Alive in the universe

This is a guest post by Sarah Hiddleston 

Nature Middle East has an exciting contribution to the grande dame of art events –The Venice Biennale. For more than 120 years the Biennale has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the floating city, whose sweeping squares, crumbling palazzos and beautiful churches play host to the world’s foremost cutting-edge creative minds. Now in its 58th iteration, it takes as its theme May you live in interesting times and promises to be a showcase of what its artistic director Ralph Rugoff describes as “art’s potential for looking into things that we do not already know”.

Nature Middle East’s film-short charts the contribution of Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj as he examines the nature of reality, life, death, migration and the passage of time. Together with the British poet Ruth Padel, Kourbaj will open a 28-day exhibition entitled Alive in the Universe with a three-piece performance installation at the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava on May 8. The film, shot last year in Kourbaj’s studio in Cambridge, will be shown alongside the installation.

Alive in the Universe is a creative take on the wonder and anguish of existence including some of the most perplexing questions in science. Masterminded by co-curators Caroline Wiseman and David Baldry, it was inspired by Albert Einstein’s dictum that “art is the expression of the profoundest thoughts in the simplest way”. The exhibition seeks to challenge and deepen our understanding of life and death, gender and procreation, the cosmos, water, dark matter, technology and time among others.

Watch: the video

Cuneiform clay tablets discovered in Kurdistan

The tablets are valuable and could reveal insights into Bronze age Iraq.

The tablets are valuable and could reveal insights into Bronze age Iraq.

Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

University of Tübingen archaeologists unearthed 93 clay tablets adorned with cuneiform pictograms, an early Sumerian writing system, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The archive dates back to 1250 BCE.

The tablets were dug out of Bassetki, an ancient Bronze-age site which was only discovered in 2013, and whose location lay along busy trade routes from Mesopotamia to Anatolia and Syria.

“Bassetki was of key significance on important trade routes,” Peter Pfälzner, lead archaeologist, says of the discovery. “Our finds provide evidence that this early urban center in northern Mesopotamia was settled almost continuously from approximately 3000 to 600 BCE.”

A big chunk of tablets had been deposited in a ceramic pot, probably used for storage, in a room inside a destroyed Assyrian building.

“The vessels may have been hidden this way shortly after the surrounding building was destroyed. Perhaps the information inside it was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity,” says Pfälzner.

A fragment of the clay tablet contains mentions of a temple to the ancient goddess Gula. However, the scientists believe it might be too early to rule whether they’re looking at legal, or religious text.

The researchers will begin translating the text in Germany, which they say will be challenging, time-consuming and intense since many of the tablets are either unbaked or badly worn.

Cholera in Yemen: Death by numbers

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that the number of suspected cholera cases in war-battered Yemen this year hit the half a million mark.

According to the same report, released this week, around 2,000 people died since April’s outbreak. The international organisation says that the deadly waterborne disease infects an estimated 5,000 people per day, and is still spreading fast.

Yemen’s healthcare system was already acutely under-developed before the country was plunged into the current conflict, with barely enough doctors and hospital beds to meet national demand.

Now with the country’s ailing health infrastructure nearly destroyed, around 15 million people are unable to get basic healthcare, according to the new WHO report which deems Yemen’s cholera epidemic “the largest in the world”.

Compounding the problem is the country’s water shortages, which overall increased the risk of disease outbreak, especially in the countryside, and among children. Around 20 million Yemenis are struggling to get access to clean water. And diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition have become common as a result.

Yemen has already been water-stressed, with only 86 cubic metres of renewable water sources available per person per annum, according to the World Bank – far lower than the global average of 1,385 cubic metres per capita.

“Can you imagine a hospital without water? It is a desperate situation,” Marie Claire Feghali, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen, had told Nature Middle East.

“To save lives in Yemen today we must support the health system, especially the health workers,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, says. “The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer.”