Saturday, April 5, 2008

Waste Land

From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets." The recurrent threatening theme of medieval romances was the Waste Land motif, especially in the Holy Grail cycle. Like the Grail legends themselves, the Waste Land motif probably came from the Middle East, where European travelers and crusaders had seen a true Waste Land: the great desert which eastern mystics attributed to Islam's renunciation of the fertile Great Mother. Western pagans also maintained that if the Mother should be offended or neglected, she might curse the land with the same desperate barrenness that could be seen in Arabia Deserta and North Africa. (See Grail, Holy). One of the Grail stories said a king of England (Logres) once committed a mortal sin by raping one of the Goddess's priestesses and stealing her golden cup, symbol of her love, which must not be stolen but only given. Afterward, priestesses of the sacred springs no longer welcomed wayfarers with food and drink.(1) The Peace of the Goddess was destroyed, for the women no longer trusted men. "The land went to waste. The trees lost their leaves, grass and flowers withered, and the water receded more and more....[A] wrong against a feminine being and a plundering of nature were perpetrated.... [T]he origin of the trouble was looked upon as an offense committed against the fairy world, i.e., actually against nature.... The growth of masculine consciousness and of the patriarchal logos principle of the Christian outlook are concerned in no small measure with this development."(2) The Goddess appeared in several myths of the Grail cycle as a great lady disinherited, or a queen robbed of her possessions and reduced to penury, like La Reine de la Terre Gaste (Queen of the Waste Land) in the Cistercian romance of the Queste del Sainte Graal.(3) Many tales speak of groups of women deprived of their former property rights and gathered together in "castles of damsels," under three rulers personifying the Goddess: a queen, her daughter, and her granddaughter. Hoping to keep their enemies at bay by magic spells, the women waited for a champion to defend their cause, as the Grail knights were supposed to do. The queen employed a certain learned astronomer whose wizardry kept away from the castle any knight likely to fail through cowardice, envy, greed, or any other weakness of character. The ladies waited for the coming of their savior, the Desired Knight, perfect in his honesty and bravery: one who could destroy all their enemies and restore their lands and possessions, which had been taken from them by various robber barons. "Orphaned maidens," deprived of their inheritance by new patrilineal laws, also took refuge in such castles of women; so did older widows who were no longer permitted to inherit property as under the former laws of mother-right.(4) Legends of the coming of the Desired Knight may have been promulgated by women, or by bards seeking to please women with a favorite theme. But there was more than this to the image of the Waste Land. It haunted a society in which, "Under the autocratic regime of persecuting Christianity during the Middle Ages of Europe, Christian dogma was indeed accepted nominally by great intellects, but it was accepted under duress and reservation... The men of highest intellect were compelled to express the faith that was in them in the most guarded language."(5) Often, the language was symbolism - the most guarded of all, since its true meaning could always be denied. The symbolic Waste Land was "a landscape of spiritual death," where religious concepts were dissociated from the feelings and life experience of ordinary people, and imposed upon a confused, reluctant public only by authoritarian indoctrination.(6) This could well describe Europe in the 12th century [or, indeed, America under the George W. Bush years] when the coming of the Desired Knight was vaguely identified with the second coming of Christ - or Merlin, Arthur, Frederick, etc. Many oppressed people desparingly yearned for a powerful hero to defy the oppressors on their behalf. The Waste Land theme invoked the collective fear of every agricultural society since the Stone Age: the fear that Mother Earth's cyclic miracle of food production might fail. But it meant more than that. It also stood for collective devitalization and depression in a society preceived by its members as lacking spiritual roots. A famous modern application of the Waste Land theme is, of course, T.S. Eliot's poem, based not only on western applications of Grail symbolism but also on the Hindu tale of the hopeless quest for the true Word of Power, as recounted in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Hindu version ran like this: Gods, men, and demons went to Shiva-Pajapati in the guise of Lord of Thunder, to find out from him the ultimate word - that is, the word signifying the goal and end of all things, as Om signified their beginning. But the Thunder, being thunder, was not able to say any word except one: Da. Men, hearing this word, thought it meant datta, meaning "give" or "fertilize," because begetting was the only divine thing they could do, and charitable giving was the only way they knew to seek blessedness. Demons, hearing this word, thought it meant dayadhvam, meaning "sympathize" or "be compassionate"; in the Oriental context demons were not evil spirits but deities of the old matriarchal religion, who preached karuna, mother-love. Gods, hearing this word, thought it meant damyata, meaning "control," the secret of their success; by self control they became divine, and by divinity they achieved power to control all the others. But the Lord of Thunder couldn't distinguish one word from another. He only repeated mindless the only word he knew: "Da! Da! Da!"(7) ' Notes: (1) Spence, 138. (2) Jung & von Franz, 202, 204. (3) Campbell, C.M., 543. (4) Jung & von Franz, 229. (5) Shirley, 31-32. (6) Campbell, C.M., 5-6, 373, 388. (7) Upanishads, 112. See Eliot's The Waste Land.

Chess News Update

Chess Femme News has been updated (as of April 5, 2008). Enjoy!

Chess Adventures: Shopping for a Chess Set

A rather interesting short piece from the out of Oshkosh, WI (yah, my home state!) Posted April 5, 2008 Streetwise: Sometimes you need to shop outside the box Streetwise has a story for you this week. Not sure if there’s a moral to it, but maybe we will just use it as an indicator of how screwy commerce can be in this town. Or, maybe just how screwy Streetwise can be. The object of our pursuit: A small chess set, which we were willing to reasonably pay for. Beginning after work on Monday, Streetwise spent a total of two hours and waaaay too much gas driving around to every store we thought could possibly have a small chess set so we could set it on our desk and play our Minneapolis friend Gerg (EDS – NOT a misprint. He goes by Gerg instead of Greg) in a move-a-day match. We started downtown with a call to House of Heroes and a look through the Paper Tiger. No such luck in either case. Big boxes were next and yielded some results. Target had a few cheap-but-not-small ones, Hobby Lobby was a bust and surprisingly, so was Shopko. Admittedly, Streetwise did not try Wal-Mart. Next, came an epiphany. Hobbytown USA on Oregon Street. A solution and a way to shop local! Check and mate, to use the preferred nomenclature. Not so much. Yes, they had chess sets, but none cheaper than $60 and no small ones. At this point, friends, we hadn’t expected such a battle for something so simple as a chess set, but our resolve had also hardened as we again drove back out to the frontage roads. Streetwise was going to find a chess set if it took looking in every dang store out there. Alas, we returned to Target after stopping at, of all places, OfficeMax in the hope they might have an “executive” chess set. Bought the $4 chess set with a laminated paper board and prepared for the start Tuesday. Got into work, proudly set it up – also weighted it down to get the board to lay flat – and went to work snapping shots of all the changes happening downtown for “Public Enemies.” The assignment took us into Satori Imports where, as we turned to walk out, there sat a small, glass chess set and glass board for $8 in a glass case. Of course, Streetwise thought, this could only happen in Oshkosh.

