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Blanchard Springs Caverns: Wonder story in Arkansas, USA

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By Dr. Priya Mendiratta

What we don’t see still exists, perhaps despite the 7 billion population, many undiscovered treasures are still out there just on this planet.

Listening to Neil Tyson, my favorite astrophysicist, if the entire Universe’s age was compressed into one calendar year, the life of documented human race would just be a second.

Recently we visited Blanchard Springs caverns: these are one of Arkansas State’s treasures and most unusual underground caves located in the Ozark National Forest in Stone County in Northern Arkansas USA, located a short distance from Mountain Home. They are believed to have been formed, and continually changed, by an ongoing mountain spring that pours into a glassy-surfaced trout pond below the cave, called Mirror Lake.

Previously we had been here for a summer trip and it had taken over three hours to explore the entire cavern but the underground portion is closed during winters, so as not to disturb the 400,000 bats that are hibernating deep underground.

We were taken by elevator down to bowels of earth 21, stories below or approximately at a depth of 216 feet down under though at some places the cavern is 250 feet deep.

The cave was first perhaps discovered by Native Americans, and a body was discovered few decades ago around 1955, which was carbon dated and found to be 1100 years old, though not clear as to how without any flashlight someone ventured this far centuries ago.

This cavern was discovered by teenagers 14 and 16-year-olds, who took some long exposure photographs in the area they were hiking and were really not sure what they stumbled upon with just a flashlight, but on developing them they were shocked to see the surroundings and accidentally discovered it.

The locals knew about it as early as 1955, when it was called the half mile caves. The state tourism took another 8 years from when they were actually discovered and opened to the public in 1973 after making it safe for public viewing, lighting it up, making safe access and elevators to reach a depth of 200 feet.

A Czechoslovakian, opera house worker was hired especially and did an amazing job of lighting the cave, to give it the current stupendous appearance.

Some 50 million years ago water passed through limestone and collapsed the ceilings to form caverns, but current cavern was formed some 100,000 years ago and has been preserved intact essentially.

It is estimated that surrounding Ozarks may have up to 10,000 such caverns waiting to be discovered.

We took the shortest 1-hour tour available called the drip tour and entered a site called “the cathedral site” and was one of the most spectacular sites that only a personal experience can define better.

It appeared to be a scene akin to Indiana Jones movie “The raiders of the lost Ark”.

There was beauty, awe and a sense of spirituality evoked at the marvelous treasures.

It was like one was surrounded by many Shiv linga( Hindu God Shiva’s formation in a cylindrical form worshipped in Hindu Temples as a symbol of generative power) in different sizes  glowing an amazing red, grey or white depending on the underlying mineral.

The iron oxide gave a red hue, manganese grey ones and white were calcite.

Calcite is a common constituent of sedimentary rocks, limestone, in particular, much of it is either precipitated or dissolved by ground water, it is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)

Calcite deposits over 100 years and it grows a cubic inch, primarily by water dripping through caverns causes the calcite to continue growing.

The stalactites (grow from the top) the ceiling formations – grow long enough to connect with stalagmites (formation on the floor), they join to form columns.

The cave temperature year around is at 58-degree f and is100 percent humid. To reach the lower level there are some 700 steps and in the summer, this discovery trail takes 2-3 hours to explore.

A white-nose bats disease has killed or made bats extinct in many other caves globally, which is actually a fungus that prevents them from hibernating so they leave caves in winters only to freeze to death or die of hunger and fall off the sky out of sheer exhaustion, some may consider that a supernatural phenomenon in some parts of the World.

The forests around have been thinned some by conservation officials to decrease the fungus spreading in bats, and to help them survive by opening the canopy, and have been successful in this area in keeping them alive.

The only organism that grows in caves is Salamander, an amphibian that exists on bat drippings or bat poop or guano.

It is rumored that manganese is formed around a microorganism and presence on Mars of manganese might mean a sign of some life.

Interestingly the bats are sort of potty trained and poop in the same  exact place or entire bat family does that for generations resulting in  big bat black poop mountains in the cave called guano.

The guano or bat poop is used to make fertilizer as are rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, even to make gun powderBat guano from the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky was used to make saltpetre, of the three key ingredients of black gunpowder, up until WWII and rumored ladies that it is used in cosmetics including mascara though lately all cosmetic companies have announced that to be false, saying that it is made from guanine which is obtained from fish gut.

Some formations look like a battleship, some like the opera house balcony, some resemble Indian Shiv Lingas, and some is left to your imagination.

The acid in hands can destroy the calcite growth making it loose the ability to grow, making it dry and chalky, so touching is forbidden, and tour guide does not let anyone step away from the path created to preserve the beauty of the cave. Also, a dry spell or drought can cause the lack of dripping and formations.

I wondered if the place was safe during a nuclear attack though cavern can house up to 29,000 people, the water and air would bring the nuclear effects into this depth even, in under a day.

