All in roe: the secret of Sardinia’s bottarga

article by Liz Boulter appeared Sunday 4th June 2017 on the Guardian -the foodie traveller.


Bottarga (cured roe) Photograph by Getty Images


Still think spaghetti carbonara is best made with bacon – or pancetta if you’re being authentic? One taste of the Buzzi brothers’ version at their A Galaia restaurant in Carloforte, Sardinia, and the piggy version will probably never cut it again. That’s because they make their carbonara with bottarga, the cured, air-dried roe of grey mullet (in Sicily they use tuna).

Thought to have been introduced by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, bottarga (from the Arabic battarikh) is made in several places around the Med, but the variety made in the Cabras lagoon in the west of Sardinia, is regarded by many as the best.

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Pasta with bottarga . photograph Alamy


It has started finding a market outside Italy, and Cabras producers are campaigning to get EU protected origin status (DOP) for their bottarga (which, as it happens, marries extremely well with one of Sardinia’s other DOP products, its intensely flavoured spiny artichoke).

Mouthfillingly savoury but with a hint of sweetness and a clean, almondy scent, rich amber-coloured Cabras bottarga is also wonderful served in thin slices drizzled with olive oil as an appetiser with drinks – or grated like cheese over a simple pasta with fresh tomato sauce.

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Grey mullet roe. Photograph: Alamy


Cabras’s climate and waters are just right for grey mullet, which are caught in September when they’re at their fattest. The pairs of egg sacs are extracted whole, steeped in salt and pressed. Three months or so of air and sunshine then do the job of drying it into the prized “Sardinian gold”.

Stock up at Bottarga e Affumicati, 64 Corso Italia just outside Cabras centre, then head off for a picnic among the wild beaches and farmland of the nearby Sinis peninsula. And if you’re in Sardinia in mid-August, don’t miss Cabras’s bottarga festival, with street stalls offering all manner of bottarga products to taste and buy.

Diving in Nora, Sardinia: the sunken road to Roman ruins .

article by  Andrew Purvis

On land it is easy to imagine what the ancient Roman town of Nora looked like. Standing at the crocevia (crossroads) of the ruined coastal settlement, on a sun-baked peninsula 20 miles from Cagliari in southern Sardinia, I looked north to the near-intact Roman theatre, east to the clearly identifiable Temple of Aesculapius, and south to the Terme A Mare (Spa by the Sea), complete with rectangular bath tubs, the remains of furnaces and brick pillars that once supported an upper pavement with underfloor heating.

There are more than 150 sunken cities and ports around the shores of the Mediterranean
Photo The Telegraph

Extending west from the junction is a Roman road, made from blocks of volcanic rock with the famous “donkey’s back” camber that allowed water to drain off into culverts. It runs rod-straight to the water’s edge, then plunges unexpectedly beneath the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The active mind infers a highway shooting 200 yards out into the bay – and that is exactly what members of the Mensura Diving Team found in 1964 when, inspired by Dr Nicholas Flemming from the department of geography at Cambridge University, they conducted the first underwater survey of the site.

Another sunken road runs parallel with the first and slightly to the north, the two ending abruptly where the water depth increases suddenly from 10ft to about 40ft. This, we now know, is the edge of a quayside where ships once moored, part of a harbour, the Porto Nord Occidentale, which is now completely submerged. It and two others, on the south-west and north-east shores, would have more than trebled the land area of today’s Capo di Pula peninsula.

On the north side of the headland, the story is still more graphically told. As I walk from the car park where coachloads disembark for guided tours of Nora above water, I peer down into the shallows fringing the shore and can clearly see a submerged causeway, 50 yards long, built from slabs of stone. It, too, is a Roman road, running straight and true 4ft beneath the surface until it collides with a cliff rising from the water, and stops abruptly. Where did the rest of the road go?


Nora Anfiteatro Romano -photo


Diving the world best shipwrecks

At some indeterminate date, in either the Punic or Roman periods of settlement, the whole seaward section of the peninsula appears to have dropped by 15ft or so along a geological fault, fracturing the road and causing it and Porto Nord Orientale to slip beneath the waves. At the same time, the landward side may have risen a little. There was no recorded earthquake at the time, and no tsunami, so the slippage may have been gradual and was probably the result of coastal erosion along a fragile shoreline.

The same must have occurred at the other two ports, meaning there is a vast underwater Nora to explore, dwarfing the preserved Roman town of latrines, frigidaria and mosaics that landlubber tourists know.

For good reason, the site is protected and a licence is required to dive it. That privilege is held by the Pula Diving Centre, a local club which has an arrangement with Forte Village Resort Sardinia, the upmarket Eleganzia-owned property, six miles south of Nora, where watersports are on the agenda along with spa treatments and Michelin-star dining.

Non-divers can be picked up by boat from Forte Village beach to snorkel in the shallow waters of Nora’s north coast, following the submerged road. Certified divers can explore the Porto Nord Orientale, at depths of up to 40ft that require scuba. This is what I did with Matteo Contu, a local diver with a fortunate knack for interpreting a seemingly featureless seabed and extrapolating from it a Roman port.

