Saturday, June 18, 2011

I swear, I was on my way out to the backyard to do work...

when I saw a peaceful scene of a fledgling robin taking a leisurely bath in the concrete bird bath.  I quick ran for my camera to snatch a photo but by the time I finished fiddling with the "zoom in" and snapped the shot, another bird had come along and this is what I captured:

Bird Fight!  I quick took the next photos:

The winner!

The loser!  You can hardly see him, on the lawn to the north/northwest of the largest peony clump! 

91st City of Montreal Open Chess Championships

We have partnered with the organizers of this fine event since 2009 to bring top-level female players to the Championnat in addition to sponsoring class prizes for female chessplayers who participate.  Stay tuned for further news!

This year's Championnat, the 91st in its illustrious history, will be held September 9 - 11, 2011 in Montreal in the beautiful surroundings of College Jean de Brebeuf (on the grounds of the University of Montreal). 

This year the A Section is FIDE rated! 

Guaranteed Prize Fund 6 000 $

SECTION A (>=2000 or Quebec rating index >=21
1 350 $, 675 $, 335 $, 175 $, 100 $ (<2300), 85 $ (<2100)

725 $, 360 $, 180 $, 100 $, 80 $ (<1800), 70 $ (Cadet), 45 $ & 35 $ (women)

425 $, 210 $, 105 $, 75 $, 70 $ (<1400), 55 $ (Cadet), 35 $ & 25 $ (women)

SECTION D <1200 et s/c
250 $, 125 $, 80 $, 60 $, 55 $ (<1000), 40 $ (Cadet),
25 $ & 15 $ (women), 35 $ (unrated)

I blogged extensively about the 90th (2010) Championnat (if the link works!)

Don McLean of Goddesschess did a number of videos, available at You Tube.  Here is one:

By the way, GM Kosteniuk did watch the video and had a good laugh :)

AAI International Grandmasters Chess Tournament 2011

GM Hou Yifan of China
Play begins June 21st and will continue to July 2, 2011.  A double round-robin of rising young chess stars, including current Women's World Chess Champion GM Hou Yifan of China.  Hou won the Women's title in December, 2010 and will be defending it later this year (presumably, if a sponor can be found) in a match with GM Koneru Humpy of India, who won the right to the challenge after scoring the most points from the Women's Grand Prix series (2009-2010).

I am interested to see how Hou does against the young men.  Here is a nice informational piece about the Tournament and some info on Hou Yifan.

Who Would Steal a Chess Board?

Story at (West Palm Beach, Florida)

Chess Board Thieves Rook Restaurant
Owner Says Children Loved Chess Board
Cathleen O'Toole, Reporter
POSTED: 5:09 pm EDT June 17, 2011
This is the type of giant chessboard stolen from City Cafe.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Peter Torocsik still can't believe what was stolen from his City Cafe restaurant right besides West Palm Beach City Hall. It wasn't the cash register or a loaded tip jar. In fact, this disappearance hurts even more.

"The chess board, it was eight by eight and we always kept it outside," said restaurant owner Torocsik, talking about his 8 foot by 8 foot, 80-pound plastic chessboard.

When Torocsik arrived at 4:30 a.m. one day last week, he discovered it stolen.

"So I called the police, not to make a claim. I'm not going to bother anybody. Maybe it appears somewhere," said the Hungarian native. "Let them know it belongs to us."

It isn't the first time a local eatery lost a very large or very loved mascot.

A restuarant in Boca Raton saw its huge Buddha stolen not once, but twice. Some pricey parrots and a cockatoo were swiped from Aleyeda's, a Mexican restaurant in West Palm Beach. Archie's Seabreeze in Fort Pierce saw its 150-pound unnamed pirate walk the plank last year.

There's nothing funny about the situation to Torocsik, who has more than 20 chessboards he lends out to anyone who wants to play. The 64-year-old said the private security company downtown has been asking him to encourage the homeless men who play to do so elsewhere. Torocsik said he refused that request and wonders if that denial has something to do with the theft.

The security company president said there are no leads in the case. As for Torocsik's worries about the homeless request, the company's president, Wilfredo Perez said, "I have no idea what he's talking about."

