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This Kenyan Village Is Home To Only Women

Rebecca Lolosoli came up with the idea of a female-only village in 1990. She was in the hospital at the time, recovering from an attack by a group of men who were angry that she had spoken to other women in her Samburu village about their rights. She founded Umoja in the grasslands of Samburu, in northern Kenya, with a group of 14 other women, all of whom were survivors of rape by local British soldiers. In the 25 years since, Umoja has grown and is now home to 47 women and 200 children. It's a safe haven for women looking to escape child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), domestic violence, and rape—all of which are unfortunately common in the patriarchal societies they were living in.

Recently, Julie Bindel from The Guardian traveled to Umoja to listen to the women's harrowing tales of what led them to seek out a village with no men.

"The British army got me when I was collecting firewood. There were three of them. They pushed me to the ground. Since that day, I have always felt pain in my chest whenever I remember," a woman named Ntipaiyo, who has lived in Umoja for 15 years, recounted.

Attempts to prosecute British soldiers for an untold number of rapes spanning 30 years led to a mass dismissal of the cases by the Royal Military Police and a claim that all the submitted evidence had been lost. But it's not clear that legal recourse would have made much of a difference for the Kenyan women anyway—many of the women fled to Umoja because their husbands had spurned them following a rape, as is quite common.

"Once a woman is raped, they are not clean any more in Islam and Qur’an culture. It is not fair, because it happens by accident," explained Sammy Kania, 33. Another resident, Seita, who doesn't know how old she is but carries an ID card with a 1928 birth date, confirms this. She came to Umoja because as a survivor of rape, "I would never be able to marry."

Others left their traditional villages earlier in life, after having been sold as child brides to men many decades older than them in exchange for livestock. Memusi ran away in 1998, one day after her wedding to a man 46 years older than her. She was just 11 years old at the time. 

But in Umjoa, they find relative peace and independence. They make a small but sufficient living running a tourist campsite nearby and selling beaded jewelry to tourists who visit the village.

"I have learned to do things here that women are normally forbidden to do. I am allowed to make my own money, and when a tourist buys some of my beads I am so proud," said Nagusi, a middle-aged woman with five children. The children who populate the village are not all from before their mothers moved to Umoja.

"We still like men," a younger woman said. "They are not allowed here, but we want babies and women have to have children, even if you are unmarried." Children seem to be the primary motive for seeking out male companionship for these women. "Without children we are nothing," one young woman, who has five children all with different fathers, said.

Men in nearby villages, who remain skeptical, see the desire for children as just one in a long list of reasons that Umoja will never work. "They think they are living without men, but that is not possible," said a nearby elder named Samuel.

But it is possible. At least for these women who have found refuge and a new lease on life. Judia, a 19-year-old who has lived in Umoja for six years, explained, "Every day I wake and smile to myself because I am surrounded by help and support."

[h/t The Guardian]

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Keith Holmes/Hakai Institute
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Ice Age Human Footprints in Canada Reveal a Walk on the Beach Taken 13,000 Years Ago
Calvert Island
Calvert Island
Keith Holmes/Hakai Institute

The prehistoric mariners rowed their canoe into a secluded channel and then onto the island's sandy beach, just above the high-tide mark. One person got out of the boat and stood for a moment, facing northwest. Others, including another barefoot adult and child, followed the leader and walked toward higher, drier land.

Today, roughly 13,000 years later, their footprints have been preserved in a layer of sediment and confirmed to date from the last ice age. The discovery, on Calvert Island on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests ancient humans crossed from Asia to North America and traveled south along the Pacific shoreline.

"This finding provides evidence of the seafaring people who inhabited this area during the tail end of the last major ice age," said University of Victoria anthropologist Duncan McLaren, lead author of the new study in the journal PLOS One, in a statement.

Archaeologists on Calvert Island, British Columbia, Canada
Researchers Daryl Fedje (left) and Duncan McLaren (right) dig at the Calvert Island site.
Grant Callegari/Hakai Institute

Most anthropologists believe that early peoples migrated from Asia to North America across Beringia, the region where Russia's Chukchi Peninsula and Alaska face each other across the Bering Strait. Then the migrants took two possible routes. One popular theory, proposed in the 1930s, suggests people traveled south along an ice-free corridor that lay on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains where two colossal ice sheets split from one other. A more recent theory proposes that they sailed along a coastal route from Alaska to Washington State.

The coastal route lies within the territories of the Heiltsuk First Nation and Wuikinuxv First Nation. Their oral histories describe how the scattered islands between the open ocean and the edge of the ice sheet remained unglaciated. On these refuges, their ancestors subsisted on the abundant fish, shellfish, and marine mammals and likely used watercraft to travel between the islands. "Heiltsuk oral history talks about our people living in our territory before the ice age, and talks about the physical features of the landscape that our people witnessed change over time due to the ice, which influenced things like place names in our territory," William Housty, chair of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department board of directors, tells Mental Floss.

Archaeological evidence affirming the histories is scarce, in part because few researchers have focused on the area. In 2014, McLaren and colleagues from the University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute, along with representatives of the First Nations, began combing the beach at a Calvert Island site called EjTa-4 for sediments dating back to the late Pleistocene epoch (also known as the Ice Age, which ended 11,700 years ago). Back then, the sea level around Calvert Island was 6.5 to 10 feet lower than it is today, so the team concentrated on the intertidal zone. After probing several test holes, they found what appeared to be footprints near the base of a huge shell midden.

A 13,000-year-old human footprint on Calvert Island, British Columbia, Canada
A photo of Track #17 beside a digitally enhanced image of the same feature. Note the toe impressions and arch, which indicate that this is a right footprint.
Duncan McLaren

Over the next three field seasons, they continued to excavate a 6.5-foot-by-13-foot pit, removing strata of sand, pebbles, and organic matter before striking the layer of clay. "The site was below the high-tide water line, so we only had one day from the time we opened the last layer. When the high tide came up it would wash everything away," Jennifer Walkus, the research liaison between the Wuikinuxv Nation and Hakai Institute, tells Mental Floss. "We had an idea from the test pit the previous year that there might be footprints, so we knew that day was going to be busy. It was amazing as the last layer was pulled up and the measurements were taken."

In the substrate, the team found 29 individual human tracks, darkened by time, left by at least three different people—two adults and a child—based on the dimensions of the individual prints. "The fact that they were footprints was more and more obvious as the measurements came in and there were three lengths," Wallkus says. The orientation of some of the tracks at the ancient shoreline indicated that a group of people may have disembarked from a watercraft and walked northwest, toward higher ground, with their backs to the prevailing wind.

Researchers also collected samples of clay and fragments of shore pine from the sand underneath the prints. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the pine bits, and the footprints, were between 13,317 and 12,633 years old.

"I can't speak for the Nation as a whole, but for me, it's a validation of the fact that we have been here for much longer than the previous narrative," Walkus says. "The fact that these footprints put people in the vicinity in the time of glacial recession underlines that our legends are grounded in living in our area over huge spans of time."

When William Housty, who was not present at the dig, heard of the discovery, "I immediately started to think about our first ancestors and the stories of their origin," he says. "I also thought that, once again, science [and] archeology have confirmed what our oral history has been telling us all along."

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University of York
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

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