Rolling backwards off the boat, I waited for the bubbles to clear and glimpsed an expanse of poseidon grass below, interspersed with patches of sand. Dropping down the anchor line to 22ft, we set off across the seabed and immediately spotted some broken amphorae – ceramic jars once used to transport grain, wine or oil. Apart from that, all I saw was a reef of black rock covered in marine encrustations and weed, like many I have seen in the Med. Only as I swam along it did I realise that the “reef” is perfectly rectilinear, disappearing into the green gloom like a motorway into fog. It is clearly man-made and comprises, I soon recognised, a series of stone blocks positioned to form breakwater walls. At their base we discovered more amphora fragments. The most intact containers have been found in deeper water and come from Chios, a Greek island famous for its wine, and Spain, colonised by the Phoenicians.

The World’s best dive sites

Nora had clearly been a trading port before the Romans inhabited it. The Phoenician amphorae contained fragments of bone, suggesting they were used to transport meat; some Roman jars were used for fish sauce and defrutum (literally “cooked” wine, used to make a condiment).


Nora Underwater -The Telegraph

We finned languidly along the west side of the submerged breakwaters, passing an 18th-century Spanish anchor before returning along the east side. Close to the anchored dive boat, Matteo waved me closer and we settled on the seabed. He moved his hand back and forth over the sand, spiriting the grains away to reveal what I took to be a flat rock bottom. On closer inspection, it bore the flecked, variegated pattern of a marble flagstone.

This is the bare floor of the ancient Roman quayside, running unbroken but covered in silt and Poseidon grass to the shore. Nearby we find what Matteo later described as “the ruins of a port building”. To me it looked like a jumble of builders’ rubble.

Still, it was one of those Eureka moments – like the time when, as a child, I’d noticed the imprint of a potter’s thumb in a shard of Roman terracotta found in a field in Yorkshire. The past was palpable, and I felt a human connection with the people of ancient Nora which was somehow more profound underwater. It’s the same thrill that lures divers to wrecks, working vessels that are frozen in time and haunted by the ghosts of the past.

That is not to say the above-water experience at Nora is unrewarding. One-hour tours depart from the ticket office every few minutes, and the site’s highlights (the baths, the well-preserved Roman theatre, the Temple of Tanit, a housing district and an area filled with artisan workshops) have numbered signs matched to relevant “chapters” of an audioguide, in English, that informs without overwhelming.

If diving and snorkelling are not your thing, combine one of these tours with a visit to the Giovanni Patroni Archaeological Museum in Pula, dedicated to Nora but with a section about underwater archaeology. Exhibits include amphorae, anchors and pottery recovered from the site by divers.

There is also an aquarium and education centre in Pula, showcasing marine life from the lagoon to the north of Nora where Phoenicians and Romans fished.

Most of Nora’s underwater treasures reside in the archaeological museum, but many have been removed illegally by amateur divers over the years.

“The site is protected,” Matteo told me on the boat ride back to Forte Village, “but this is Italy.”

Decades of casual looting explain why diving Nora is not quite the experience I naively expected: a clearly set-out submerged Roman town, as intact and bewitching as Atlantis. Without Matteo as my guide, I would probably have swum right over it. Let’s hope any potential collectors do the same, preserving what is left of La Citta Sommersa.

For the full Article:


Friso Spoelstra’s best photograph: a pagan whipping ritual in the mountains of Sardinia

Interview by Thursday 21 July 2016.

One day in 2001, I was sitting in my local pizzeria in Amsterdam, flicking through an Italian magazine while waiting for my order, when suddenly these men in huge shaggy costumes sprung at me from the page. I asked the waiter if he knew what it was and he smiled, saying they were taking part in a pagan ritual in Sardinia, where he was from.

‘He whipped me again and again’ … the Merdule comes after Friso Spoelstra Photograph: Friso Spoelstra

Every spring in Barbagia, a remote mountainous part of the Italian island, they hold the Feste Pagane. It symbolises fertility, mysterious brotherhoods, and the struggle between the people and the spirits who freeze the land in the winter, leaving it barren. The guy in the black mask is called a Merdule. He symbolises the bond between man and nature. Traditionally, Sardinians have always been shepherds so the ritual is also to protect the flock against evil. The Merdule does this quite literally – beating villagers and chasing them away from the “sheep”.

This was one of the first shots I took after I arrived. The next moment, the Merdule hit me on the legs with his whip. It was really painful. Then he did it again. And again. I realised it was going to go on all the day, though it wasn’t just for me of course: all Sardinians were being terrorised. Although the atmosphere was mostly fun, there was a scary, violent undercurrent.

I had decided to photograph such rituals all around Europe – a project that ended up taking 10 years, saw me visit 15 countries, and resulted in a book called Devils & Angels. In the German Alps, where devils called Krampus chased people, I saw a man – clearly from out of town – getting really upset and swearing because he’d been hit. A policeman had to calm him down and explain it was just the local custom.