Discovery of Viking-Era Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian Coins in Sweden

News from CAIS LONDON, (CAIS) -- Swedish archaeologists say they have uncovered a horde of Viking-era silver coins near Stockholm's Arlanda international airport in the country's Uppland region. Swedish National Heritage Board (SNHB), announced the find as about 450 silver coins -- representing the largest collection of coins from the era found in the region during the modern age, Swedish news agency TT reported Friday. According to SNHB the coins are dated between 500 CE to 840 CE. The earliest coins are of Sasanian-Iran and later ones are Islamic Arab-Sasanian coins which were minted in Baghdad, Damascus and North Africa. The hoard appear to have been buried around 850 CE near a grave that is thought to be about 1,000 years older than the finds and no human remains were found. According to Karin Beckman-Thoor, an archaeologist with SNHB, Vikings that buried the hoard thought they may be guarded by the ancestral souls. In July 1999 and November 2006 over 1,100 similar coins belonging to Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian periods were discovered in Swedish island of Gotland. A number of news agencies including the BBC have reported the find as 470 purely Arab coins dated between 7th and 9th century CE.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Night Miscellany

Hola! It's been a long hard week (nothing new there!) The weather seems to have finally turned - it's still in the 30's at night but now it's getting into the higher 40's during the day, and according to the forecast this weekend we may see a high of 58 F on Sunday, yippee! We need to dry out from all of the melted snow PLUS the rain rain rain, never-ending rain! Yech! I'm waterlogged, darlings! And anxious to start the yard work - we are about 2 weeks behind schedule weather-wise, this year. The yard looks horrid - lots of branches and twigs blown down from the wind storms during the late fall and winter when it was too cold and/or snowy and/or wet to get out and clean up. And probably half of ton of peanut shells left over from what I fed the critters this winter! Where's my rake? Tomorrow is the annual NAIC Investors Fair and the ladies of the investment club are going. It's a great day out but a long one, starting with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and not ending until about 3:00 p.m. We recently added a fifth member who is tres sympatico, and now we'll be accumulating $$$ even faster than before. This is a good time to be investing - going into a recession. Lots of good companies are on sale and we've been accumulating some funds to invest over the past several months. There's been some interesting news this week: Here's a weird one: Man Haunted by Text Messages from Deceased Wife - buried with her cell phone! Cue spooky music....whhhhaaaaaaaaa........ Even weirder: Old nuclear-missile silo now houses UFO research center, yeah yeah, I didn't even bother reading that story. But last night, I must have held a trace of that "headline" in my mind because I had the most bizzarre dream about a long-abandoned local "Nike missile" site that was not so abandoned after all - in fact - it held several multi-nuclear warhead armed ICBMs (do they still call them that, by the way?) just waiting to be launched by a madman Republican President who shall remain nameless - until yours truly and her trusty cohorts in Truth, Goddess, and The American Way saved the day. Ta da! LOL! Hmmmm, way over the borderline of bizzarre: Pet owners and animal care professionals learn how to tap into their Spirit Teachers and Power Animals during Introduction of Shamanic Journeying hosted by Animal Spirit Healing and Education Network as part of the Shamanic Healing for Animals study program. "Big Cat" sightings:

Evidently, reports of sightings of "big cats" (cougars) go back dozens of years in the midwest and Canada. Guess the zoologists don't know all there is to know (well, of course not, but I expect the majority of them are like the majority of chess historians - hide bound and tunnel vision to 19th century "knowledge" that is wrong-headed and just plain wrong!)


Lotus, Symbol of the Goddess

From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets." (Image: not from Walker - Nakht and wife holding water lily, a large water lily also to the right of the couple, resting on the offering table, another water lily wrapped around Nakht's wife's right wrist, also notice the lotus intertwined with the pilar to the far right - that is classic. Nakht's tomb, ancient Egypt - the symbolism will become apparent when you read the entry below!)

Asia's primary symbol of the yoni (vulva), often personified as the Goddes Padma, "Lotus," also known as Cunti, Lakshmi, or Shakti.

The central phrase of Tantrism, Om mani padme hum, meant the Jewel (male) in the Lotus (female), with interlocking connotations, the penis in the vagina, the fetus in the womb, the corpse in the earth, the God in the Goddess representing all of these.(1)

The father-god Brahma claimed to be a universal creator, nevertheless, he was styled "Lotus-born," for he arose from the primal Goddess's yoni. Egypt's father-god Ra also claimed to be a creator but owed his existence to the Goddess called "great world lotus flower, out of which rose the sun for the first time at the creation."(2)

Virtually all Egyptian Goddess-forms were symbolized by the lotus.(3) Pharaohs were sexually united with the World Lotus to achieve rebirth after death. The funeral hymn of Unas declared that he "had union with the goddess Mut, Unas hath drawn unto himself the flame of Isis, Unas hath united himself to the lotus."(4)

One way of uniting oneself with the lotus was the custom of ritual cunnilingus, widely practiced throughout the east as communion with the feminine life-principle.(5) This was probably the true meaning of the Land of Lotus-Easters visited by Odysseus and his crew. The sensual Land of the Lotus-Easters was described as a tropical place beyond the southern sea, which could apply to any land from Egypt to India.(6)

Ascetic Jain Buddhism tried to eradicate the lotus symbol because of its erotic implications. Nevertheless, a few centuries after Buddha's time, the most prominent figures on Buddhist monuments was again Padma, openly displaying her genital lotus.(7) A similar resurgence of erotic imagery overtook ascetic Christianity, when "obscene" figures proliferated in cathedrals and chruches, for example the Irish shelia-na-gig.

Most Oriental mystics held that spiritual knowledge began with carnal knowledge. The lotus was the Goddess's gate, and sex was the Way through the gate to her inner mysteries. With proper sexual exercises, a true sage might achieve the final flowering of revelation described as the thousand-petaled lotus of invisible light emanting from the top of the head after ascending the spinal chakras from the pelvis.

