2021, she came on wearing a long white robe and an elaborate headdress, and silenced the audience even before she reached the stage, with her thrilling and spooky ululating chants. She sat to play the mbira, creating both melody and bass lines from the tiny instrument, and then stood to sing, now backing herself with hosho rattles. She asked the audience to make bird noises as she sang about a time “when birds could communicate with humans”, and switched back to mbira for a song for the ancestors. “If you are listening to the mbira, let go of any thinking”, she told the audience. “Let your mind to do its own thing”.

Born in Mujumi Village, Mhondoro, to the south of what is now Harare, Chiweshe grew up listening to American country music and rock, favouring the Everly Brothers and Jim Reeves over traditional music. She was unimpressed when her grandparents invited mbira players from another region to play an overnight ritual, but two years later she said the sound of the mbira suddenly started ringing in her head “loud and endlessly”.

From that point onwards she was desperate to learn the instrument, but found that no male musicians would teach her, while mbira makers refused even to build an instrument for a woman. A great-uncle finally agreed to give her lessons, and after three years training, from 1966 to 1969, she began to play in public. She risked imprisonment by performing at all-night sacred ceremonies, while also developing a commercial (and legal) side to her work. Her first single, the gently hypnotic Kashahwa (1974), demonstrated her instrumental skill and the range of her relaxed vocal style, and she became a bestseller on the local market.

After independence in 1980, Chiweshe rose to be one of the stars of the new Zimbabwe. In 1981 she joined the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, bringing her mbira skills to an international audience. She was also an actor, playing the title role in the film Mbuya Nehanda, which told the true story of a spirit medium who was executed after leading a rebellion against British occupation in the 19th century.

Although many of her songs were inspired by her ancestors and the spirit world, there was also a political side to Chiweshe’s compositions, which included a tribute to Samora Machel, the first president of independent Mozambique, and Chachimurenga (Let’s Unite and Fight Apartheid). After leaving the Dance Company to concentrate on her own career, she played solo but also worked with a band, the Earthquake, in which her mbira was backed by marimbas and rattles. 

Further experiments were to follow. She recorded her first European album release, Ambuya?, in Germany, with help from members of the adventurous, globally-influenced British band 3 Mustaphas 3, whom she met in Slumberland, a bar in what was then West Berlin that was a celebrated meeting point for musicians.

That album was produced by Ben Mandelson, and he suggested that the Mustaphas’ bass player and drummer should be added to the Earthquake lineup, which included Chiweshe’s daughter Virginia playing hosho percussion. The result, he said, was “quite a radical record for 1987, and took her to a different place. It was a jump forward for Stella, showing what might be achieved beyond Zimbabwe”. Chiweshe was willing to experiment, but “she took her role very seriously. A lot of things came to her in dreams or from the spirit world”.

Ambuya is Shona for grandmother, a term of respect, and was followed by a question mark, but when the album was rereleased in 2021 the title had been changed to Ambuya!, with an exclamation mark: a sign that the respect had been earned.

The album helped to transform Chiweshe’s career. It was followed by live shows with members of the new lineup, who also played on the first of two sessions made in the UK for the Radio 1 DJ John Peel. On returning to Zimbabwe she added guitar, bass and drums to the Earthquake band, in which Virginia was now also playing mbira, which she had been taught by her mother.

Playing either solo or with the full lineup, Stella built up a global following, with her live shows including major festivals in the UK, US, Australia and Spain. Her final album release, Kasahwa (2018), was a compilation of her singles from 1974 to 1983, previously unreleased outside Africa and a reminder of the brilliance of her early work.

While touring in Europe with the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe she met Peter Reich, a German who was the co-founder of the Slumberland bar. They married in 1988 and from then on Chiweshe spent much of her time in Berlin, with Peter acting as her unofficial manager while still helping to look after the bar.

She also became involved in fundraising for the Chivanhu Centre, which would be “dedicated to mbira music”, and would connect “children and elders” and “artists from Africa and other parts of the world”.

Peter died in 2022. Chiweshe is survived by her daughters, Charity and Virginia, from a previous relationship.

At her funeral, which was paid for by the Zimbabwean government and at which only traditional music was performed, Charity revealed that her mother was born Stella Nekati and that “Chiweshe was a totem she adopted as a stage name”.

• Stella Chiweshe (Stella Rambisai Nekati), musician, born 8 July 1946; died 20 January 2023

Reference: The Guardian: Story by Robin Denselow 


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eorgian England. Those words conjure up a scene from a Jane Austen novel, with elegantly dressed ladies taking tea or promenading along sweeping Regency terraces, hoping to catch the eye of a “single man in possession of a good fortune”. It was the era of spa towns and pleasure gardens, powdered wigs and smelling salts, all presided over by a strict code of morality and etiquette.