I’ve been chased by devils through the mountains. I’ve run naked through fields in Latvia. I’ve been drenched in all kinds of stuff – sometimes I never found out what it was. The rituals I attend often take place in small villages, on islands, or up in the mountains. Remoteness is perhaps why the customs survive. The festivals bring communities together, but also give a feeling of local identity, especially as young people move away. On Terschelling, an island in the Netherlands, I met a man who flies from Sydney every year for a festival there.

My photographs arise from what I feel, not just what I see. I like how this shot is quite grey. This part of Sardinia isn’t very colourful, which really adds to the sinister atmosphere. The composition was intentional: masked men in the foreground, church in the background. The contrast between pagan and Christian, past and present, all comes together in this shot.

Having spent the day chasing villagers and performing small plays, the flock and the shepherd got tired and headed home. You have no idea who is behind the masks, so it’s a shock when they introduce themselves. I was invited back to the house of one masked men and ate homemade cheese and wine with his family. I had been beaten up – but by some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

Friso Spoelstra’s Devils & Angels: Ritual Feasts in Europe is published by Lecturis.

Interview by Thursday 21 July 2016.

Genome of fiercely protective Fonni’s Dog reflects human history of Sardinia.

Appeared in  original article by GENETICS October 1, 2016 vol. 204 no. 2 737-755 .

Unique island guardian bred for behavior, not looks, meets genetic definition of true breed.


Photo by Stefano Marelli


The Fonni’s Dog (Cane Fonnese or Sardinian Sheepdog) is endemic to Sardinia and is known for its fiercely protective guarding behaviors.
A genomic analysis of 28 dog breeds has traced the genetic history of the remarkable Fonni’s Dog, a herd guardian endemic to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The results, published in the journal GENETICS, reveal that the regional variety has developed into a true breed through unregulated selection for its distinctive behavior, and that its ancestors came from the very same geographic areas as Sardinia’s human migrants. Just as Sardinian people have long provided a wealth of genetic insights to scientists, the canine natives are an example of an isolated population that could prove a powerful resource for finding genes that influence health and behavior.
Fonni’s Dogs (Cane Fonnese in Italian) are large, rugged dogs known for their wariness towards strangers and their intense facial expression. Although there are descriptions of these shephard’s companions dating to at least the mid-nineteenth century, it is not officially recognized as a breed by most international registries, including the largest federation of kennel clubs, the Federation Cynologique Internationale.
“If you were to look at ten Fonni’s Dogs, you would see there’s a lot of variation in coat color and fur length. But they are all good protectors of their flocks. That’s because nobody cares what they look like; they’ve been bred to do a job and to do it right,” says study leader Elaine Ostrander of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
That job is guarding the possessions of their owner, to whom they are fiercely loyal. “Fonni’s are also outstanding thieves,” says Ostrander. “They can be trained to sneak over to the neighbors’ and bring items home.” While this particular duty isn’t required by today’s Fonni Dogs, written records from the mid-1800’s indicate that thievery was part of their historical repertoire.
The island home of the Fonni’s Dog has long held the interest of geneticists. Because Sardinia is geographically isolated, its human inhabitants share a unique ancestry and relatively low genetic diversity. Those characteristics make it easier to study genetic influences on disease and aging in Sardinians than in other human groups. Ostrander and other canine geneticists argue that each of the hundreds of different dog breeds also represents an isolated population that could be harnessed for genetic studies.
“Dogs get all the same diseases as humans, and there are lots of dog breeds with genetic predispositions, for example to particular types of cancer,” Ostrander says. “Once we understand the genetic history of a breed we can search for disease genes in a much more powerful way than is possible in humans, enabling us to hone in on medically-relevant genes.”
To better understand how the Fonni’s Dog developed, scientists from the NHGRI, the University of Milan, and G. d’Annunzio University analyzed blood samples from Fonni’s Dogs living in different parts of Sardinia and sequenced the whole genome of one of these dogs. To trace the Fonni’s relationship to dogs from around the Mediterranean, the team compared the data to DNA from 27 other European, Middle Eastern, and North African breeds.



photo by Luca Spennacchio


Smooth-coated (left) and rough-coated (right) varieties of Fonni’s Dog. Genetic analysis confirms the varied appearance of the Fonni’s Dog masks the underlying unity of the breed.