Worshippers of Vishnu sometimes painted their god as the source of the World Lotus, which grew on a long stem from his navel. But since "the primary reference of the lotus in India has always been the goddess Padma, 'Lotus,' whose body itself is the universe, the long stem from navel to lotus should properly connote an umbilical cord through which the flow of energy would be running from the goddess to the god, mother to child, not the other way."(8) Some Hindu cosmogonies saw the whole world as the lotus flower, with seven petals representing the seven divisions of the heavens where the cities and palaces of the god were located.(9)

In the Middle East, the lotus was lilu, or lily.(10) It was the flower of Lilith, the Sumero-Babylonian earth mother claimed by the Jews as Adam's first wife. The three-lobed lily or fleu-de-lis, like the shamrock, one stood for the Triple Goddess's three yonis, which is why the lily was sacred to the trune Queen of Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Juno conceived her savior-son Mars by the lily, and the same flower was adopted as a conception-charm of the Blessed Virgin Mary.(11) When Isis was assimilated to the burgeoning legends of the Virgin, her Egyptian images held the phallic cross in one hand, the female lotus seed-vessel in the other, like the Goddess shown on the Isiac Table.(12)

(1) Rawson, E.A., 151.
(2) Budge, G.E., 1, 473.
(3) Angus, 139.
(4) Budge, G.E., 2, 32.
(5) Rawson, E.A., 103.
(6) Thomson, 176.
(7) Campbell, Or. M., 301.
(8) Campbell, Oc.M., 157.
(9) Lethaby, 124-25.
(10) Summers, V., 226.
(11) Simons, 103.
(12) Knight, D.W.P., 50.
About ancient Egypt, the symbol of the lotus figured greatly in tomb art and official carvings, as far as I can tell, from the earliest pre-dynastic days right through to the final collapse of the ancient Egyptian identity, beginning with the destruction of the last of the old temples by the Christians in about 400 CE or so and then the onslaught of the Mohammedists in the 7th century CE. An ancient Egyptian god, Nefertem, who was later personified as the god of perfume (scent), wore a lotus on his head and engendered physical characteristics of both male and female (like the Indian gods so often do), appearing as a hermaphrodite. See Caroline Seawright's excellent short piece, "Nefertem, God of Perfume, Water Lily of the Sun..." for information. See also "Nefertem, Ancient Lord of Perfume" at Tour Egypt.

What was the Isiac Table?

According to the Theosophical Society (yes, they still exist):
Isiac table: Spiritual Theosophical Dictionary on Isiac table
Isiac table. A true monument of Egyptian art. It represents the goddess Isis under many of her aspects. The Jesuit Kircher describes it as a table of copper overlaid with black enamel and silver incrustations. It was in the possession of Cardinal Bembo, and therefore called "Tabula Bembina sive Mensa Isiaca ". Under this title it is described by W. Wynn Westcott, M.B., who gives its "History and Occult Significance" in an extremely interesting and learned volume (with photographs and illustrations). The tablet was believed to have been a votive offering to Isis in one of her numerous temples. At the sack of Rome in 1525, it came into the possession of a soldier who sold it to Cardinal Bembo. Then it passed to the Duke of Mantua in 1630, when it was lost.

(See also: Isiac table, Theosophy, Spirituality, Body mind and Soul, Spiritual Dictionary)

But, according to information at Sacred Texts (under entry "The Bembine Table of Isis"), the Table (tablet) was NOT lost/destroyed! There is also a enlargeable line drawing of the Table which would take days to try and decipher - I see so many interesting things in it! Wow. Who knew? I sure didn't and I've been studying this stuff since 1999!

Added 4/5/08 - from Isis:
I read the article about the Lotus, and I thought you might like to know that the famous blue lotus of Egypt, now exstinct, had aphrodesiac properties...Pharmacologists test dryed lotus from tombs and discovered that the lotus was a form of natural Viagra. The Egyptians would soak the lotus in wine to extract the lotus viagra. I wrote about this in our Showgirls article, Aphrodesiac Cooking.

Chess News Update

Hola darlings! Chess Femme News has been updated (April 4, 2008). Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

DNA in Archaeology

From Katherimini, English Edition April 3, 2008 DNA sheds light on Minoans Crete’s fabled Minoan civilization was built by people from Anatolia, according to a new study by Greek and foreign scientists that disputes an earlier theory that said the Minoans’ forefathers had come from Africa. The new study – a collaboration by experts in Greece, the USA, Canada, Russia and Turkey – drew its conclusions from the DNA analysis of 193 men from Crete and another 171 from former neolithic colonies in central and northern Greece. The results show that the country’s neolithic population came to Greece by sea from Anatolia – modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria – and not from Africa as maintained by US scholar Martin Bernal. The DNA analysis indicates that the arrival of neolithic man in Greece from Anatolia coincided with the social and cultural upsurge that led to the birth of the Minoan civilization, Constantinos Triantafyllidis of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University told Kathimerini. “Until now we only had the archaeological evidence – now we have genetic data too and we can date the DNA,” he said. ******************************************************************************** I thought that "Anatolia" was primarily what we call Turkey today (see, for instance, Wikipedia). I do not believe I've ever read prior to tonight that Iran and Iraq were part of ancient Anatolia! If the author meant to say that parts of modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria (rather small parts) were included within ancient Anatolia, then that would make sense, based on the maps at Wikipedia. But if - as the article presently reads - the author meant all of Syria, Iran and Iraq and not Turkey, then take it with a large grain of salt.

Shakespeare in the Digital Age

Shakespeare (or, as Candi Kane, one of the duo of the irrepressible Las Vegas Showgirls, calls him, 'Spearshaker') is going digital! From News Daily Posted 9:03 am EDT LONDON, Mar. 26, 2008 (Reuters) — A U.S. and British library plan to reproduce online all 75 editions of William Shakespeare's plays printed in the quarto format before the year 1641. The Bodleian Library in Oxford and Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC have joined forces to download their collections, building on the work of the British Library which digitized its collection of quarto editions in 2004. "There are no surviving manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays in his handwriting so the quartos are the closest we can get to what Shakespeare really wanted," said Bodleian spokeswoman Oana Romocea. "Some quartos do, however, have his annotations around the printed text." The project is designed to make all of the earliest printed versions of Shakespeare's plays, many of which are only accessible to scholars, available to the wider public. The process of downloading the quartos will begin next month and take a year to complete. Online visitors will be able to compare images side-by-side, search the plays and mark and tag the texts. "We (at the Bodleian) have about 55 copies, although some of them are duplicates," said Romocea. "Each quarto is different, so it's very interesting from a research perspective to compare the quartos. "For example, some of the famous lines in 'Hamlet' exist in one quarto and in another they don't, or they are very different." Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more between about 1590 and 1613. He died in 1616. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato) Copyright Reuters 2008