Karla Simone-Spence and Steven Macintosh as Frannie and John Langton in The Confessions of Frannie Langton - ITVX/DRAMA REPUBLIC
Karla Simone-Spence and Steven Macintosh as Frannie and John Langton in The Confessions of Frannie Langton - ITVX/DRAMA REPUBLIC© ITVX/DRAMA REPUBLIC

All of that is a world away from the London of fictional heroine Frannie Langton, whose turbulent life is the subject of a best-selling novel by Sara Collins which has now been adapted into a major new ITV series, beginning next month. Frannie is a former slave who stands trial at the Old Bailey in 1826 for murdering her master, George Benham, and his eccentric wife, Marguerite, with whom she was having a clandestine affair.

As a drama, this is all irresistible stuff. But it surely bears little resemblance to the real history of the 1800s? In fact, scratch beneath the surface of Georgian high society and you will find a dark world of addiction, enslavement, violence and murder. This went to the very heart of the royal court. In May 1810, George III’s fifth son, Earnest, duke of Cumberland, was found in his bedchamber covered in blood, his valet dead in a nearby room. Although he was cleared of murder, the scandal was slow to recede – understandably so, given the duke’s dubious reputation.

Another of the so-called “mad” king’s sons courted greater controversy. Prince George (known as “Prinny” to his friends) was, critics John and Leigh Hunt contended, “a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace”. He admitted to being “rather too fond of wine and women”. His youth had been spent bedding actresses and running up millions of pounds worth of debt.

Prince George’s lifestyle did not end when he became Prince Regent in 1811, following his father’s renewed and severe bout of mental illness. If anything, he reached new levels of excess. Like many of his contemporaries (the fictional Frannie Langton included), he became addicted to laudanum, a liquid form of opium. At the height of his addiction, he would routinely take 100 drops to prepare for a public appearance, enough to knock most people senseless. There was “no limit to his desires, nor any restraint to his profusion”, remarked a scandalised contemporary in 1830, the year of his death. While some physicians promoted laudanum’s medicinal uses – such as to treat coughing and diarrhoea or relieve pain – others condemned it as “a poison by which great numbers are daily destroyed”. 

Run wild: Gin Lane (1751) by Hogarth depicts a scene of the St Giles slums - Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Run wild: Gin Lane (1751) by Hogarth depicts a scene of the St Giles slums - Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

Georgian society was beset by other addictions, too. Alcoholism was widespread among the poor, and the “gin craze” of the start of the century was still in full swing – vividly illustrated by William Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane print (1751). Gin was cheap and extremely strong and offered a quick release from the unending misery of everyday life. It was sold everywhere, from grocers and street markets to barbers and brothels. So pervasive was it that by the 1740s, gin consumption in Britain had reached an average of more than six gallons per person every year. By 1751, the situation had become so dire that Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, predicted there would soon be “few of the common people left to drink it”.

The insatiable demand for “Madame Geneva”, as it was known, led to soaring death rates and prompted a surge in poverty and crime. With no organised police force except the “Bow Street Runners” in London, robberies, violence and murder became rife. By the Regency period, crime had reached epidemic proportions, with everything from pickpocketing and house-breaking to violent brawls and murder, and the situation was veering dangerously out of control. Burglary was so common that many householders would take precautions such as asking neighbours to watch over their properties before they set foot outside. Going for a walk was a dangerous business as there was a very real chance of being set upon by one of the many violent gangs that prowled London’s streets or jostled by a predatory group of prostitutes.

In the absence of police, the government attempted to enforce law and order by deterrent rather than arrest. As the Georgian period progressed, so the penalties for crime grew ever harsher. By the end of the 18th century, there were no fewer than 200 offences that carried the death penalty, including the theft of items with a monetary value that exceeded five shillings.

This was a society in which everything was for sale: drugs, alcohol, sex and slaves. Although Parliament passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, slavery continued in parts of the British Empire. Many of the formerly enslaved persons who had been brought to serve in British households (Frannie included) had little choice but to remain.

Prostitution was also rife in the early 19th century, with an estimated 40,000 street workers in London alone. William Acton, a surgeon specialising in genito-urinary disorders and venereal diseases, claimed to have “counted 185 [prostitutes] in the course of a walk home”. Popular areas for brothels included St Martin’s (now London’s theatre district), St Paul’s and even the newly built streets of Mayfair.

An 1806 depiction of muggers being arrested - Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo
An 1806 depiction of muggers being arrested - Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo© Provided by The Telegraph

The Georgians also suffered from what has been termed “gambling mania”. One of the earliest illustrations of an addiction that would hold society in its grip for more than a century happened in the reign of the first King George. In 1720, a scheme was mooted for the South Sea Company – established in 1711 to trade with South America – to take over part of the government debt. Even though the company had no trade, this immediately prompted wild speculation. “No one is satisfied with even exorbitant gains, but everyone thirsts for more, and all this founded upon the machine of paper credit supported only by imagination,” complained Edward Harley, whose brother had founded the scheme. Many gambled their whole fortunes on what they regarded as a sure prospect. George I himself ventured a considerable sum. Within weeks, the price of stock had risen tenfold.