The data revealed that the Fonni’s dog shows all the genetic hallmarks of being a breed, even though it developed in the absence of a regulated pedigree program and only arose through the tendency of Sardinian shepherds to choose their best guard dogs for breeding. The researchers compared individual dogs from within the same breed and across different breeds, quantifying many aspects of genome variation and genetic distinctiveness. All these measures confirmed that the Fonni’s Dog, in genetic terms, is a breed.
The study also revealed the ancestors of the Fonni’s Dog were related to the Saluki, a swift and graceful “sight” hound from the Near and Middle East, and a large mastiff like the Komondor, a powerfully-built sheep guardian from Hungary that looks a bit like a mop.
Strikingly, the origins of the Fonni’s Dog mirror human migration to Sardinia. Studies of the island’s human inhabitants have shown they share greatest genetic similarity with people from Hungary, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. “The map we can draw of the dog’s origins is the same as the map of human migration to Sardinia,” says Ostrander. “Clearly ancient people traveled with their dogs, just as they do now.”
The close parallels between the history of the dog and human inhabitants of the island has a practical implication, says Ostrander. “Our study shows how closely dog migration parallels human migration. It could be that if you have missing pieces in a study of a human population’s history, samples collected from dogs in the right place could fill in those gaps.”


This diagram indicates the geographic origin of the 28 dog breeds studied. Abbreviations: Anatolian Shepherd, ANAT; Azwahk Hound, AZWK; Berger Picard, BPIC; Bouvier des Flandres, BOUV; Cane Corso, CANE; Cane Paratore, CPAT; Cirneco dell’Etna, CIRN; Fonni’s Dog, FONN; Great Pyrenees, GPYR; Ibizan Hound, IBIZ; Istrian Shorthaired Hound, ISHH; Italian Greyhound, ITGY; Komondor, KOMO; Lagotto Romagnolo, LAGO; Levriero Meridionale, LVMD; Maltese, MALT; Mastino Abruzzese, MAAB; Neapolitan Mastiff, NEAP; Pharaoh Hound, PHAR; Portuguese Water Dog, PTWD; Saluki, SALU; Sloughi, SLOU; Spanish Galgo, GALG; Spanish Water Dog, SPWD; Spinone Italiano, SPIN; Standard Schnauzer, SSNZ; St Bernard, STBD; Volpino Italiano, VPIN.


Dreger et al. 2016 DOI: 10.1534/genetics.116.192427

The team plans next to study in greater detail eleven regions of the genome that likely make the Fonni’s Dog distinct — these may be responsible for their characteristically loyal and protective behavior.
Ostrander points out the study was a collaborative effort with scientists from Italy, including Sardinia, and says she is gratified to find so many researchers across the world interested in similar questions. Her group is hoping to work with colleagues in a range of countries to explore other so-called “niche” dog populations, regional varieties that often have a history of being bred for a particular job. Their goals are to better understand how dogs have evolved and to demonstrate yet another important job for these faithful human companions: tracking down disease genes.

Commonalities in Development of Pure Breeds and Population Isolates Revealed in the Genome of the Sardinian Fonni’s Dog
Dayna L. Dreger, Brian W. Davis, Raffaella Cocco, Sara Sechi, Alessandro Di Cerbo, Heidi G. Parker, Michele Polli, Stefano P. Marelli, Paola Crepaldi, Elaine A. Ostrander
GENETICS October 1, 2016 vol. 204 no. 2 737-755;
DOI: 10.1534/genetics.116.192427
Appeared in

Sardinia’s Mediterranean diet: 10 foods that may lengthen your life

From “Today” online magazine part of NBC News  , Apr. 9, 2015 .

In the book “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People,” author Dan Buettner reveals what the people around the world who live the longest are more likely to eat.One of the keys to longevity? Wine, beans and family: Sardinia’s secrets to living to 100.

A plant-based diet, says Buettner and colleague Gianni Pes, a senior researcher at the University of Sassari, Italy. They share the foods that make up the regular diet of the people of Sardinia, Italy, one of the “Blue Zones” — areas around the world where people are more likely to live to 100.

Try the healthy minestrone soup that could help you live to 100!

1. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk


Both have higher nutri­tional value and are more easily digested than cow’s milk.

A recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that both sheep’s milk and goat’s milk lower bad cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory, and may protect against cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. The higher calcium and phosphorus content of goat’s milk may have helped peo­ple living in the Sardinian “Blue Zone” preserve their bone density and consequently lower their risk of fractures.

Goat’s milk is also rich in zinc and selenium, which are essential for optimal immune system activity and to promote healthy aging. The sharp pecorino cheese made from fermented sheep’s milk in Sardinia is particularly interesting. Because of its rich flavor, it can be used sparingly in pastas, soups, and grated over vegetables.

Since pecorino is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep, it has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

 2. Flat bread (carta di musica)


The most common bread consumed by Sardinian shepherds is a dry, flat bread made of high-protein, low-gluten Triticum durum wheat (the main ingredient in Italian pasta).

 High in fiber and complex carbohydrates, it does not cause a sugar spike in blood like processed or refined grains do and it’s easier on the pancreas, lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Its name comes from the observation that it is flat and thin, like music paper. Another traditional flat bread is pane carasau. This thin, flat bread made of durum wheat flour, salt, yeast, and water was invented for shepherds, who pastured their sheep for months at a time. It can last up to a year.

Whole durum wheat has a low- to medium-glycemic score, and so it doesn’t spike blood sugar. It also contains only a fraction of the gluten that white bread does.