DNA in Archaeology

Prior posts: Using DNA to figure out ancient migration patterns; DNA evidence of conquest in South America. From BBC News March 27, 2008 Crusaders 'left genetic legacy' By Paul Rincon Science reporter, BBC News Scientists have detected the faint genetic traces left by medieval crusaders in the Middle East. The team says it found a particular DNA signature which recently appeared in Lebanon and is probably linked to the crusades. The finding comes from the Genographic Project, a major effort to track human migrations through DNA. Details of the research have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The researchers found that some Christian men in Lebanon carry a DNA signature hailing from Western Europe. Four crusades came through Lebanon between the 11th and 13th Centuries - the first, second, third and sixth. The bulk of the crusader armies came from England, France, Germany and Italy; many of the men stayed to build castles and settlements, mixing with the local populations. The scientists also found that Lebanese Muslim men were more likely than Christians to carry a particular genetic signature. But this one is linked to expansions from the Arabian Peninsula which brought Islam to the area in the 7th and 8th Centuries. But they emphasise that the differences between the two communities are minor, and that Christians and Muslim Arabs in Lebanon overwhelmingly share a common heritage. Genetic 'surname' The legacy of the Muslim expansion has been demonstrated in other studies which looked at the genetics of Middle Eastern and North African populations. But signs of recent European migration to the region are more unusual. The study focused on the Y, or male, chromosome, a package of genetic material carried only by men that is passed down from father to son more or less unchanged, just like a surname. But over many generations, the chromosome accumulates small changes, or copying errors, in its DNA sequence. These can be used to classify male chromosomes into different groups (called haplogroups) which, to some extent, reflect a person's geographical ancestry. The team analysed the Y chromosomes of 926 Lebanese males and found that patterns of male genetic variation in Lebanon fell more along religious lines than along geographical lines. A genetic signature on the male chromosome called WES1, which is usually only found in west European populations, was found among the Lebanese men included in the study. Science and history "It seems to have come in from Europe and is found mostly in the Christian population," said Dr Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project. "This is odd because typically we don't see this sort of stratification by religion when we are looking at the relative proportions of these lineages - and particularly immigration events." He told BBC News: "Looking at the same data set, we saw a similar enrichment of lineages coming in from the Arabian Peninsula in the Muslim population which we didn't see [as often] in the Christian population." Lebanese Muslim men were found to have high frequencies of a Y chromosome grouping known as J1. This is typical of populations originating from the Arabian Peninsula, who were involved in the Muslim expansion. "The goal of the study was to put some science to the history of this country - which is very rich," said Pierre Zalloua, a co-author on the paper, from the Lebanese American University in Beirut. He added: "To have these great civilisations - with the Islamic expansion and the migration from Europe - coming to Lebanon, leaving not only their genes but also some of their culture and way of life, it can only make us feel richer." The Genographic Project was launched by National Geographic in 2005 to help piece together a picture of how the Earth was populated. The consortium has sold 250,000 DNA test kits and regional centres have taken samples of genetic material from 31,000 indigeous people.

Women in Archaeology: Kathleen Mary Kenyon-Follow up

Prior post about Kenyon. Female excavator had many finds April 3, 2008 By Elizabeth Herring Reporter (Baylor University, The Lariat Online) The Hankamer Treasure Room in the Armstrong Browning Library, which is usually filled with writings and artifacts, held a large group of students and faculty Tuesday afternoon during Dr. Miriam Davis' lecture on Dame Kathleen Kenyon, one of the first female archaeologists in the Middle East. Davis, an associate professor of history at Delta State University in Mississippi, spoke on the life and work of Kenyon, whose work excavating in Jericho is "some of the most important in the 20th century," she said. Baylor is home to the Kenyon Collection, Kenyon's personal library. Janet Sheets, a reference librarian and associate professor of social sciences and humanities, said she hoped students "would learn about a scholar, like Kathleen Kenyon, and about Miriam Davis and the way (Davis) went about doing her scholarship (on Kenyon)." Beth Tice, an assistant director of the Baylor libraries, said she thinks it is important to show students the process of research. Tice said she hopes that Davis can show students how they can develop their research into different projects, like Davis did by writing the first biography on Kenyon, titled, Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging Up the Holy Land. "Why was Kathleen Kenyon worth a biography?" Davis said, to open her speech on Kenyon. "She became an archeologist quite by accident." Kenyon was the daughter of Sir Frederic Kenyon, the director of the British Museum. Many people thought that her upbringing made her predisposed to become an archeologist. Kenyon graduated with a third-class degree from Oxford, which is low. Davis said Kenyon spent more time playing lacrosse and tennis than she did studying. After graduating, Kenyon joined her first expedition to Great Zimbabwe, an ancient stone ruin in present-day Zimbabwe, with Gertrude Caton-Thompson, another important female archeologist. It was there that Kenyon "fell in love with field archeology and became interested in methodology," Davis said. On her second excavation, she worked with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who developed a new method of digging that emphasized precision in order to gather more data about the artifacts that were discovered. Kenyon followed his method that she later developed into her own method at her digs in Jerusalem. She excavated in Jericho for seven field seasons. "The discoveries she made were breath-taking," Davis said. Among her discoveries were a series of seven human skulls that had been plastered and decorated with shells to look like humans. These were some of the oldest portraits ever found and made the front page of the New York Times upon their discovery. Archaeologists frequently argue about the historical existence of biblical characters. When in Jericho, Kenyon was asked to examine the work of previous archeologists in the area to determine if the biblical city of Jericho had existed. Kenyon determined that all the different walls of Jericho fell because of earthquakes in the area and that sections of the wall were built at different times. "Archaeology does not do a great deal here to illuminate archaeological biblical history," Davis said. "Some archaeologists now claim much of the Hebrew Bible is fiction." When in Jerusalem, Kenyon excavated at the site of the city of David. When digging, she found part of a wall that was from the middle bronze age when King David was said to have lived, Davis said. Kenyon had unknowingly discovered what present-day archaeologists think may be King David's palace. "Kathleen Kenyon's career continues," Davis said.