The depth is surprisingly protected from earthquakes, though has an earthquake meter installed in ceilings and though several in the area, have caused destruction on the surface but none at the depth for centuries.

During summer, the tour guide takes for longer, 6-hour tours called the wild cave tours for some groups who are in good physical health through dark caves and one has to crawl through them to see more inner depths than was visible. Aaron Christopher was our wonderful guide through the trip.

It is true sometimes some such experiences are priceless, not found in books, but meant to just be felt and experienced with our senses, and continue to add on to our entire experience on earth.

Priya Mendiratta is a physician, an associate professor in geriatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical sciences at Little Rock Arkansas, USA.

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How advertisements in India are defying gender cliche

Ads playing an effective medium in moulding opinions of society

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How Indian advertisement industry is breaking the gender stereotype

Feb 27, 2017: The most important part of advertisements is the story line and it gives a spur on the social media when the lessons from the story line are timeless. Needless to say, every time a free-spirited ad is released, it not only sparks conversations over the internet but also leaves a viral trail of debates. Just in the same way, some of the Indian advertisements did when they strove to change the mindset of people with regard to gender difference. We often tend to slur women not realizing the essence of being a woman, it takes strength and an indomitable spirit to be a woman. This article will talk about how advertisements in India are leading by example and discarding gender difference.

Let’s recall some of the advertisements that did away with gender difference.

Nike’s recent ‘Da Da Ding’ ad starring Deepika Padukone as one among other female athletes is a powerful ad which got the people talking about giving importance to female athletes as well. It showcased females of a real athletic figure which is not animated and has got nothing to do with ‘legs and butts’.

(A still from Nike’s Da Da Ding advertisement)

The ad portrayed women as fierce and passionate about sports. Once upon a time, Nike’s product catered almost exclusively to marathon runners and then, a fitness craze emerged –and the folks in Nike’s marketing department knew where to mark their next move, an applause for Nike for initiating a spellbinding effort.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

Whisper, Touch the pickle ad

(A still from Whisper Touch the pickle advertisement)

Whisper, Touch the pickle ad is another exemplary of breaking taboos surrounding women’s menstrual cycle. The whisper #Touchthepickle campaign makes an attempt to purge the baseless superstitions owing to Dos and Dont’s in menses. The ad showcases a young girl who dares to touch the pickle while she is on her periods. It conveys a sensible meaning to its viewers to break away these taboos. The ad was lauded internationally and awarded ‘Glass Lion Grand Prix’ award at Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Many advertisements over the years have sold the cosmetic product but fewer have tried to change the societal conception of beauty. Even fewer have tried to do both, Joy Cosmetic is the brand that did it in India.

(A still from Joy beauty advertisement)
The ad begins with showcasing a well renowned oversized comedian, Bharti Singh asking the viewers “What did you expect, 36-24-36?”, and shuts down body shamers who presumed it to be an ideal body size. The ad conveys effortlessly that an Ideal beauty has nothing to do with body and shape.The advertisement has a sensitive message and is meaningful to its consumers.

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While there is a lot of chaos regarding section 377 in India, Ebay India took an audacious stance through its ad titled “Things don’t judge”.

(A still from Ebay India advertisement)

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French Scientists discover World’s oldest structure built by Neanderthals about 170,000 years ago

Bruniquel cave suggests that people outside Africans were developing their own symbolic system and had cognitive abilities.

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Drilling into the staglagmitic floor, Image credits : popularmechanics.com

So deep inside the cave, it was only darkness that prevailed and sunlight was just a dream. The mysterious caves discovered recently, has ceiling dripped with mineral-laden water and has spiny stalagmites on the floor. While the structures remains a mystery, their creators are not.