[Note: According to a video at the website, the pieces were safely locked inside of the restaurant and were not stolen.  The board alone weighs 80 pounds!]

Hoping for a Dream to Come True

I just saw this story at Susan Polgar's chess blog:
Triumph Over Adversities

(video not included)
Local chess champ triumps over adversities
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Dann Cuellar

WEST PHILADELPHIA - June 17, 2011 (WPVI) -- It is a story of triumph over adversity. A Philadelphia teenage girl has overcome several big obstacles in her young life, and finds herself about to play in a chess championship.

But it is how she got there that makes her story so interesting. The chess term is called "End Game".
17 year old Vanita Young of West Philadelphia is seen as a rising star in the world of Chess after she beat out 600 girls at the Pennsylvania State Scholastic Chess Championships last March.

But her path to victory has also been filled with much sadness.

"My dad passed away when I was 13, he had diabetes, and I was abandoned by my mom when I was two," said Vanita.

While trying to deal with her sorrow and turmoil at a young age, a man attempted to assault her one day while walking home to her grandparent's house. Vanita managed to get away.

The bright spot in her life came when she was in 6th grade, and a middle school teacher saw her sitting outside alone and invited her to learn the game of chess.

"She brought me in there and taught me how to move the pieces and from that day on, I went to every practice," Vanita said.

She became so good at chess, the Walter Palmer Charter School junior has been invited to the Susan Polgar Girl's Invitational in Lubbock, Texas in July to compete for $120,000 in scholarships and prizes.

"It was exciting, I was like speechless. I went up there for my award; I was so red I couldn't even talk," said Vanita.

But there was only one hitch, Vanita needed $2,000 to attend; money that she and her retired grandparents did not have.

"It was sad, but I couldn't do much at that point, since I didn't have enough money for it," Vanita said.

Congressman Bob Brady came to the rescue after reading about Vanita's story Friday morning.

"We contacted one of my guys, Kenny Smuckler, contacted the charter school people that we know, Students First, and we told them to read the story. And they told us that they would help us raise the money to send this young lady to Lubbock, Texas," said Congressman Bob Brady.

"I was so excited, I was running through the living room," said Vanita. "It makes me feel that there are good people out there and that people care and want to see my dreams come true and that made me happy on the inside."

Vanita has seen a lot of adversity in her young life, but she continues to push for her goals. And with the help and generousity of Congressman Brady and the community, she is being blessed by the kindness of others.

This story has a happy ending - Vanita is going to the Susan Polgar Girls' Invitational!!!!
Posted on Sat, Jun. 18, 2011
Ronnie Polaneczky: Knights gather to fulfill girl's chess dream

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Columnist

YOU KNOW the best part of my job? Calling someone who's been in a pickle and letting her know that her troubles are over.

That was my happy task yesterday, when I phoned Vanita Young and told her to pack her bags, she was going to Texas.

"Oh, my God! That's crazy! Thank you!" said Vanita, 17, when she learned that a benefactor would pay her way to the prestigious Susan Polgar Chess Invitational next month in Lubbock.

The rainmaker? Philly's own U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who read my column about Vanita over breakfast yesterday and then phoned his aide Ken Smukler to say, "We've got to make it happen for this girl."

Smukler called Joe Watkins at Students First PA, a pro-charter- school group, because Vanita attends a charter school - she's a junior at Walter D. Palmer at Broad and Master streets.

"If these guys are so in favor of charter schools, they need to support the kids who go there," said Brady.

Watkins agreed and the deal was done, within hours.

"You write a helluva story, what can I say?" Brady said.

In this case, the story's irony was heartbreaking: Vanita had been selected to attend the most prestigious girls' chess event in the country - only one girl is invited from each state - but could not afford to attend it.

Especially cruel is that chess, Vanita told me, is the thing that pulls her through sad days. And she has had her share of them.

"It's been a tough life for her," said her grandmother, Algloria Evans, who with husband, Raymond, has raised Vanita from toddlerhood. Vanita's mom abandoned her, and her dad, who battled the bottle, died in 2007. Father and daughter were close and his death took a toll.