Sacred Spaces: The Sacred Grove

From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets." Grove, Sacred Next to a cave, a grove was the most popular uterine symbol in ancient religions, even among early biblical Semites, to whom Asherah was the Mother-Goddess of the Grove. A large tree, pillar, or obelisk within the grove often represented the male god inside the Goddess as both child and lover. Brittany in the 11th century still had a druidic holy wood called Nemet. This may have been the same as the fairy wood Broceliande, the grove of Merlin's Nemesis, the lady Nimue, who also bore the name of the fatal Goddess of the grove. A common Indo-European word for the sacred grove was Nemi (Latin nemus), indicating dedication to the Moon-goddess called Nemesis, Diana Nemorensis, or Diana Nemetona - Lady of the Grove. Nemeton was the druidic oak grove. Strabo said the greatest shrine of the Galatians (Gauls) in Asia Minor was Drunemeton, the druid-grove. Southern Scotland had a shrine called Medionemeton. France had another, called Nemetodorum (modern Nanterre). In Spain, the sacred grove of the Moon-goddess Brigit was Nemetobriga.(1) Hungary still has Maros-Nemeti, an old grove-shrine of Mari-Diana.(2) The Irish called a sanctuary nemed, or fidnemed, a "forest shrine," established by the archaic colonists called Nemed or Moon-people. Religious rites continued in these forest shrines throughout the Middle Ages.(3) Christian writers spoke of "heathen abominations" carried out in forest shrines or nimidae. Patriarchal priesthoods seemed to consider the groves dangerous. The Bible speaks of many attacks on the asherim or Groves of Asherah, which were consistently worshipped by both people and kings, despite the prophets' repeated condemnations: Exodus 34:13, Deuteronomy 16:21, Judges 3:7, 1 Kings 15:13, 16:33; 2 Kings 18:4, 21:7. Destroyers of the sacred groves feared the Mother's curse, as shown in numerous moralizing myths. Erysichthon dared to cut down one of Demeter's sacred groves, though the high priestess forbade him with the voice of the Goddess herself. Then angry Demeter cursed him with perpetual hunger that could never be appeased. He ended as a wretched beggar, frantically stuffing his mouth with filth.(4) Druidic sacred groves were somewhat protected by superstitious fear of similar curses. The oak grove at Derry was one of the most ppopular shrines of Irish paganism, its magical name still invoked by the bardic phrase "Hey, Derry Down" in the chrous of old ballads. Writings attributed to St. Columba said Derry's grove must be preserved at all costs. The said said as much as he feared death and hell, he "dreaded still more the sound of the axe in the grove of Derry."(5) Sacred kings in Diana's ancient grove at Nemi were expected to fight any rival challenger who broke a branch from the holy tree. This symbolic act occurs so often in medieval romances that it can only be assumed the custom continued through the Middle Ages. The Vulgate epic of Lancelot said Parsifal challenged a rival knight in the same manner as the heroes of Meni: he "found a tree in the grove undefended, and broke a branch from it."(6) Evidence is not lacking to show that breaking a branch from the sacred tree was equivalent to a threat of cstration of the god, or the incumbent sacred king who embodied the god.(7) Notes: (1) Piggot, 72. (2) Strong, 192. (3) Joyce 1, 359-60. (4) Graves, G.M., 1, 89. (5) Spence, 42. (6) Cambpell, C.M., 555. (7) Frazer, G.B, 815 et seq.

Chess News Update

Hola! Here's the link to the latest Chess Femme News, updated today! Goddesschess' Random Round-Up has been updated - this week the theme is archeoastronomy - a fascinating mini-collection of information from around the WWW.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


From Barbara Walker's "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Mythis and Secrets:" Voodoo god similar to the Trickster or Hermes of classical myth. Though an ithyphallic god of lust, Legba was also androgynous. In ceremonial dances his part was taken by a girl wearing an erect wooden hallus. He was considred an ebodiment of the Word or logos of the goddess Fa, "Fate."(1) Notes: (1) Hays, 341.

Okay - Poop in the News

I don't know if this is an April Fools joke or not - the article is dated April 2nd. It's certainly fascinating. Who knew? Studying fossilized poop for a living! No photos - gee wonder why??? Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - Page updated at 12:15 PM Fossilized feces found in Oregon suggest earliest human presence in North America By Sandi Doughton Seattle Times science reporter Hold the potty humor, please, but archaeologists digging in a dusty cave in Oregon have unearthed fossilized feces that appear to be oldest biological evidence of humans in North America. The ancient poop dates back 14,300 years. If the results hold up, that means the continent was populated more than 1,000 years before the so-called Clovis culture, long believed to be the first Americans. "This adds to a growing body of evidence that the human presence in the Americas predates Clovis," said Michael Waters, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the project. DNA analysis of the dried excrement shows the people who lived in the caves were closely related to modern Native Americans. Their genetic roots reach across the Bering Strait to Siberia and eastern Asia. "These are probably the ancestors of some of the Native Americans living in America now," said Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for Ancient Genetics at the University of Copenhagen. He co-authored the report that appears in today's online Science Express. The age of the finding also calls into question the theory that people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge to Alaska migrated south through ice-free corridors as glaciers began to break up. Geological evidence suggests the corridors weren't open 14,300 years ago, though the glaciers had pulled back from the coasts. "People probably came either by boat or maybe even walking along the West Coast," Willerslev said. Before the Oregon discovery, the oldest human remains in North America were two sets of bones about 13,000 years old from California and Nevada. Kennewick Man, the skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, dates to 9,400 years ago. Willerslev acknowledged that working with feces lacks the cache of studies on skulls or spear-tips. He and his collaborators say their subject matter drew jokesters like flies are drawn to ... well, you know. "I've heard it all," said Dennis Jenkins, the University of Oregon archaeologist who led the excavations. "My colleagues call me Dr. Poop." But coprolites, as fossil dung is called in polite scientific society, can be a trove of information on diet and genetics. Jenkins and his students uncovered hundreds of coprolites in their six years of work at Paisley Caves, about 220 miles southeast of Portland as the crow flies. Rest of article.

The Latest Chess Femme News

Hola darlings! Here's the latest Chess Femme News (April 2, 2008).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Oldest Known Gold Necklace in Americas Found

Necklace is 'oldest in Americas'
By Helen Briggs Science reporter, BBC News

A necklace found near Lake Titicaca in southern Peru is the oldest known gold object made in the Americas, archaeologists say.

Radiocarbon dating puts its origin at about 4,000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers occupied the area.

The researchers say it appears to have been fashioned from gold nuggets.

The discovery suggests that the use of gold jewellery to signify status began before the appearance of more complex societies in the Andes, they report.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), they say the artefact is the earliest worked gold found not only in the Andes, but the Americas as well.

Study leader Dr Mark Aldenderfer of the department of anthropology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said it demonstrated an emerging social role for gold beyond simple decoration.

He told BBC News: "The gold reflects a universal tendency for human beings to strive for prestige and status.

"The gold reflects that process in people living in a simple society which is in the process of becoming more complex."

Status symbol
The necklace was found alongside the jawbone of an adult skull in a burial pit next to primitive pithouses at Jiskairumoko, a hamlet that was settled from 3,300 to 1,500 BC.

The researchers believe it had been worn by an adult, probably an elderly woman.

Marks on the necklace suggest that gold nuggets had been flattened with a stone hammer and then carefully bent or hammered around a hard cylindrical object to create a tubular shape.

The gold would have signalled the prestige of its wearer, "not at all different to today," said Dr Aldenderfer.

"This reflects a lot more than just a lovely object," he added. "This is a major piece of how people lived their lives and how they competed for status in the past."

