Archive for the ‘Norway’ Category

Coal is still king in Svalbard

January 29, 2014

Svalbard, ranging in latitude from 74°N to 81°N,  is about as close as you can come to the “top of the world”. The mining of coal would not normally be thought of in the Arctic and that close to the North Pole but the Svalbard economy is dominated by coal mining. The population of Svalbard had increased by two percent, to 2,158 at the end of 2012.

CIA Factbook: The settlements on Svalbard are essentially company towns. The Norwegian state-owned coal company employs nearly 60% of the Norwegian population on the island, runs many of the local services, and provides most of the local infrastructure. There is also some hunting of seal, reindeer, and fox. Goods such as alcohol, tobacco, and vehicles, normally highly taxed on mainland Norway, are considerably cheaper in Svalbard in an effort by the Norwegian government to entice more people to live on the Arctic archipelago. By law, the Norwegians collect only enough taxes to pay for the needs of the local government. None of tax proceeds go to Norway.



Science Nordic reports:

The economy of Svalbard, the Norwegian arctic archipelago that lies between the country’s mainland and the North Pole, is still dominated by coal even as its value dwindles and employment in the mines drops. …

Tourism, a college and polar and space research activities have yet to make this community independent of coal. This has been verified by a recent analysis of Svalbard’s socio-economic status by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR).

“Coal mining has always been the mainstay here, and it still is,” says researcher Steinar Johansen, who wrote the report with his colleague Hild Marte Bjørnsen. ….. In addition to all who are directly employed by the local coal company, Store Norske, mining requires a number of sub-venders, and services need to be provided to family members who move to Svalbard’s little town, Longyearbyen, at the chilly latitude of 78° N. …

But can the Svalbard community surive without coal? Not without major changes, according to the researchers.

Tthe statue of the coal miner in the town of Longyearbyen is a reminder of who – or what – really dominates the economy. (Photo: Georg Mathisen)

US “sells” Norway Ambassadorship to an uninformed hotelier

January 27, 2014

The uglier side of “democracy”.

That generous donors to the US political parties are rewarded with Ambassadorships is common knowledge. The smaller and “less important” countries are usually the destination for these bought positions unless a very large donation is made. $6.2 million can buy an Ambassadorship to France or Monaco.

And now Norway knows precisely how unimportant it is considered by Obama’s establishment as George Tsunis, a rich Greek-American hotelier and a very generous donor to the Democratic Party made an idiot of himself at the Senate confirmation hearings. After all he can’t do much harm sitting in Oslo!!!

He thought Norway was a Republic and didn’t know which parties were in the coalition ruling Norway. It would have been pointless asking him the name of the King. An ignorant person is a correct description – at least about Norway. He does apparently know something about running a hotel. It does not say much for his knowledge (and perhaps also his intelligence) but it does not say much either for the briefings he must have received from the State Department. A member of the Greek Orthodox church now going to be an expert in a Lutheran country!!

Or did the career diplomats deliberately make sure he was not briefed properly because they wanted to showcase his ignorance? 

George Tsunis at US Senate in Jnuary 2014 - source screen grab - The Local

George Tsunis at US Senate in Jnuary 2014 – source screen grab – The Local

Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway

The US’s next ambassador to Norway has committed a jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder before he even begins, describing politicians from the Progress Party, which has seven ministers, as “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred” in a US Senate hearing.

Asked by Senator John McCain what he thought it was about the “anti-immigration” Progress Party that appealed to Norwegian voters, Greek American businessman George Tsunis seemed unaware of the party’s role in the ruling coalition. 
“You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred,” he said in the pre-appointment hearing. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.” 
McCain interrupted him, pointing out that as part of the coalition, the party was hardly being denounced. 
“I stand corrected,”  Tsunis said after a pause.  “I would like to leave my answer at… it’s a very,very open society and the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don’t feel the same way.”
The blunder came after a faltering, incoherent performance from Tsunis, in which he made a reference to Norway’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. 
Tsunis founded the hotel management company Chartwell Hotels, which operates properties for InterContinental Hotels, and other major hotel groups. He is one of the leading figures in the Greek-American establishment, and is heavily involved in the Greek Orthodox Church. 
He donated $267,244 to the Democratic party in the 2012 election cycle, and $278,531 in 2010, making him one of the party’s top individual donors. 
His ineptitude has also been noticed in the US (but he was confirmed anyway).