  • Neanderthals were subspecies of humans who lived 400,000 to 40,000 years ago. One in Africa (Homo sapiens) and another in Eurasia (Homo Neanderthalensis). Both were same in terms of technological development, knowledge, and spirituality. The recent discovery confirms that they knew construction works and made structures that can be dated back to 175000- 50,000 years ago.
  • Neanderthals were the only group present at that time in western Europe. So this discovery provides the direct link regarding their building abilities. This also proved that they explored underground.
Scientists create an artificial look alike of Homo Neanderthal. Image source: humanorigins.si.edu
Scientists create an artificial look alike of Homo Neanderthal. Image source: humanorigins.si.edu
  • In the 1990s, a French scientist explored the Bruniquel cave but he died in between his research and was not able to complete it.Now 23 years later a crew of scientists and Geologist Dominique Genty with France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) have found this mysterious caves deep down into 1,000 feet. What is now western France is a twisting cave 30 miles underground. Researchers said that the discovery has helped them in understanding the traditional Neanderthal culture.
Internal cave structure, Image credits : popularmechanics.com
Internal cave structure, Image credits : popularmechanics.com
  • Bruniquel cave was discovered in 1992. It was found in the dark reaches 1,102 feet below from the cave’s entrance. The cave was full of paintings. One of the discovered ring structures is about 7 feet in diameter. However the other one is around 15 – 22 feet in diameter. These rings are cracked and blackened which proves that they were firstly heated by fire.
  • Scientists found more than 400 stalagmites of the same size stacked together to form walls of 2 mysterious circular structures. (Stalagmites are the mineral spears that rise up from the ground; stalactites are the hanging ones.)
  • This piece of work is totally a blunder. It is way more complex than what was thought of those underrated hominid species (Neanderthals). This also proves that they were socially more complex than classic.
Mounted Neanderthal skeleton at American Museum of Natural History. Image source: Wikipedia
Mounted Neanderthal skeleton at American Museum of Natural History. Image source: Wikipedia
  • Scientists who were able to explore the Bruniquel cave such as Jaubert told that “This certainly was a collective work, and required at least a minimum of social organization. Some had to carry torches, some had to move and transport materials, some had placed them in this specific configuration, and so on.
  • One can totally assume that the cave structures represent some symbolic or ritual behaviour or maybe they were served for domestic purposes. The burn patterns inside the cave resemble that the structure made such that it itself light on fire. Scientists also found burned pieces of animal bones which indicate that they could have been used as torches.
  • Though modern Africans dominated the world after they crossed into Eurasia (nearly 80,000 years ago), Bruniquel cave suggests that people outside Africans were developing their own symbolic system and had cognitive abilities.

-by Pritam

Pritam is an engineering student and an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle @pritam_gogreen

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Tribute to Catalonia: Spanish civil war that led to World War II

The Spanish war was an important page in the history of Spain. Although Republicans were massacred but their sacrifice inspired a whole new generation.

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Spanish civil war, Wikimedia commons

Spain became a new world locked in a death struggle encapsulated with brutal killings during the Spanish civil war.  Also known as the Civil war, it took place from 1936 to 1939.

  • On July 17, 1936, there was a sudden illegal takeover of the elected leftist government in Spain which was led by Spanish military members along with right wing conservative groups.
  • Spain witnessed a barbarian civil war between fascist and conservative forces versus communist, socialist, anarchist, and parliamentary alliances. The war was between democracy and fascism, freedom and tyranny.
  • Germany and Italy openly supported the fascist forces whereas the USSR supported republicans. However, the League of Nations remained silent without taking any side.
  • The impact of this civil war was felt by the whole world. It gradually became an international conflict. In fact, this was one of the reasons of World War II.
USSR supporting the Republicans, Wikimedia commons
USSR supporting the Republicans, Wikimedia commons
  • People from all over the world took part in this civil war. They all travelled to Spain and enthusiastically responded to the call of the Republicans.
  • In 1937 T.C Worsley (author of Behind the Battle) wrote during his Barcelona experience mentioning about the meeting with an Indian Journalist “Krishna”. He elucidates that “When an American journalist asked Krishna how he billed all the newspapers for which he was reporting, he replied that he was not paid but was doing it to let Indians know what was happening in Spain.“
  • Even Jawaharlal Nehru expressed his grief regarding the innocent people painful anxieties in the battle which was being fought in Spain. Nehru accused the League of Nations of its non-intervention policy. All of Nehru’s values (such as democracy, socialism, dignity, self-determination) which were inculcated via European civilization were at stake.
  • Mulk Raj Anand (Indian representative at World Congress Writers against Fascism) went to Madrid and drafted his novel across Blackwaters. Deeply moved by his visit, he even insisted that the authors should use their craft to expose injustice and exploitation.
  • K. Krishna Menon, secretary of the India League mobilised British Indians to aid Republican Spain.
    • The league collaborated with Leftist organisations and British Communist party and opposed Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policies.
    • Indian league also arranged food for the people of Spain who was suffering due to the protests. This Spain-Indian committee also organised cultural events and raised funds for donation.
    • Even Indira Gandhi took part in raising funds for London-based Aid Spain committee.
Nazi's Germany troops, Wikimedia commons
Nazi’s Germany troops, Wikimedia commons
  • In June 1938, Nehru and Menon paid a visit to Barcelona and based on his experience he wrote in his autobiography Towards Freedom “In the midst of want and destruction and ever-impending disaster, I felt more at peace with myself than anywhere else in Europe. There was light there, the light of courage and determination and of doing something worthwhile.”
  • Nehru’s faith in the west was deeply shaken by the betrayal of Great Britain and France as they signed the pact of appeasement permitting the Nazi Germany’s annexation of the nation.
  • The Spanish Republican fell and dictatorship was introduced in Spain by General Francisco Franco. The Spanish war was an important page in the history of Spain. Although Republicans were massacred but their sacrifice inspired a whole new generation.

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-Prepared by Pritam

Pritam is a 3rd year engineering student in B.P. Poddar institute of management and technology, Kolkata. Contact the author at @pritam_gogreen