The inevitable crash, when it came, wreaked widespread devastation. Thousands were rendered destitute overnight. Those who had enjoyed a brief glimpse of high society were cast back down into its dregs, and many aristocratic families were ruined. “There never was such a universal confusion and distraction as at this time,” reflected one observer, while the poet Alexander Pope reflected that the whole sorry affair had come “like a thief in the night, exactly as it happens in the case of our death”.

Dismay and devastation were rapidly followed by anger and revolt, most of which centred – rather unfairly – on George I. All the anti-German feeling that had been bubbling under the surface since the king’s accession six years earlier burst out in a torrent of protests, propaganda and violence. This in turn fuelled the Jacobite cause, which sought to oust the Hanoverians and restore the exiled King James II and his descendants to the throne.

Jane Austen would neither approve nor recognise the world that Frannie Langton inhabited. But this new drama arguably brings us closer to Georgian England – with all its dangers, vices and addictions – than the genteel world of Elizabeth Bennet.

Tracy Borman’s books include King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant: The Life and Times of Henrietta Howard. The Confessions of Frannie Langton starts on ITVX on Dec 8 

Reference: The Telegraph: Story by Tracy Borman 


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Ali Ahmed Aslam death: Chicken tikka masala ‘inventor’ dies at age 77

Ali Ahmed Aslam, the chef who is said to have come up with the recipe for the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, has died at the age of 77.

The news was announced by the chef’s Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow earlier this week.

“Hey, Shish Snobs... Mr Ali passed away this morning... We are all absolutely devastated and heartbroken,” it said.

Aslam’s funeral was held at Glasgow Central Mosque on Tuesday (20 December). The cause of his death hasn’t been revealed.

The late chef’s nephew Andleeb Ahmed told AFP that “he would eat lunch in his restaurant every day”.

“The restaurant was his life. The chefs would make curry for him. I am not sure if he often ate chicken tikka masala,” Ahmed added.

In a 2009 interview, Aslam said he came up with the recipe for chicken tikka masala after a customer complained that his chicken tikka was too dry.

“Chicken tikka masala was invented in this restaurant, we used to make chicken tikka, and one day a customer said, ‘I’d take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry’,” Ali said. 

A plate of chicken tikka masala pictured at Glasgow’s Shish Mahal restaurant (AFP via Getty Images)
A plate of chicken tikka masala pictured at Glasgow’s Shish Mahal restaurant (AFP via Getty Images)© Provided by The Independent

“We thought we’d better cook the chicken with some sauce. So from here, we cooked chicken tikka with a sauce that contains yogurt, cream, and spices.”

Soon after, the dish became a popular item in many British restaurants.

Aslam was born in Pakistan and moved to Glasgow as a young boy before opening Shish Mahal in the city’s west end in 1964.

In 2009, the Labour MP for Glasgow Central, Mohammad Sarwar, called for the city to be officially recognised as the home of the chicken tikka masala.

He also campaigned for Glasgow to be given EU Protected Designation of Origin status for the curry.

But he was unsuccesful as many other estabilishments also claimed to have invented the dish.

While the exact origin of the dish is not known, chefs from south Asia have been responsible for introducing the region’s several cuisines into the UK. 

Reference: The Independent: Story by Peony Hirwani 



Actor Fred Ward has died, aged 79

Fred Ward has died at 79

Bang Showbiz Fred Ward has died at 79

The news of the ‘Tremors’ star was confirmed by his publicist Ron Hoffman, but he did not provide a cause or location, respecting his family’s wishes.

About his May 8 passing, Ron told PEOPLE: "It was Fred Ward's wish that any memorial tributes be made in the form of donations to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.”

After being born and raised in San Diego, Fred - who worked in Hollywood for more than four decades - served in the US Air Force for three years and worked as a lumberjack in Alaska and other odd jobs before breaking into acting.

After working in television, he got his big break with the 1974 movie ‘Ginger in the Morning’, before going on to appear in shows such as ‘Quincy’, ‘M.E’, and the ‘The Incredible Hulk’.

The Golden Globe winner went on to add ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘Henry and June’ to his credit list, among other projects, including the 1996 sequel to ‘Tremors’ and worked alongside Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh in 'Miami Blues', playing Officer Hoke Moseley,

In the 00s, Fred appeared in shows such as 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'ER'. His last project was the 2015 series ‘True Detective’ - that also starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey - as the character Eddie Velcoro.

Ron is survived by his wife Marie-France Ward - who he was married to for 27 years - and his son Django Ward, from a previous relationship. 

Reference: Bang Showbiz  

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