Here is coverage from Archaeology News -
Oldest-known American gold necklace found in Peru
Tuesday, 01 Apr 2008 10:44

Archaeologists believe a nine-bead necklace recently found near Lake Titicaca in Peru is the oldest-known gold artefact in the Americas.

The necklace was found by the jawbone of an adult skull in a burial pit next to a primitive dwelling at Jiskairumoko.

Scientists believe this small hamlet was settled from 3300 to 1500BC

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the US researchers say radiocarbon dating of nearby material places the necklace's origin at about 2100 BC.

The necklace's gold beads are thick and cylindrical in shape with different lengths.

One of the beads had been perforated and a small greenstone bead was found in the soil.

Archaeologists are unsure how the necklace was made as no obvious tools to create the beads were found at the site. [Why would they even assume it had been made at the site??? It could have been - and probably was - made elsewhere and traded for, or gotten as booty during a war - or came to the person as part of a marital settlement. There are lots of different possibilities about how the necklace could have got where it ended up.]

But they say as each of the beads has distinctive hammer marks it is likely the raw native gold was hammered first and then bent and/or hammered around a hard cylindrical object to create the tubular shape.

The necklace's discovery at a settlement of seasonal hunter-gatherers shows that the use of gold jewellery to distinguish wealthy and important people began before the appearance of more complex societies in the Andes, the researchers argue.

"This discovery lends support to the hypothesis that the earliest metalworking in the Andes was experimentation with native gold," they conclude.

"The presence of gold in a society of low-level food producers undergoing social and economic transformations coincident with the onset of sedentary life is an indicator of possible early social inequality and aggrandising behaviour.

"[It] further shows that hereditary elites and a societal capacity to create significant agricultural surpluses are not requisite for the emergence of metalworking traditions."
Was the jawbone that of a woman? How do they know the wearer of the necklace was a woman? How do they know that their assumption that the "gold would have signalled the prestige of its wearer" is correct? They haven't said anything about where the gold came from or what it might have meant to the person wearing the necklace. In the absence of compelling evidence otherwise, they are just assuming based on our greedy western avarice for gold (which, after all, is pretty but cannot be eaten or planted, so it's not much good after all, is it).

There is also nothing to support the purported age of the artifact. Just because the necklace was found in a layer dating to 4000 years ago doesn't mean the artifact is that age; it could be older, for one thing. It might have been made hundreds of years before, or even thousands of years before the layer where it was buried. But can that ever be determined? It is also possible that the layers might have been disturbed where the necklace and burial were found and the necklace could be much younger than where it ended up being buried. The restored artifact is beautiful, though!

Evidence Shows Whaling is 3000 Years Old

Fascinating. 3,000-year-old ivory carving depicts whaling scene From ANI London, April 1: Archaeologists working in the Russian Arctic have unearthed a remarkably detailed 3,000-year-old ivory carving that depicts groups of hunters engaged in whaling, which pushes back direct evidence for whaling by about 1,000 years. According to a report in Nature News, the ancient picture implies that northern hunters may have been killing whales 3,000 years ago and commemorating their bravery with pictures carved in ivory. Among the picture which depicts hunters sticking harpoons into whales, the site also yielded heavy stone blades that had been broken as if by some mighty impact, and remains from a number of dead whales. "All of this adds up to the probability that the site, called Un'en'en, holds the earliest straightforward evidence of the practice of whaling," said Daniel Odess, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. "It pushes back direct evidence for whaling by about 1,000 years," he added. Researchers have long wondered when the practice of whaling got started. Whaling requires a community to work together to build boats, hunt and then share out the resources from the dead animal. But pinning down the origins of whaling has proven to be remarkably difficult. There are some dramatic rock carvings in southeastern Korea that show bands of hunters going after whales. But these are nearly impossible to pin down with an exact date, according to Odess. In contrast, the newfound ivory carving was pegged as being 3,000 years old by nearly a dozen radiocarbon dates on the soil in which it was embedded. The 50-centimetre-long ivory carving shows hunters in umiaqs, the traditional Eskimo boats, along with whales and harpoons. "There's no question as to what these guys are up to," said Owen Mason, an Arctic archaeologist at GeoArch Alaska in Anchorage. It's showing the whole system is there. It's showing us social complexity," he added. Copyright Asian News International

Queen Tiye Update

A follow-up to my post from March 23, 2008.

From National Geographic News. Here's a photo of the giant statue of Queen Tiye excavated at Amenhotep III's mortuary temple. This is a different statue that the one I thought they might have been talking about (which was old news). Also published is that this Tiye statue was attached to the broken-off leg of a much larger colossus—a 50-foot-tall (15-meter-tall) likeness of Amenhotep III seated at his throne.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Goddess of Liberty - Texas Style

I like this story!
(Photo: Columbia, Goddess of Liberty, is shown atop the Capitol Dome on Wednesday, April 14, 2004, in Austin.

March 29, 2008, 7:46PM
Tex-Arcana: What's the history of the goddess?

Statue atop Capitol is not the original, but her purpose is

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — She's not exactly pretty, she was in danger of falling to pieces once, and when Texans decided to replace her, they had such a tough time that they called in the National Guard from a nearby state.

But the lady with the exaggerated facial features atop the Texas Capitol is a goddess, nonetheless.

The Goddess of Liberty, to be exact.

The original zinc statue was designed by Texas State Capitol Architect E.E. Meyers of Detroit, likely inspired by publicity about the construction of the Statue of Liberty and by the Statue of Freedom placed on the U.S. Capitol, according to the State Preservation Board.

Nearly 16 feet tall and weighing 2,000 pounds, she was hoisted atop the Texas Capitol in four pieces in 1888.

Workers put her together on top of the dome with screws.

When extensive cracking was noticed nearly 100 years later, the State Preservation Board decided to replace the original (now safely at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum) with an aluminum duplicate.

Easier said than done.

A Texas National Guard helicopter got her down safely, although The Associated Press noted a moment of drama when a line snapped:

"The harness dropped, and the spectators gasped."

Hoisting the lighter (at 1,100 pounds) replacement back onto her anchor pole was another matter.

After repeated attempts to thread the statue's bottom opening onto the pole failed, Texas called on the Mississippi National Guard for help — a story line so irresistible that the New York Times and Washington Post documented it.

The Post's story began, "This has not been the best of years in the Southwest, and in times like these, when life goes bad for awhile, people tend to look for symbols and omens."

The Mississippi National Guard contingent, with a helicopter better suited for the accurate aim required of the mission than those available to Texas, put the new goddess in place.

Then-Capitol architect Roy Graham told the New York Times that the help didn't hurt his pride at all: "I'd take a Louisiana shrimp boat if it would work."