The State Department is filled with veteran foreign service officers with years of experience in international relations. Most of them are products of elite universities, where they studied subjects like conflict resolution or international trade theory. Many are multilingual, and all have deep expertise on the political scenes of various countries.

Yet they routinely watch as deep-pocketed political donors with little or no foreign service experience are appointed to serve as America’s ambassadors overseas. The practice is so common that a pair of international relations scholars at the University of Pennsylvania were able to put prices on various plumb ambassadorships. According to The New York Times, “the study found that political ambassadors who had made campaign donations of $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.” The best postings — in France or Monaco — could cost up to $6.2 million in direct contributions. ….

Other Norwegian media described Tsunis as having “trampled through the salad bowl,” according to Olivier Knox at Yahoo NewsKnox added that Tsunis wasn’t the first to fumble the hearing:

McCain, already flummoxed by the apparent inability of Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Hungary to list strategic US interests there, closed his questioning with a bit of sarcasm: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”

Herring fast frozen in the Norwegian Sea

January 15, 2014

Fast freezing at its natural best.

A shoal of herring was chased towards shore off the island of Lovund, Norway by cormorants. But the air temperature was – 7.8°C with a fresh Easterly wind and the sea froze so fast that the fish were trapped in “mid-swim” (or mid-flight)! Apparently the cormorants have not been able to get to them as yet. They will have to wait till the thaw — and that could be some time.

frozen herring lovund (image Norwegian Radio)

frozen herring lovund (image Norwegian Radio)

Norwegian Radio reports:

It was minus 7.8 degrees and the east wind made ​​the bay freeze in a short time. The shoal of herring had been chased to the shore by cormorants, and apparently had not been able to get out into the open sea again, says Ingolf Kristiansen.

He was on a Sunday outing with his miniature schnauzer Anton when he came across the unusual sight. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It has not happened before here as far as I know”, he said to

Aril Slotte, Head of Pelagic fish at the Sea Research Institute, says it was not uncommon for herring being chased ashore by predators. We know that whales scares herring at various locations in Tromso, so it is not inconceivable that this could happen with small herring and other fish being pushed up against the land”, he said to

In summer the bay is a popular swimming cove. A concrete wall has been built under water so that when the tide comes there is only seepage of seawater in from the open sea. …. 

Frossen sei på Lovund - Foto: Hermann Mindrum /

Frossen sei på Lovund – Foto: Hermann Mindrum

Lovund - Norway

Related: Moose frozen in the ice

Viking slaves were probably sacrificed and buried headless with their masters

November 7, 2013

Viking slaves were apparently decapitated and buried with their owners as grave gifts, new research shows. The slaves were buried headless. Moreover their diets differed. High status individuals who were accompanied by their – presumed – beheaded and sacrificed slaves, had much more meat in their diets. Their slaves along with other less exalted commoners had a predominantly marine diet.

Meat for the Viking Lords and fish for all the others but slaves had the dubious privilege of accompanying their masters, headless, into the after life!

Elise Naumann, Maja Krzewińska, Anders Götherström, Gunilla Eriksson Slaves as burial gifts in Viking Age Norway? Evidence from stable isotope and ancient DNA analyses  Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 41, January 2014, Pages 533–540

Full-size image (68 K)

The burial site of Flakstad is situated on Flakstad Island

PastHorizons reports:

Six Late Iron Age (AD 550–1030) graves were discovered in the northern Norwegian island of Flakstad and partially excavated in the period 1980–1983. There were ten individuals making up three single burials, two double and one triple and unusually for this region the bones were in a good state of preservation.