Vanita "was already devastated about not having her mother around," Evans said. "When she was little, she called every woman 'Mommy' because she missed her mom so much. I said to her, 'I know I am your grandmom, but until your mom comes back, you can call me Mommy.' "

Vanita's mother never returned.

"She's a wonderful girl. She has worked very, very hard for this honor," said Evans.

No wonder her story inspired so many readers - many of whom phoned the After School Activities Partnership after my story ran, offering help.

"We've had people calling all day, and we've have to tell them that [Brady] has already come through," said ASAP executive director Maria Walker, who initially contacted me about Vanita. Her group runs the chess programs that have nurtured Vanita's love of the game.

"We don't want to be taking money for Vanita if the need has already been fulfilled."

That didn't matter for reader Paul Sevcik, who still wants to donate $20.

"I'm a former teacher," he told me. "I know how big a deal it is when kids find the motivation to really excel at something. I want to encourage that."

Brady thinks Vanita should spend surplus donation money on first-class seats to Texas and a nice hotel room.

"Let her reward herself," he said. "Why the hell not? She's a great kid. She's worked hard. She deserves it."

Knock 'em dead in Lubbock, Vanita. We're pulling for you.

Important Find in Philippines

An interesting excavated burial dated to the Iron Age - and no Chinese influence found.  Not sure what that is about -- is there some kind of controversy about the Chinese coming to and/or trading with Filipino people?
From the Philippine Information Agency
PIA Press Release
Friday, June 17, 2011

Ancient burial site in northern Cebu town yields Iron Age relics
by Eli C. Dalumpines
SAN REMIGIO, Cebu, June 17 (PIA) -– An archeological dig conducted by a team from the University of San Carlos (USC), University of the Philippines (UP) and University of Guam in an ancient burial site in San Remigio town, yielded three earthen pots and a skeletal remains of a woman.
San Remigio is about 109 kilometers northwest from Cebu City.
Professor Jojo Bersales of the USC’s Anthropology Department said that their latest discovery dates back to the Iron Age, estimated to be around 500 B.C. to 900 A.D., and is part of the artifacts they excavated from the same site in March, this year.
According to Bersales, this is the 7th burial site they have uncovered so far since they started digging in the area in early summer after they got permission from church authorities.
Bersales’ group from USC uncovered six burial sites at the backyard of San Juan Nepomuneno Church in San Remigio during a dig they conducted on March 25-April 17, this year.
Also recovered in the site were 10 earthen wares which, according to experts, were part of the Philippine pre-historic artifacts.
The absence of ceramics in the site is a proof that the settlement is earlier than the coming of the Chinese to the Philippines, the anthropology professor claimed.

“Definitely, there was no Chinese influence here. They may have traded with other local people but not with the Chinese,” Bersales clarified.
San Juan Nepomuceno Church was built in 1863 by the Spanish missionaries. The following year, the town of San Remigio was founded.
Students from Hawaii, Canada and Vietnam also assisted Bersales’ team in the conduct of the archeological dig.
Local government officials here expressed optimism that with this latest archeological finds, San Remigio, a third class town, will be placed in the map as having one of the earliest settlements in Asia.

Local anthropologists here believed the team has excavated the oldest undisturbed archeological site in Cebu. (FCR/ECD/PIA 7-Cebu)

Giant Ballplayer Statue Uncovered in Mexico

From the Latin American Herald Tribune

Ballplayer Monolith Found in Northern Mexico
Caracas, Saturday June 18, 2011

MEXICO CITY – Mexican archaeologists have found a new ballplayer monolith dating from between 900 A.D. and 1000 A.D at an archaeological site in the north-central state of Zacatecas, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

The pre-Columbian sculpture was excavated from a depth of 1.5 meters (5 feet), the INAH said in a statement, noting that another sculpture depicting a ballplayer was located at the end of last year at the same complex, known as El Teul.

Experts say the two pieces may evoke the “divine twins” mentioned in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas.

The more recently discovered sculpture is an almost complete cylindrical figure that is 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) tall and measures 56 centimeters (22 inches) in diameter. It was found a few weeks ago at El Teul’s ballgame court, the INAH said.