One sign that Texas pride is undiminished, notes the State Preservation Board, is that the statue, likely modeled after Pallas Athena, maintains her title of goddess (unlike, say, the Statue of Liberty).

"Texas is the second-largest state in size," board staff said in speculating on the reason, "but not in the minds of Texans."

2008 U.S. Women's Chess Championship

News from Dr. Alexey Root (blogging for the USCF), who played for the one woman's wildcard spot open in the Women's Championship: Iryna Zenyuk was the top woman, with 4 of 7. She won $1000, and the Wild Card spot. However, she may qualify for the women's based on rating. CLO will report on which of the seeded players for the women's have declined, and whether Iryna therefore gets a rating spot. If she does, then Chouchanik Airapetian, who had the best tiebreaks of the women finishing with 3.5 of 7, will get an invitation to the May event.

Copper Scroll Back in the News

Prior posts on the Copper Scroll: The Mystery of the Copper Scroll By Chris Mitchell CBN News Mideast Bureau Chief March 31, 2008 - JERUSALEM, Israel - In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd wandered the hills of Qumran in search of a missing sheep. He threw a stone into a cave, hoping to drive the lost animal outside. Instead, the sound of shattered pottery drew the shepherd inside the cave. There he stumbled on the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Copper Scroll In the years that followed, archaeologists found eleven caves and more than 900 documents here at Qumran. But one scroll was different from all the rest. Instead of leather or parchment, it was made entirely of copper, and it could be the greatest treasure map in history. The Copper Scroll describes a hidden cache of gold and silver buried in more than 60 locations throughout Israel. The monetary value is close to $3 billion, but the historical value - is priceless. The only place in ancient Israel with that much wealth was the Jewish Temple. Stephen Pfann is one of the editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. "This is a tremendous witness to history. To actually have a list of treasures from the temple itself from the first century is just amazing. We have nothing better than the Copper Scroll now for telling us what was really there," Pfann, one of the editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls said. Pfann took CBN News' Chris Mitchell up to cave number 3 at Qumra, where the Copper Scroll was hidden for nearly 2,000 years. "You can actually see the place where the Copper Scroll was found," Pfann said. The Purpose of the Scroll "Well, the copper scroll had to be written just immediately before the destruction of the temple," Pfann explained. "It actually fits the glove perfectly for these people known as the Zealots, who were the priestly group, who were holding down the temple, who were keeping it from the Romans in the best way possible. Before they were massacred, they left things behind in caves here in Qumran," he said. Some of their hiding places are easy to find on a modern map like Jericho, the Valley of Achor, and Mount Gerizim. Others are more cryptic like "Solomon's Canal," which contains a stash of silver coins, a well in Milham where garments for the high priest were hidden, or Matia's Courtyard, where more than 600 gold and silver temple vessels were buried. "The instruction on the scroll is like a kids' treasure map in a way; They're talking about caves, they're talking about tombs, they're talking about aqueducts and pools that were known to them at the time - probably with aliases of names applied to these places so that only those people who are part of the inner circle would know where to go, how many steps to go away and where to find the temple treasure that was buried in that spot." Pfann said. The scroll's language is a mystery in itself. Some passages use a style of Hebrew that's 800 years older than the scroll itself. Adding to the puzzle is a series of random Greek letters. Pfann said, "It kind of freezes in time the language to around 70 AD to what the Hebrew language looked like among the common people of that time. The Fate of the Lost Treasure Pfann says anyone looking for it today is about 2,000 years too late. "In my mind, most if not all of these were actually found by the Romans under the point of the sword … And we do know that Titus used the booty to build the Colosseum in Rome. It says so on the Colosseum. You can actually see the impression of the letters, 'this was built with the booty,'" Pfann said. "If there's any treasure left, there would have been small parts that might not have been found that still lie out there ready for people to find today. We don't know," he said. The scroll's last line hints at an even greater treasure, "In a dry well at Kohlit… a copy of this document with its explanation…and an inventory of each and every thing." "What's interesting is that there were actually two treasure maps that were made," Pfann said. "Line 64 of the copper scroll is the most fascinating of all - hard to decode but quite compelling," said author Joel Rosenberg. The Discovery of all Discoveries Rosenberg hit the New York Times bestseller list with his novel on the Copper Scroll. He believes the second scroll is still out there and it could be the key to the greatest archaeological prize in history. "What if finding the treasures of the Copper Scroll did in fact lead to the Ark of the Covenant being found?" he asked. Rosenberg may be on to something. Ancient Jewish writings say the ark and other first temple treasures were hidden by priests before the invasion of the Babylonians. Their locations were inscribed on a tablet of copper. Rosenberg said, "The Key Scroll has never been found, nobody has any idea where it is." "What would be most dramatic is if in fact the treasures that are described by the Copper Scroll -and perhaps revealed more fully in the Key Scroll - are in fact from the second temple. Finding them would in fact be the most dramatic archeological discovery of all time."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Night Blues

Hola darlings. It's Sunday night and in little more than half an hour the first part of a new production of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" will be shown on my local PBS station. I'm looking forward to it immensely, but I have to agree with the review in my local newspaper this morning who said that it would take something very special to top the Ang Lee 1995 theatrical release film. I put in my VHS tape probably once a quarter and watch it all over again, it is that good! Anyway, I have now finished my column for Chessville for April and sent it off to the editor for review. The hard work is done again for another month. It's amazing how long it takes to put the column together every month. It's not as if I have to dig up the news from scratch - I don't! I've already reported on it for the most part - here and at Chess Femme News (although I am terribly delinquent there now, I've been putting in too much time here at the blog). So I just do a lot of copying and pasting. Still - this column took nearly 2 full days of work. Last month's column took even longer. What the heck takes so long? Well, I do extensive fact checking to make sure I've got it right (and even with that, when I've gone back and looked at the columns I see a few errors, not to mention typos!) And it seems to take forever to hunt down what I deem suitable photographs of the chess femmes I'm writing about. I consider each and every one of these chess playing women beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and I try to find photographs that reflect that beauty in a physical sense. Now I'm facing having to go back to the office tomorrow. Yech yech. I am at the point in my life where I truly resent the time I have to spend making a living in order to be able to do this - blogging, for instance - and the time I don't have to spend on research into my true vocation, which is pursuing the origins of chess. But I suppose I should not complain, as it seems the majority of people around the world today do not have a passion in their lives, unlike me and my partners and cohorts at Goddesschess. It is that passion that adds the spice of variety to my busy and complicated life. But I'm blue tonight, darlings. Blue blue blue. So I'll no doubt shed many a tear while watching "Sense and Sensibility" - thank goddess I don't have any chocolate in the house - I'd probably eat myself into a coma! And the rains are coming too. We're supposed to get up to 2 inches starting later tonight and all day tomorrow. With the rains come the floods. Argggghh! This has been one hell of a winter. A few things before calling it a night: Chessbase has posted an article about the recently-concluded 2008 Scandinavian Ladies Open. At the Kolkata Open, GM Koneru Humy defeated her fellow countryman GM Dibyendu Barua with white pieces, moving her into a tie for first place with 7 other players with 5.5 points! Alexy Root, who is playing at the 2008 U.S. Open Qualifier, is trying for one of the wild card spots at the upcoming Frank K. Berry U.S. Women's Chess Championship to be held in May. She's blogging for the USCF website. Here's an entry.