Although much of the contextual information had been lost due to farming activity, the double and triple burials contained one intact individual in each, along with the post-cranial bones of the other occupants. This situation has been interpreted as decapitated slaves buried with his/her master and the theory is supported by a number of double burials found within Norse societies indicating this practice.

Elise Naumann from the University of Oslo led a study to investigate stable isotope and ancient mitochondrial DNA fragments in order to better understand the social status, geographical and/or familial links within the Flakstad group

Graves with two or more individuals occur relatively frequently all over the Viking World. The choice to bury people together is not coincidental, but rather a deliberate action based on specific relationships between these individuals, which could either be:

  1. Family members or people with other close connections.
  2. Sacrifice, where one or more individuals are intended to accompany the “main” burial.

The research has revealed some intriguing results and indicates that the intact person in each grave had distinct isotope values from the other individuals with missing crania; the former having a predominately meat based diet, while the latter – in common with the single grave occupants – had consumed a much higher percentage of marine foodstuffs.

The research study noted that ” in a society where most of the daily activities were dedicated to the acquirement and preparation of food, where food shortage and harsh winters are assumed to have been a constant threat, it would seem likely that a different diet should be detectable in people of low social standing compared to the common population. However, isotopic data in this study show quite the contrary. Despite indications that the headless people in multiple graves might represent low-status members of the population, their diet was equivalent to those  in the single burials who are interpreted as representatives of the free population. ”

he ancient DNA results suggest that maternal relations between the individuals buried together are unlikely and backs up the isotope evidence. Therefore, the complete individuals from the multiple burials stand out as a distinct group and may be perceived as having a special social status. This is emphasised by a diet distinctly different from the slaves and the rest of the population and along with the lack of high status artefacts in the multiple burials could indicate that they were not necessarily wealthy, but special in another sense, who were  treated differently than others in death as well as in life.

Why the slaves were deprived of their heads is a little unclear. Perhaps it was to make sure that they stayed in the service of their owners in the after-life and didn’t just go wandering about on their own.

The authors conclude:

Results from stable isotope analyses show that individuals in multiple burials most likely were intentionally placed in the same burial, given the pattern in which the only person buried intact in each burial, had distinct isotope values. Thus, persons sharing a grave had distinctly different diets during their lifetime and were unlikely to share maternal kinship. A reasonable explanation for these observations could be that persons buried headless may have been slaves accompanying their masters in the grave. This interpretation corresponds well with other double burials from the Norse World with similar features, where decapitated and sometimes headless people were deposited as grave gifts. The resemblance in diet between headless persons and individuals buried in single burials was unexpected and calls for further investigation in the future. The present study indicates that also other double burials should be investigated using a bioarchaeological approach.

Yet another meaningless Peace Prize

October 11, 2013

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 is to be awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

It came into force in 1997. Since then the OPCW has, through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention. 189 states have acceded to the convention to date.

This comes just weeks after the deaths in Syria from Sarin gas and whether it was 400 or 1400 who died, the OPCW was irrelevant. And what – in any theatre of conflict – have they actually achieved for Peace? They merely seek to implement policies made by others. 

A deplorable and meaningless award carrying on the less than impressive tradition of the Norwegian Nobel Committee!

  • A politically correct award
  • to an organisation recently in the headlines
  •  an “anonymous” organisation
  • which has made no significant contribution to Peace
  • Non-members are Israel and Myanmar, which are signatory states that have not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. 
  • Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan have neither signed nor acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. 
  • Syria was the most recent state to submit its instrument of accession to the treaty.
  • The US and Russia have not destroyed their stocks of chemical weapons by April 2012 as members were required to.

The next Prime Minister of Norway?

