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News about Climate Change and our Planet


Much Like Stonehenge, Solstice Sunlight Would Have Danced on the Walls of This Neolithic Spanish Tomb

The excavations of White Stones Tomb. credit – ATLAS research group, University of Seville.

Reprinted with permission from World at Large, an independent news outlet covering conflict, travel, science, conservation, and health and fitness.

Archaeologists working in Spain’s most famous archaeological site have uncovered a 5,400-year-old tomb that perfectly aligns to the summer solstice sunrise in such a way as to be described as “domesticated sunlight”.

That strange term is used because of the rich variety of designs that appear in shadow on a stone stele on the right-hand side of the tomb when hit by the light of the rising sun on June 21st, producing an effect not unlike Newgrange in Ireland.

The tomb was discovered in the Antequera Dolmens UNESCO World Heritage Site near the town of Antequera, southern Spain. The 6,100-acre (2,446-hectare) site contains a mix of megalithic and dry stone Neolithic burial architecture unsurpassed in all of Europe, many of which contain archaeo-astronomical alignments.

“Newgrange is much bigger and more complex than the tomb we have discovered [in Spain], but they have something in common — the interest of the builders to use sunlight at a specific time of the year, to produce a symbolic—possibly magic—effect,” Leonardo García Sanjuán, an archaeologist at the University of Seville, told Live Science reporting on the discovery.

In the case of this tomb, called Piedras Blancas, or “White Stones” the base had exposed bedrock layers that tilted away from the sunrise, and so workers deliberately carved out a channel for light to enter and dance with shadows upon the walls inside.

The tomb was found quite near a remarkable limestone formation called La Peña de los Enamorados—the Rock of the Lovers—named after a legend that says two star-crossed lovers once killed themselves by jumping off it. It’s even closer to the Matacabras rock shelter, which is adorned with pictographs thought to be painted about 5,800 years ago.

“Antequera illustrates the power by which nature presided over the Neolithic worldview, inspiring and guiding the creation of monuments,” Sanjuán and his colleagues wrote in a paper on the site, published in Antiquity. “Is it mere chance that the largest and most sophisticated Neolithic monumental landscape in Iberia is in a region with not one but two remarkable natural formations?”

“Due to their different textures and carbonate content, processes such as dissolution, gelation, and wind action have differentially dissolved the limestones to form corridors, sinkholes, and caves. Neolithic settlers in the region may not have understood the formation processes that created El Torcal, but for a millennium and a half they lived among geological towers, corridors, and chambers that very much resembled a natural architecture”.

A side-by-side view of the oldest strata of the tomb (left) and a second period of use dating to about 500 years later (right) that began with a filling in with sediment of the earlier surface. credit – M. Ángel Blanco de la Rubia, Cambridge University Press.

What was found inside

Built probably around 3,400 BCE, or 5,400 years ago, the site was still regularly inhabited or at least visited 1,400 years later at the onset of the Bronze Age in Andalusia, highlighting its importance in local culture.

The tomb contained a large “assemblage” of human remains, compared to other megalithic tombs at Antequera whereby no human bones have ever been found.

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At White Stones, the entrance to the tomb was free of all cut rock and human remains, and in fact played host to funerary offerings, to which 10 complete ceramic vessels bear witness. Further towards the back of the chamber, a complex arrangement of medium-sized stones tightly bonded with mud appears to have acted as a platform on which to place bodies and/or bones.

All this was recorded in the layer of earth closest to the bedrock, and dates to the oldest period of use around 3,000 BCE. Then about 500 years later, a dramatic transformation occurred which saw all these features buried with a layer of sediment.

In this layer were discovered two adult skeletons, one male, one female, of about 75% completeness, but nothing that could be construed as grave goods. The tomb was then subject to yet another renovation, with yet more skeletons.

Perhaps more interesting than anyone found inside were two slabs of rock that made up the right-hand side wall. The first, covered in undulating wave or scale-like shapes, was taken from an area that used to make up the shallow seabed. It was on this rock that the light from sunrise on the summer solstice would fall.

OTHER PREHISTORIC DISCOVERIES: Prehistoric Human Footprints Unearthed in Spain are Nearly 300,000 Years Old and Unique in All of Europe

Just below it, two flat stones were affixed to the bedrock of the tomb’s floor with mud mortar, which point directly to the rising sun on the solstice circ. 3,400 BCE. The orientation of the pointing stone passes exactly through the gap between the eastern end of the wall and two stones placed there, perfectly channeling the light onto the stone with the wave patterns.