2008 Women's World Chess Championship

More news! Turkey solves chess headscarf crisis Saturday, March 29, 2008 ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News Turkey is preparing to host the World Chess Championship, after Iran set the use of “headscarf” by female participants as a condition to host the event. Iran asked female chess players attending the championship to cover their heads. To solve the problem, World Chess Federation (FIDE) proposed Turkey host the event. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov mentioned the issue to State Minister Murat Başesgioğlu during the award ceremony of the İşbank Ataturk International Women Masters held in Istanbul last week. Başesgioğlu replied in the affirmative. Initially it was Argentina that was picked as the host country for the championship, but it later announced that it would not be able to host the event and Iran stepped in instead. However problems arose during initial meetings between FIDE and Iranian representatives, when Iran set conditions like wearing headscarves and preventing men from entering the championship arena. Furthermore it said Israeli players would not be allowed into the country. Turkey will host the event in Istanbul in December with sponsorship by İşbank. Ali Nihat Yazıcı, president of Turkish Chess Federation, said they sustain good relations with Iran. “We wanted our country to host this event after the proposal of FIDE. This way our European champion Kübra Öztürk and Betül Cemre Yıldız who ranked third in world class, will have the opportunity to compete in the championship as wild cards,” he said. ****************************************************************************************** A sad day for chess in Iran. How dare those religious hypocrites demand that non-Islamic women wear head scarves! Hey, you Nazis in control of Iran at the moment - kiss my stinky American feet! Thank you to the Turkish government for stepping forward to host the event, and thank you to Isbank for key sponsorship.

Linguistics May Aid in Study of Migration

I haven't looked at languages in quite the same manner since reading Merritt Ruhlen's book "The Origin of Language - Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue" in 1999 (when I first got involved in attempting to track down the origins of chess). Here's a fascinating story: Siberian, Native American Languages Linked -- A First John Roach for National Geographic News March 26, 2008 A fast-dying language in remote central Siberia shares a mother tongue with dozens of Native American languages spoken thousands of miles away, new research confirms. The finding may allow linguists to weigh in on how the Americas were first settled, according to Edward Vajda, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham. Since at least 1923 researchers have suggested a connection exists between Asian and North American languages—but this is the first time a link has been demonstrated with established standards, said Vajda, who has studied the relationship for more than 15 years. Previous researchers had provided lists of similar-sounding and look-alike words, but their methods were unscientific. Such similarities, Vajda noted, are likely to be dismissed as coincidence even if they represent genuine evidence. So Vajda developed another method. "I'm providing a whole system of [similar] vocabulary and also of grammatical parallels—the way that verb prefixes are structured," he said. Dying Tongue His research links the Old World language family of Yeniseic in central Siberia with the Na-Dene family of languages in North America. The Yeniseic family includes the extinct languages Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol. Ket is the only Yeniseic language spoken today. Less than 200 speakers remain and most are over 50, according to Vajda. "Within a couple of generations, Ket will probably become extinct," he said. (Related news: "Languages Racing to Extinction in 5 Global 'Hotspots' [September 18, 2007].) The Na-Dene family includes languages spoken by the broad group of Athabaskan tribes in the U.S. and Canada as well as the Tlingit and Eyak people. The last Eyak speaker died in January. Vajda presented the findings in February at a meeting of linguists at the Alaska Native Language Center in Fairbanks. Vajda established the Yeniseic-Na-Dene link by looking for languages with a verb-prefix system similar to those in Yeniseic languages. Such prefixes are unlike any other language in North Asia. "Only Na-Dene languages have a system of verb prefixes that very closely resemble the Yeniseic," he said. From there, Vajda found several dozen cognates—or words in different languages that sound alike and have the same meaning. The results dovetail with earlier work by Merritt Ruhlen, an anthropologist at Stanford University in California who Vajda said discovered the first genuine Na-Dene-Yeniseic cognates. Vajda also showed how these cognates have sound correspondences. "I systematically connect these structures in Yeniseic with the structures in modern Na-Dene," Vajda said. "My comparisons aren't just lists of some look-alike words … I show there is a system behind it." Johanna Nichols is a linguist at the University of California in Berkeley who attended the Alaska meeting where Vajda presented his research. With the exception of the Eskimo-Aleut family that straddles the Bering Strait and Aleutian Islands, this is "the first successful demonstration of any connection between a New World language and an Old World language," Nichols said. Mother Tongue Vajda said his research puts linguistics on the same stage as archaeology, anthropology, and genetics when it comes to studying the history of humans in North Asia and North America. However, the research has not revealed which language came first. Neither modern Ket nor Na-Dene languages in North America represent the mother tongue. For example, some words in the Na-Dene family likely represent sounds of the mother tongue more closely than their Yeniseic cognates. Other words in Yeniseic, however, are probably more archaic. Based on archaeological evidence of human migrations across the Bering land bridge, the language link may extend back at least 10,000 years. (Explore an atlas of the human journey.) If true, according to Vajda, this would be the oldest known demonstrated language link. But more research is needed to determine when the languages originated and how they became a part of various cultures before such a claim will be accepted, according to UC Berkeley linguist Nichols. "I don't think there is any reason to assume the connection is [10,000 years] old … this must surely be one late episode in a much longer and more complicated history of settlement," she said.

Guest Blogging!

Hola darlings! I spent all day after 11:30 a.m. yesterday working on my April column for Chessville. I made good progress; some hours working today adding images of the chess femmes and fact-checking should wrap it up. I was so wrapped up in working on the column that I didn't do any blogging here or any research that I'd intended to do this weekend. I'm just not as energetic as I used to be and I pooped out last night around 7 p.m., just in time to watch "On the Beach" on PBS. What an absolutely depressing movie. I cried through most of it and will never watch it again - ever! The piece that I promised Judith Weingarten back in November is now up and running at her blog, Zenobia: Empress of the East; it's a brief look at a few reasons why chess may have been invented in Persia and not in northern India (most chess historians accept the out of India theory). Please check it out and while you're there, take a look at Judith's great blog!
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