September 8, 2013

Norway goes to the polls tomorrow and Erna Solberg could be the next Prime Minister with a centre-right government replacing the centre-left government of Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg came into his own after the massacre at Utøya 2 years ago. His low key but enormously effective speeches captured the sombre mood of the country and yet held everybody together. He was even referred to as the “father of the nation”. Paradoxically, even after such a traumatic event perpetrated by a right-wing maniac (Breivik), this election will see the country shift rightwards.

Erna Solberg (photo

Great Tohoku quake in 2011 caused standing waves in Norwegian fjords 30 minutes later

August 13, 2013

Seismic seiches are standing waves set up on rivers, reservoirs, ponds, and lakes when seismic waves from an earthquake pass through the area. They are in direct contrast to tsunamis which are giant sea waves created by the sudden uplift of the sea floor.”

A new paper describes how these seiches -standing waves – observed in the Norwegian fjords in 2011 – for the first time since the 1950’s – have been linked to the Great Tohoku Quake of 2011 half an hour earlier.

Stein BondevikBjørn Gjevik and Mathilde B. Sørensen, Norwegian seiches from the giant 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50639, 2013

Abstract: Seismic waves of the giant 2011 Tohoku earthquake triggered seiches in western Norwegian fjords. The seiching began a half hour after the earthquake origin time. The oscillations were noted by eyewitnesses and recorded by surveillance and cell phone cameras. The observations show maximum trough-to-peak amplitudes of 1.0–1.5 m and periods of 67–100 s. The water waves were not triggered from the arrival of the surface waves, the timing inferred for other seiches. Instead, the seiching began during the passage of horizontal waves. We reproduced the S wave trigger by means of a shallow-water wave model calibrated previously to Norwegian tides and storm surges. The simulations, which used the observed earthquake motion as forcing, show water waves with periods and amplitudes similar to those in the film clips. However, the strongest horizontal ground oscillations with shorter periods (20–30 s) did not contribute much to the formation of the seiches.

It is not the first time that such standing waves have been observed so far away. As the US Geological Service notes:

The term seismic seiche was first coined by Anders Kvale in 1955 to describe oscillation of lake levels in Norway and England caused by the Assam earthquake of August, 1950. But this was not the first time that seismic seiches had been observed. The first published mention was after the great earthquake of November 1755 at Lisbon, Portugal. An article in Scot’s Magazine in 1755 described seiches in Scotland in Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Loch Katrine and Loch Ness. They were also seen in English harbors and ponds and were originally described in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1755.


Seismic waves from the Alaska earthquake of 28 March, 1964, were so powerful that they caused water bodies to oscillate at many places in North America. Seiches were recorded at hundreds of surface-water gaging stations – although they had rarely been reported following previous earthquakes. Indeed, four seiches were observed in Australia.

Some of the 1964 seiches were very large. Waves as high as 1.8 meters were reported on the Gulf Coast – probably because they were generated in resonance with the seismic surface waves.

In the case of the Norwegian fjords and the Great Tohoku quake, PhysOrg reports:

The scene was captured by security cameras and by people with cell phones, reported to local media, and investigated by a local newspaper. Drawing on this footage, and using a computational model and observations from a nearby seismic station, Bondevik et al. identify the cause of the waves—the powerful magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake that hit off the coast of Japan half an hour earlier.

In closed or semi-enclosed bodies of water, seismic waves can trigger standing waves known as “seiches.” Seiching had not been recorded in Norway’s fjords since 1950. Scientists have traditionally thought that seiching is caused by seismic surface waves, but the authors find that the fjord seiching was initiated before the surface waves had arrived.

Using seismic observations and a model for local fjord behavior, they find that in this case the seiching was triggered by S waves, which travel through Earth’s body, and later was amplified by Love waves, which travel on Earth’s surface. There are a lot of open questions surrounding the connection between earthquakes and seiching, but the authors’ research supports the idea that not all earthquakes will cause seiching in all enclosed bodies of water. The occurrence of the Japanese earthquake?induced seiches depended on the period and orientation of the seismic waves aligning with the natural frequency and orientation of the body of water.