 3. Barley   

Ground into flour or added to soups, barley was found to be the food most highly associated with living to 100 among Sardinian men. Barley bread (orgiathu) was favored by shepherds because of its long shelf life and looked much like a regular loaf of bread but was made of ground barley. This bread has a much lower glycemic index than wheat bread, meaning it increases blood glucose more slowly than wheat bread does and thus puts less stress on the pancreas and kidneys.

We don’t know if it does that because of barley’s high protein, magnesium, and fiber content (much higher than oatmeal) or because it was pushing other less healthy foods (such as white wheat flour) out of the diet. Ironically, barley was considered a poor man’s food until recently, when it has made a comeback in Sardinian haute cuisine.

 4. Sourdough bread (moddizzosu)


Much like sourdough bread in the United States, Sardinian sourdough breads are made from whole wheat and use live lactobacilli (rather than yeast) to rise the dough. This process also converts sugars and gluten into lactic acid, lowering the bread’s glycemic index and imparting a pleasant, faintly sour taste.

Pes has demonstrated that this type of bread is able to lower the glycemic load, reducing after-meal glucose and insulin blood levels by 25 percent. This helps protect the pancreas and may help prevent obesity and diabetes.

4. Fennel

Fennel’s licorice taste flavors several Sardinian dishes. It’s used as a vegetable (the bulb), as an herb (its willowy fronds), and as a spice (its seeds). Rich in fiber and soluble vitamins such as A, B, and C. It’s also a good diuretic; therefore, it helps to maintain the blood pressure low.

 6. Fava beans and chickpeas

Eaten in soups and stews, fava beans and chickpeas play an important part in the Sardinian diet, delivering protein and fiber. They are one of the foods most highly associated with reaching age 100.

 7. Tomatoes


Sardinian tomato sauce tops breads and pizzas and is the base for several pasta dishes. Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamin C and potassium. Cooking tomatoes breaks down their cell walls, making lycopene and other antioxidants more available.

The Sardinian custom of coupling olive oil with tomatoes (either driz­zling it over raw tomatoes or using it to make sauces) further increases the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and antioxidants.

8. Almonds

Almonds, associated with Mediterranean cooking, appear regularly in Sardinian cooking, eaten alone, chopped into main dishes, or ground into a paste for desserts. One study showed that almonds included in a low-calorie diet helped people lose more weight and belly fat while they experienced an increase in protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and a drop in systolic blood pressure (the bottom number).

9. Milk thistle

Sardinians drink a tea of milk thistle, a native wild plant, to, as locals believe, “cleanse the liver.”

Emerging research suggests that the milk thistle’s main active ingredient, silymarin, is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory benefits. It can be found in American health food stories as an ingredient in some herbal teas.

10. Cannonau wine

 Sardinia’s distinctive garnet red Cannonau wine is made from the sun-stressed Grenache grape.


Sardinians drink three to four small (3-ounce) glasses of wine a day on average, spread out between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late afternoon social hour in the village.

One might argue that the all-day small doses of this antioxidant-rich beverage could explain fewer heart attacks. Dry red wines in general offer the same health advantage.

Article and photos from Today Magazine online part of NBC NEWS  9th April 2015

info:  Book “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People,” author Dan Buettner


For Valentine’s Day Gift, Forget Diamonds: Try Ichnusaite

FEB. 12, 2016, 5:12 P.M.  appeared on New York Times 12 February 2016

Ichnusaite  Photo from The New York Times and Reuters




PARIS — Far rarer than diamonds or emeralds, some minerals on Earth are known only from thimbleful samples, according to a first list of 2,550 obscure minerals on Friday that could have future uses, ranging from industry to exotic Valentine’s Day gifts.

Ichnusaite, fingerite, amicite and nevadaite are among truly rare minerals – defined as those known to come from five or fewer places worldwide – and form only under extremely unusual conditions, the scientists wrote.

“Diamond, ruby, emerald, and other precious gems are found at numerous localities and are sold in commercial quantities, and thus are not rare” alongside those in the study, they wrote in the journal American Mineralogist.


Ichnusaite Photo by  American Minarologist Paolo Biagioni




“If you wanted to give your fiancee a really rare ring, forget diamond. Give her Sardinian ichnusaite,” Robert Hazen, a co-author of the study at the Carnegie Institution, wrote in a statement.

Ichnusaite forms from thorium and lead-like molybdenum and only one tiny whitish crystal has ever been found, in Sardinia.  “Some of the other rare minerals are also only known from a thimbleful,” he told Reuters.

Of 5,090 minerals known worldwide, fewer than 100 make up 99 percent of the Earth’s crust. Most are from common elements such as oxygen, silicon and aluminum.

Some of the 2,550 rare minerals defined in the study might have commercial properties, from electronics to batteries, if they could be manufactured, the authors said.

Laser pointers, for instance, used to require rubies, but the rubies are now commercially manufactured. Artificial diamonds are also widely used, from industry to jewels.