“These people chose this stone precisely because it created these waving, undulating shapes,” Sanjuán told Live Science. “This was very theatrical… they were very clever in producing these special visual effects”.

A European thing

The authors note in their study that Neolithic Europeans in Spain, Ireland, England, and even Sweden, have aligned megalithic structures to solar movements, such as sunrise or sunset during the solstices, or the vernal and autumn equinox.

Sanjuán notes that the importance of the sun is of obvious focus: the sun was the center of the worldview for Neolithic Europeans. It kept them warm, allowed them to see, grew plants, melted the snow, and guided the changing of the seasons.

MORE ARCHAEOLOGY NEWS: 7,000-year-old Road Uncovered in Croatia is Paved in Stone–A ‘Sensational Find’

The Dolmen de Menga pictured above is one of the largest in Europe, but it isn’t aligned with any astronomical event. Instead, its opening points directly at La Peña de los Enamorados, with White Stones at its base.

Clearly, the hill was of great importance to the people of Neolithic Antequera, but why such an enormous megalithic monument would be made to point at a much smaller one, by comparison, was not something the archaeologists could answer at this time.

At the end of their work, they had nevertheless proven once again the incalculable value of Antequera for understanding the history of Europe.

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Oil Refinery Factory Being Transformed into Green Cultural Park to Showcase Fossil-free Future in China

© Engram (released)

The Dutch architecture firm MVRDV has won a competition to design the Hangzhou Oil Refinery Factory Park, transforming a former industrial district that sits alongside the southern end of China’s Grand Canal.

With an eye-catching art and science museum at its center, the project includes offices, retail, and a wide variety of cultural experiences set in a green environment interwoven with the remnants of the past.

The Grand Canal is the world’s longest and one of the oldest man-made waterways. Currently, China is taking steps to transform its entire length, turning this industrial infrastructure into a social amenity by allowing access to, and enjoyment of, the water to millions of people that live along the canal’s 1,700-kilometer length.

The 45-acre Hangzhou site (18-hectare) was formerly occupied by an oil refinery—and the new design integrates renewable energy sources to serve as a prime example of the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, a transition that China has embraced in recent years.

With the canal’s future in mind, MVRDV capitalizes on the potential of industrial-to-cultural transformations. The towers of the refinery buildings are retained and integrated into the park’s landscape, with stairs and platforms providing views across the park.

The centerpiece of the park is the Art and Sci-tech Centre, a new museum which, with its cylindrical exterior, is imagined as a vastly scaled-up version of the silos which once peppered the site. A series of terraces are connected by stairs and bridges that serve to enliven this public area within the museum, enabling performances, large-scale installations, or events.

© MIR (released by MVRDV)

The outer façade of the museum is permeable, allowing breezes to penetrate the structure. The space inside is thus heated and cooled passively, fluctuating slightly in temperature depending on weather conditions but serving as a thermal buffer to dramatically reduce the energy required to fully heat and cool the building’s programmed spaces inside the boxes.

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With its appearance, the façade also cements the building’s status as the focal point of the park. Covered in an array of LEDs, the museum lights up at night to create a media façade that can be used to entertain visitors or to advertise the events taking place inside.

In addition to these lights, the façade also incorporates thousands of small photovoltaic spots to generate energy from sunlight. These spots form a “solar painting” that was designed with a parametric approach, considering the solar exposure, prevailing winds, and most notable views to place a higher density of photovoltaics where they are most needed.

“As a planet, we know we need to move on from oil on a massive scale”, says MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “But that raises the question, what should we do with all this infrastructure that was created? It is somehow, at the same time, tempting to make a clean break with history, and romantic to imagine a future where we build upon the ruins of the past.


“With this project we do both: we incorporate the old industrial structures, while newly built elements – which are clearly distinguishable from the old – show us a better, more sustainable future. The old ‘fossils’ turn into energetic drums.”

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In the remainder of the park, existing structures are transformed into offices or retail spaces. Many of the structures that have already been demolished are recreated with a modern approach – taking the same dimensions as the previous structures, but built with glass and using the same photovoltaic spots that are used on the museum’s façade.

Hangzhou Oil Refinery Factory Park- copyright Engram (released)

By turning every newly built building surface also into an energy generator, the park can become energy-negative in operation, contributing energy to the grid.

From immersive art experiences to retail kiosks to enclosed gardens, these structures help to keep the park lively at all times, ensuring that there is always something to do even after dark.