Undersea volcanic activity creating new island chain at Norway’s Loki’s Castle

August 3, 2013

South of Svalbard between Norway and Greenland there is vigorous and active field of hydrothermal vents on the sea floor along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The field lies in Norwegian waters and is located at  73°33′N 8°09′Ø, about 300 km west of Bear Island and about 600km east of Jan Mayen Island and at a depth of about 2,350m. It was discovered in 2008 by researchers from the University of Bergen and has been called Loki’s Castle (Lokes slott in Norwegian).

Loki's Castle on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Loki’s Castle on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

In 2008, University of Bergen researchers found metal deposits and unique wildlife in the environment created by the hydrothermal vents.

University of Bergen News

This summer a team led by the director of UiB’s Centre for Geobiology, Professor Rolf Birger Pedersen, discovered five new hydrothermal vents in Loki’s Castle. The vents were discovered at depths ranging from 100 to 2,500 metres. In this area, which is the most geological active part of Norway, a new volcanic seabed is formed at a rate of two centimetres a year.

… Norway is a volcanic country on par with Iceland. The difference being that whereas Iceland’s volcanoes are onshore, Norway’s volcano landscape is in the deep sea. Norway’s volcanoes are lined up underwater in large active earthquake zones, and there are hydrothermal vents churning out hot water – at 320 degrees Celsius – which gives rise to unique ecosystems and metal deposits on the seabed. ….

…. For the past ten years, researchers and students from the centre have explored this volcanic underwater world. Through their summer expeditions to the area, they have discovered new Norwegian nature every year. In this period they have surveyed hundreds of undersea volcanoes and a number of hydrothermal vents. Loki’s Castle (Lokeslottet), Soria Moria and Trollveggen are the names given to the hydrothermal vents discovered by the UiB researchers in 2005 and 2008. ..

 They have found significant metal deposits that are formed around the hydrothermal vents in Loki’s Castle. The material value of these deposits remains unknown, but the mining industry is already showing a growing interest in exploiting these resources on the seabed. Deep-ocean mining could become a reality in the not too distant future. The distinctive wildlife in the deep seas, with the hydrothermal vents as oases of a unique genetic life, means that any industrial activity must be weighed against environmental concerns.

Based on their knowledge, the UiB researchers are thus proposing that deep-marine nature parks should be established as soon as possible. This is of particular importance for Norway, with vast deep-sea areas to manage. This management must be based on scientific knowledge.

Video of the undersea volcanoes.

The Local

“We have discovered five new vent fields in Norwegian national waters between Jan Mayen island and Loki’s Castle,” Rolf Pedersen, the professor leading the research, told The Local.  “The vent fields were discovered during a cruise with RV GO Sars in July this summer. ……. 

Pedersen made his name in 2008 when he discovered the underwater volcanic range Loki’s Castle. The new discovery comprises hundreds more volcanos, some just 20m below the surface. 
“We have found volcanoes at such a shallow level and they could break the surface at any time and form a new island group,” Pedersen told VG newspaper.  “We have long known that Iceland has both volcanic activity and hot springs, but we thought that we did not have anything like that in Norway. But we do, it was only under water.” 
The scientists have already discovered some 50 new species on the site, which Olsen said could lead to new drugs being developed. 
“There are biological species which haven’t been discovered before that live in extremely harsh environments. This brings the potential to discover new molecules that we haven’t been aware of which could be used in the development of drugs.” 

In Norse mythology Loki was one of the jǫtnar, a mythological race, and a god.

Loki is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father of Narfi and/or Nari. And by the stallion Svaðilfari, Loki is the mother—giving birth in the form of amare—to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. In addition, Loki is referred to as the father of Váli in the Prose Edda.

Loki’s relation with the gods varies by source. Loki sometimes assists the gods and sometimes causes problems for them. Loki is a shape shifter and in separate incidents he appears in the form of a salmon, mare, seal, a fly, and possibly an elderly woman. Loki’s positive relations with the gods end with his role in engineering the death of the god Baldr. Loki is eventually bound by the gods with the entrails of one of his sons.