The authors said some of the rare minerals required exact temperatures to grow, others formed only with rare elements, others can dissolve easily, or only occur in dangerous locations such as in volcanoes.

“They form in a perfect storm of conditions,” Jesse Ausubel, co-author at the Rockefeller University, told Reuters.

The authors estimated 1,500 types of mineral were still to be found on Earth. “There are some master jewellers who would love to work with the rare minerals tiara of the 21st century,” he said.

Reporting By Alister Doyle, editng by Larry King appeared on New York Times 12 February 2016

Su Seinargiu Sarroch by Mines of Sardinia site



Ichnusaite has been found only in one location in Sardinia and in the whole world: the old abandoned mine of Su Seinargiu near Sarroch in the  southern province of Cagliari.
for more detailed information:

My perfect day in Gallura, Sardinia

Susan Pinker: why face-to-face contact matters in our digital age.

In villages in Sardinia, 10 times as many men live past 100 than the average. Why? A key reason is that they are not lonely. Psychologist Susan Pinker on the importance of face-to-face contact in our era of disbanded families and virtual connections.

Susan Pinker

Friday 20 March 2015 The Guardian

Last month the Church of England asserted that a big slice of British society feels “unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed”, a view confirmed by recent population surveys. A third of British citizens over 65 now say that they have no one to turn to, and a significant swath of those under 25 say they also feel disconnected from the people around them. Has loneliness become the new normal?

As you start humming the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby”, realise this: feeling untethered is not only uncomfortable, it is bad for your health. Research shows that people who feel socially disconnected are at a greater risk of dying young – especially if they are men. Women are more prone to seek out and build longstanding, intimate personal relationships: within their extended families, through lifelong friendships, in their neighbourhoods.

That is one reason – there are others, of course – why in every industrialised country, women outlive men by an average of five to seven years. This gender imbalance is visible wherever older people spend their time; in parks, libraries, churches, community halls and seniors’ tour groups, women over the age of 60 outnumber men in their age group by three to one.


@Ogliastra photo the Guardian@

But this is not the case everywhere. There is one place in Europe where both sexes are living long lives. It is an area where, for better or worse, no one is left alone for very long. In what has been dubbed the Age of Loneliness, it’s worth asking what they have that we don’t.

The residents of the hilltop villages of central Sardinia are among the world’s only exceptions to the rule that women in developed nations live longer than men. Almost everywhere else, including on the Italian mainland 120 miles away, there are six female centenarians for every male. Elsewhere, most men don’t make it to 80. But once Sardinian men in this region have survived their dangerous, risk-taking adolescent and young adult years, they often live as long as their wives and sisters – well into their 90s and beyond; 10 times as many men in these villages live past the age of 100 as men who live elsewhere. Despite living hardscrabble lives as shepherds, farmers and labourers in an inhospitable environment, Sardinians who were born and live in these villages are outlasting their fellow citizens in Europe and North America by as many as two to three decades. Many of these centenarians remain active, working well into their 90s and living in their own homes, usually with the help of people they’ve known their entire lives.

These villages comprise one of the world’s “Blue Zones” – a handful of mountainous regions where more people live to the age of 100 than anywhere else. This zone has nearly the same landmass as Switzerland but with less than a quarter of its population; just 1.5 million people live in the towns dotting the rugged shoreline and pastoral mountain villages in the Ogliastra region, the epicentre of the Sardinian Blue Zone. Centuries of invaders and regular attacks from North African pirates drove residents away from the coast inland, beyond the rugged Gennargentu mountains. This geographic isolation bonded the area’s families and communities. That is the upside. The downside is that always having to defend your boundaries created a longstanding mistrust of strangers, aptly illustrated by the local saying Furat chie benit dae su mare: those who come from the sea come to steal.

That hostility to outsiders is one reason why I flew into Alghero – a Moorish-looking seaside town with an airport and a university – instead of heading straight to the Blue Zone. I was travelling with my daughter Eva, to record the life stories of these centenarians for a radio documentary. Our first step was to meet an expert in Sardinian super-longevity, a local physician and biomedical researcher named Giovanni Pes, accompanied by a geneticist colleague, Paolo Francalacci, who told us that genes account for perhaps 25% of the variance that leads to male super-longevity in the region; culture and chance accounted for the rest.

Pes immediately included us in his lively circle of close friends, family and colleagues, and this sense of inclusion turned out to be a crucial piece of the longevity puzzle. Every centenarian we met was supported by kith and kin, visitors who stopped by to chat, bring food and gossip, provide personal care, a kiss on the cheek. Time-pressured grown-up children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – some of them senior citizens themselves – took time off from work to look after their elderly family members.

Despite a packed clinical and research schedule, Pes told me it was normal to spend every Sunday with his mother. “Of course we have to balance our careers with family life,” he told me. “But as a Sardinian, I never forget to visit my mother. She lives 70km from me, but every week I visit her. She is 87 now but is fantastic mentally. I talk to her about my work at the university and she always gives me interesting advice.”