Odisha’s model colony for climate refugees in Kendrapara should be emulated across India

More than 45 million people in the country will be forced to migrate due to environmental disruptions by 2050 

Saraswati Mohanty, a resident of the Baghpatia Colony, in front of her partially constructed house. Photo: ActionAid Saraswati Mohanty, a resident of the Baghpatia Colony, in front of her partially constructed house. Photo: ActionAid

The Chief Minister of Odisha recently sanctioned Rs 22 crore to develop the Satabhaya Baghpatia Thithan Colony in Kendrapara district as a model colony under the Government of Odisha’s Adarsh Colony initiative. The announcement provides hope to people displaced by climate change and suffering from the impact of sea incursions for many decades.

A combination of factors makes coastal Odisha a climate change hotspot. It is a cyclone-prone area, and the intensity and frequency of cyclones have increased over the recent years. The destruction of mangroves and unchecked construction activity have increased the vulnerability to extreme weather events.

Elderly residents of Satabhaya, a village in the eastern state, have painful memories of past displacements. Satabhaya, meaning seven brothers, was named after the original seven villages which were lost to the sea before the 1970s. 

Villagers from those seven villages moved inward and settled in five new villages under the Satabhaya Gram Panchayat. Over the following decades, villagers from the Satabhaya panchayat again left for safer locations as their agricultural and homestead lands were being swallowed up by the intruding sea or laid to a sandy waste.  

ActionAid Association visited the resettlement colony at Baghpati as part of a study on climate change’s impact on people in coastal areas. 

Around 751 households displaced from seven coastal villages were rehabilitated in the resettlement colony, the team found. 

However, 33.45 per cent of the houses are incomplete and the construction work of a few homes had not yet started. More than two-thirds of the houses were partially constructed, without toilets and drainage systems.

Our study also found that only 10 decimals of land (a decimal is a hundredth of an acre) were allocated to people, though their homestead areas in Satabhaya were 3-5 times of that. 

In their interactions with the study team, residents pointed to the sea, at the tip of a temple spire visible only when the waves recede and to areas where fertile agriculture lands once existed. 

They also shared rent receipts as proof of possession. At the resettlement site, people have not been given titles for the homestead land allocated.

Access to drinking water, educational and health services are minimal in the resettlement colony.  In a discussion, residents told us that neighbouring villages do not want to marry their girls to villages which may once again be lost to the sea, and their work burdens have increased as making ends meet means they’ve to work a lot harder.  

Satabhaya is only one of the many villages lost to the sea, leaving behind communities to find new homes and ways to survive. 

Satabhaya is like the tip of the iceberg of displacements unfolding due to the worsening climate crisis. 

ActionAid’s 2020 report Costs of Climate Inaction: Displacement and Distressed Migration stated that India had a total of 14 million people internally displaced due to environmental disruptions. More than 45 million people will be forced to migrate from their homes by 2050.  

Anthropogenic climate change has not only increased the frequency and hazard intensity of the rapid-onset events like cyclones, landslides and storm surges, but it has also made India highly prone to displacement due to slow-onset events like water stress, coastal and riverine erosion, continued crop failures and ecosystem loss.  

A need for a participatory assessment framework that covers economic, social and psychological loss and damage is a first step to paving the way for a sensitive policy appreciation for designing resettlement and rehabilitation.  

A feminist and rights lens to such an assessment would be crucial in building back for progressive futures. A resettlement plan oblivious to visible and invisible losses women and girls suffer due to displacements as well as blind to the need for better futures for all, will be a step backwards.  

A climate justice framework that recognises that communities with the smallest ecological footprints and have only served humanity as frontline ecology defenders are the ones who suffer the most must inform our thinking and action for compensation and rehabilitation.  

In this context, the news of the sanction of funds to build the Satabhaya Baghpatia Thithan Colony as a model colony is positive. While the plan announced also includes the provision of agricultural land to displaced households, it will be critical to ensure that a principle of land for land is observed on the basis of past land records and also with the promise of land to landless families. The model should be emulated across the country. 

India and other countries of the Global South won a hard-fought victory at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt in setting up an international fund for compensating climate-induced losses and damages. Now it becomes imperative to create mechanisms for its implementation within the country.  

We stand at the crossroads of an impending climate catastrophe. The decisions we take today for those bearing the greatest impact of climate change will pave the way for the future course of our lives, livelihoods and civilisation. 

Sandeep Chachra, Debabrat Patra and Koustav Majumdar work with the ActionAid Association India.

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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