Revisiting Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki 50 years on

April 6, 2013

Last night we saw the new Kon-Tiki movie at our local cinema. A full-fledged action/adventure film it relates the story of Thor Heyerdahl and his 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. It is the most expensive film ever to have been made in Norway and was a nominee for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars (which it did not win). The film is directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and the role of Thor Heyerdahl is played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen.

English: Kon-Tiki raft

Kon-Tiki raft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I enjoyed every minute of this 2 hour movie. Stunning visuals and a clear demonstration, I think , that understatement is far more effective than “sound and fury” in sustaining excitement. It took me back some 50 years to 1962 when I first saw Heyerdahl’s own documentary movie about his expedition (which did win an Oscar in 1951). Ever since then I have eagerly followed Heyerdahl’s various expeditions and theories of the migrations of ancient peoples (Ra and Tigris and The Search for Odin among others). And my current fascination with anthropology is in no small measure due to Heyerdahl’s injection of adventure and wonder and a kind of “romance” into the long-dead past of our ancestors. It does not matter that his theories were heavily criticised and may not have been correct. It does not matter either that our theories about the past may no longer be capable  of being “proven” conclusively. Imagining how our ancestors – just 100 or so generations ago – could have behaved and acted is what I find absolutely compelling. And Heyerdahl’s adherence to the materials and tools of the past adds credibility at least to imagining what our fore-fathers could have accomplished – if not necessarily to his own theories.

Back in 1962 when I first saw Heyerdahl’s documentary I had not fully appreciated the enormity of what Heyerdahl and his “glad amateurs” were trying to do. While he had an absolute belief in the migration of people from South America to Polynesia, his companions were only there either because he was or because they were seeking some intense adventure after the war. While the success of the Kon-Tiki could not prove that this migration had actually taken place it certainly proved that it could have. Heyerdahl’s theory received much criticism from the establishment view that Polynesia had been populated solely from Asia. But what all this “establishment criticism” sometimes forgets is their sense of wonder and that Heyerdahl does actually prove that it could have happened. This criticism continued well into the 1990’s but the latest genetic studies now show that Heyerdahl was in fact partly correct.

Heyerdahl’s theory of Polynesian origins never gained acceptance among anthropologists. Physical and cultural evidence had long suggested that Polynesia was settled from west to east, migration having begun from the Asian mainland, not South America. In the late 1990s, genetic testing found that the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesians is more similar to people from southeast Asia than to people from South America, showing that their ancestors most likely came from Asia. Easter Islanders are of Polynesian descent. Anthropologist Robert Carl Suggs included a chapter titled “The Kon-Tiki Myth” in his book on Polynesia, concluding that “The Kon-Tiki theory is about as plausible as the tales of Atlantis, Mu, and ‘Children of the Sun.’ Like most such theories it makes exciting light reading, but as an example of scientific method it fares quite poorly.” Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis also criticised Heyerdahl’s theory in his book The Wayfinders, which explores the history of Polynesia. Davis says that Heyerdahl “ignored the overwhelming body of linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical evidence, augmented today by genetic and archaeological data, indicating that he was patently wrong.”

But that is changing as advanced genetic studies show that there is some clear admixture from South America.

Now – 64 years later- new research has finally proved the adventurer was at least partly right after all. A team of scientists have tested the genetic make up of descendants of the original islanders and found it includes DNA that could have only come from native Americans.

That means that some time before the remote islands – including Easter Island – were colonised by Europeans the locals had interbred with people from South America. …. 

The established theory has always been that Polynesia was colonised via Asia around 5,500 years ago. This has been backed up by archaeology, linguistics and some genetic studies. But in 1947, Heyerdahl controversially claimed that Easter Island’s famous statues were similar to those at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and sailed a raft from Peru to French Polynesia to prove it could have been colonised from America.

Now Professor Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo in Norway has found clear evidence to support elements of Heyerdahl’s hypothesis.