Given that his father lived to 105 and his great-uncle to 110 and that the biology of ageing has inspired his research career, Pes is well versed in the multiple conditions that foster extraordinary longevity in Sardinia: the isolated gene pool, the mountainous terrain, the local diet and red wine. But he also emphasises the buffering effect of social factors – the impact of face-to-face interaction which is so central to Sardinian village life. “Everybody is in close contact with other members of the community. My great-uncle was no exception. He used to visit friends and relatives and was fond of going hunting until he was 98 years old. And if I remember correctly, he was able to shoot a wild boar at that age.”

Caring for fragile relatives seems motivated by more than duty. Obligation is mixed with pride, a sense of ownership and identity. The contrast to how families behave elsewhere is stark. In other parts of Europe and in North America, looking after ageing family members can be seen as grunt work. Yet when I asked Maria Corrias, a woman in her 60s who lived with, and cared for, her nearly deaf, housebound, irascible, 102-year-old uncle if she felt frustrated by her situation, she became annoyed with me. “No, no! I do it with pleasure. You don’t understand. He is my heritage. The seniors of this village are our heritage. We do it with love.” I asked her 25-year-old niece, Sarah, if she would do the same for her elderly relatives when the time comes. “Certo, of course I will,” she replied. “Everybody does it.”

Our survival hinges on social interaction, and that is not only true of the murky evolutionary past. Over the last decade huge population studies have shown that social integration — the feeling of being part of a cohesive group — fosters immunity and resilience. How accepted and supported we feel affects the biological pathways that skew the genetic expression of a disease, while feeling isolated “leaves a loneliness imprint” on every cell, says the American social neuroscientist John Cacioppo. Women with breast cancer who have expansive, active, face-to-face social networks, for example, are four times as likely to survive their illness as women with sparser social connections. How might that work? Research led by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that social contact switches on and off genes that regulate the rate of tumour growth (and the level of cancer-killing lymphocytes in our bloodstreams).

Fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than more solitary men, and people who have had a stroke are better protected from grave complications by an in-person social network than they are by medication. Working with a large British sample, the Australian researchers Catherine and Alex Haslam have found that people with active social lives recover faster after an illness than those who are solitary – their MRIs show greater tissue repair – and that older people in England who participated in social gatherings kept their memories longer.

And it’s not just about pensioners. When the daily habits of nearly 17,000 utility workers in France were monitored throughout the 1990s, researchers discovered that their degree of social involvement was a good way to predict who would still be alive at the end of the decade.

The studies on the benefits of face-to-face social contact, almost all of them published during the last decade, leave us with the question: why isn’t there more buzz about getting together? One reason is that when it comes to what drives health and happiness, we’re obsessed with more concrete concerns: food, money, exercise, drugs. We recognise that cigarettes, salt, animal fat and being overweight can shorten our lifespan, while antibiotics, physical activity and the right diet can prolong it. This knowledge has changed the way most of us eat, work and spend our leisure time. But despite evidence that confirms the transformative power of social contact, our routines have become more solitary. Since the late 80s, when social isolation was first earmarked as a risk for premature death in a landmark article in Science magazine, the number of people who say they feel isolated has doubled if not trebled, according to population surveys in Europe, the US and Australia.

The questions how and why loneliness has increased have been much debated. Communities have disbanded for a variety of reasons. And while the internet allows us to ignore geography in our search for the like-minded, it has further stripped away the need to talk to our neighbours. Most commercial and social transactions have migrated online, where they’re cheaper and quicker, and for many people, the workplace and the classroom are now virtual, too. If electronic media informs and entertain us, who needs all that forced person-to-person chit-chat?

Certainly digital computation has eclipsed raw brain power when it comes to searching, gathering and sorting information. But when it comes to relationships, our electronic devices can give us the illusion of intimacy without the hormonal rush of the real deal.


old women

@As old as the hills … houses in the mountains of Ogliastra, Sardinia, where centenarians live active lives. Photograph: De Agostini/Getty Images@

n 2012, the University of Wisconsin psychologist Leslie Seltzer and her team asked pre‑teen girls to solve maths and word problems in front of an audience. Before testing them, the researchers measured the participants’ salivary cortisol, a hormone that registers levels of stress. They were then divided into four groups. Each received a different type of social contact immediately after the test: one quarter of the group had a visit from their mother, one quarter got a phone call from her, one quarter an encouraging text, and one quarter had no communication at all. After the test, the cortisol levels were measured once again, along with the levels of oxytocin in the blood. The girls who saw their mothers in person became the most relaxed afterwards, as shown by the biggest drop in their cortisol levels. A spike in oxytocin, often called the “cuddle chemical”, showed they felt reassured. That phenomenon, though attenuated, was shown in girls who heard their mother’s voice on the phone. But a text from their mother had no impact. There were no physiological signs that the participants felt less anxiety than they had before. Indeed, their hormone levels were indistinguishable from the girls who had no contact at all.

Recent MRI studies led by neuroscientist Elizabeth Redcay tell us that personal contact elicits greater activity in brain areas linked to social problem-solving, attention and reward than a remote connection. When the identical information is transmitted via a recording, something gets lost.

Just as we all require food, water and sleep to survive, we all need genuine human contact. Digital devices are great for sharing information, but not great for deepening human connections and a sense of belonging. More socially cohesive societies – such as the Blue Zone of Sardinia – suggest that we should use our mobile devices to augment, not to replace, face-to-face interaction – that is, if we want to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Britons of all ages now devote more time to digital devices and screens than to any other activity except sleeping; a lot of those hours are spent alone. No app exists that is as effective as one year with a highly trained teacher, or the cumulative effect of regular family meals spent together.

A quarter of Britons now say they feel emotionally unconnected to others, and a third do not feel connected to the wider community. If men are to live as long as women, if urbanites hope to live as long as Mediterranean village dwellers, they need to live in a place where they know and talk to their neighbours. But there is no need to trash your smartphone and move to rural Sardinia. Once you recognise that you need more than pixelated, electronic ties, and more than a handful of close friends and family to keep you healthy and happy, you can stay where you are. By cultivating a community of diverse, person-to-person relationships, you can build your own village, right where you live.

Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters is published by Atlantic.

for more info go to the original article appeared on the Guardian 20th march 2015

The world’s smallest kingdom — unspoiled Tavolara

article by Laura Secorun Palet, first appeared on “USA today” 22-03-2014

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Few places excite our collective imagination like islands. From Aldous Huxley’s portrayal of a water-locked Utopia to Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe, islands make us dream.

Fortunately, not all of them are imaginary. Take Tavolara, for instance: Hidden along the East coast of Sardinia, this tiny strip of land — just over three miles long and a mile wide — is one of the Mediterranean’s best kept secrets.

Only 14 people live on what looks like a mountain peak jutting from the sea. And while none of the residents are pirates or castaways, some are members of a unique royal family.

At first glance, one could mistake Antonio Bertoleoni for an ordinary fisherman, but he is, quite literally, the king of the island. “Tonnino” — as his subjects call him — is the descendant of Giuseppe Bertoleoni, a sailor from Genova who, in the late 18th century, came across this uninhabited rock, claimed it and crowned himself king.

Several years later, while on a hunting trip, King Charles Albert of Savoy is said to have recognized Giuseppe’s authority, and the family has self-proclaimed themselves royal ever since.

“We are a real royal family,” King Bertoleoni says. “Even Queen Victoria of England, when she heard of us, sent a photographer in a boat to take a picture of Tavolara’s royal family for her collection. And I think it must still be somewhere at Buckingham palace,” he adds by way of proof.

While the Bertoleoni reign only lasted a century — in 1934, Tavolara was officially annexed by Italy — the royal family still carries on its role as protector of the island by ignoring the siren call of mass tourism and chasing away speculators.

Case in point: In the 1990s a company wanted to harvest wood from Tavolara’s well-stocked forest. The timber sale would’ve been a good earner for the tiny island, which is short on natural resources it can sell. The king stuck to his guns, however, and pointed the lumberjacks back to the mainland.

Tavolara has also refused to build more houses on the beach, pave any roads and provide lodging for tourists. Unlike the tourist meccas of Mikonos or Ibiza, Tavolara is not plagued by cruise ships, nightclubs and beach vendors. Instead, visitors can chose between the following attractions: the island’s little beach bar, its only restaurant “Da Tonnino” — which is run by the king and offers the local fishermen’s catch of the day — or its long white beach with turquoise waters.

And tourists can only come for the day, taking the 15-minute ferry back to Porto San Paolo at the end of their island adventure.

Tavolara’s prettiest sight may actually be underwater. The island offers the Mediterranean’s most successful marine reserve — with the highest levels of biomass per square meter — which makes it a prime diving destination for those looking to experience the great sea like it was decades ago, before overfishing took its toll. Treats include flora, fauna and shipwrecks.

Natural marvels aside, Tavolara also has a glamorous side: For more than 20 years, the island has been home to a very special film festival. Una Notte in Italia — a night in Italy — showcases the best of contemporary Italian cinema.

Every July, yachts surround Tavolara. The beach bar orders extra bottles of champagne to quench the visitors’ thirst, and a big screen is set outdoors for the event.

The festival’s atmosphere is informal, but film stars seem happy to trade in red carpets for a walk on the beach, theaters for a screening under the stars.

To visitors, Tavolara feels like a time capsule. Because, while change can’t be fought, it seems the islanders have found a way to slow it down – just enough to protect their corner of paradise from the claws of globalization.

“I think this island is perfect as it is,” says King Bertoleoni, “So it should stay the same in the future. Sometimes by trying to improve things, but we just make them worse.”

Seeing the children jump off the peer as the sun sets behind the sand dunes, it is hard to disagree with his Majesty.