The Polynesian gene pool: an early contribution by Amerindians to Easter Island, Erik Thorsby, Published 6 February 2012, doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0319, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 19 March 2012 vol. 367 no. 1590 812-819 (full text pdf)

AbstractIt is now generally accepted that Polynesia was first settled by peoples from southeast Asia. An alternative that eastern parts of Polynesia were first inhabited by Amerindians has found little support. There are, however, many indications of a ‘prehistoric’ (i.e. before Polynesia was discovered by Europeans) contact between Polynesia and the Americas, but genetic evidence of a prehistoric Amerindian contribution to the Polynesian gene pool has been lacking. We recently carried out genomic HLA (human leucocyte antigen) typing as well as typing for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome markers of blood samples collected in 1971 and 2008 from reputedly non-admixed Easter Islanders. All individuals carried HLA alleles and mtDNA types previously found in Polynesia, and most of the males carried Y chromosome markers of Polynesian origin (a few had European Y chromosome markers), further supporting an initial Polynesian population on Easter Island. The HLA investigations revealed, however, that some individuals also carried HLA alleles which have previously almost only been found in Amerindians. We could trace the introduction of these Amerindian alleles to before the Peruvian slave trades, i.e. before the 1860s, and provide suggestive evidence that they were introduced already in prehistoric time. Our results demonstrate an early Amerindian contribution to the Polynesian gene pool on Easter Island, and illustrate the usefulness of typing for immunogenetic markers such as HLA to complement mtDNA and Y chromosome analyses in anthropological investigations.


Indian surrogate mother dies after delivery of child for a Norwegian couple

April 2, 2013

UPDATE – from the Norwegian press

The surrogate mother bore twins but one of them died after birth.

The Norwegian Embassy in India confirmed that preparations were underway for the other child to be taken to Norway.

The surrogate mother was apparently paid 31,000 Norwegian Kronor (about $6,000) (corrected below)


This report in the Svenska Dagbladet today is disturbing not because there is anything inherently wrong with surrogacy but because it smacks of exploitation – of wealth being used to pass on the risks of childbirth to a “poor” surrogate mother. There are some very gray ethics involved in a “rich” Norwegian couple exploiting the poverty of a “poor” surrogate mother who dies – especially in doing something not permitted in Norway. No doubt the surrogate was paid the “going rate” for surrogacy (about $6,000). But I doubt the surrogate had made any real assessment of the risk of losing her life or that the “contract” had a clause to cover for the death of the surrogate.

Svenska DagbladetAn Indian woman who was the surrogate for a Norwegian couple died shortly after birth. The woman, who was married and had children of  her own developed Hepatitis E during the pregnancy. 

“Pregnancy and childbirth is unpredictable for us all. Unforseen things can happen and the surrogate contract and the parties should take this into account”, says anthropologist Kristin Engh Førde.

Surrogates are not allowed in Norway and Norwegians make use of egg donation abroad.

The article does not report on the condition of the baby nor on the condition of the surrogate’s own children.

I hope the Norwegian couple get their child — but what is their responsibility for those other children?

I am not sure if the quote from anthropologist Kristin Engh Førde is meant to imply – and I hope it does not – that it is the responsibility of every surrogate mother to accept the risk of dying and contract accordingly.

Would the surrogate have died if she had been giving birth at a Norwegian hospital? Would her Hepatitis E have been treated in time?

Mortality rates are generally low, for hepatitis E is a “self-limiting” disease. …  However, during the duration of the infection (usually several weeks), the disease severely impairs a person’s ability to work, care for family members, and obtain food. Hepatitis E occasionally develops into an acute, severe liver disease, and is fatal in about 2% of all cases. Clinically, it is comparable to hepatitis A, but in pregnant women the disease is more often severe and is associated with a clinical syndrome called fulminant hepatic failure. Pregnant women, especially those in the third trimester, suffer an elevated mortality rate from the disease of around 20%.

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