The sculpture fell to the ground after the collapse of one of the court’s walls, the archaeologists in charge of the excavation work, Peter Jimenez and Laura Solar, said, adding that the piece was decapitated and only a fragment of one of the ears has been recovered. [If the piece was decapitated how could it have ears at all?]

El Teul, located on the like-named hill outside the Zacatecas town of Teul de Gonzalez Ortega, was one of the few settlements in the Americas that was continuously inhabited from 200 B.C. to the time of the Spanish conquest in the first half of the 16th century, the INAH said.

It was the ceremonial center par excellence of the Caxcanes, a partly nomadic group that fiercely resisted the Spanish conquistadors and was close to defeating them in the 1540-1542 Mixton War, archaeologists said.

The two ballplayer sculptures are unique among those found across Mesoamerica, archaeologist Luis Martinez Mendez, head of excavation work at the El Teul ball court, said.

Martinez said the two ballplayer monoliths – one initially designed as headless and the other with both head and body – “probably” allude to a Popol Vuh story in which one of the divine twins – Hunahpu and Ixbalanque – was decapitated before being saved by his brother.

A precise map drawn in the mid-19th century by German geodesic engineer Carl de Berghes showed the existence of several pre-Columbian constructions at El Teul – including a ball court whose four corners featured an equal number of sculptures, the archaeologist said.

Pieces of one of the other two sculptures have been found, possibly part of a shoulder, during excavation work in the court’s northwest corner.

Archaeologists still must excavate another 15 percent of the ball court, which measures 24 meters (80 feet) by 44 meters (145 feet) and is scheduled to be opened to the public in 2012, Martinez said. EFE
So, what happened to the site between the time Carl de Berghes drew a "precise map" in the mid-19th century showing a ball court with a statue in each corner and the time excavations began?  Why are the statues now in pieces/ruins when, evidently in the mid-19th century they were not?  Am I misreading what the article said? 

I Can't Believe It's Saturday

It feels like a Sunday to me because I had a vacation day yesterday.  this is the first of a series of planned 3-day weekends.  It was lovely!  The weather was nice too.  I cut the grass out front; went to lunch with my friend Ann at our favorite Olive Garden, ate too much, then we went shopping, then I came home and cut the grass out back.  Then I rested for several hours on the deck before tackling some pruning chores.

Today it's lovely, but much more humid -- it slows me down considerably not to mention my knees ache in the dampness, and thunder-storms are expected later this afternoon.  Despite rising at my usual time I had a slow start - dinked around at Facebook rather than getting to the Walgreens to pick up a scrip and then get out back to continue the never-ending gardening chores!  Didn't get to Walgreens until 9:15.  I have giant burdock to be dug out and a ton of chopping down and pruning to do.  Well, it will still be there 30 minutes from now...  But I will move - soon - tomorrow is supposed to be yechy so I must get some more yard work in today.

I have made some progress in getting the back yard in shape.  I came across this photo I took on May 22nd, and took this shot of the same area this morning.  All the dandelions are gone, hooray!  I hope you can see other improvements, not to mention that the garden has exploded to overflowing since May 22nd.  It never ceases to amaze me!
May 22, 2011 - weeds, dandelions, empty nut shells and branches and twigs all over!
June 18, 2011 (about 6:30 a.m.) - weeds and dandelions gone, branches and nut shells (mostly) cleaned up.

Much yet to do. Will I ever have the energy and ambition to edge those island flower beds? Oy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Chess Girls

I just saw this at Susan Polgar's chess blog - a new documentary on the Polgar sisters and Polgar family.  It sounds very interesting!  I don't have time to listen to it tonight (45 minutes long, approximately, but I will certainly listen to it tomorrow - a day off - over my morning coffee.
There are only seven days left to listen.  Afternoon Play BBC Radio.

Over the years, many articles and books have been written about the fabulous Polgar sisters and their chessplaying prowess.

Learn more about the Polgar sisters - not an exhaustive list:
2010 Aquaprofit Chess Reunion in Budapest, Hungary: Sophia, Judit, Susan (L to R)

    Water Wars: Egypt v. Ethiopia, Sudan, and Other Nile River Users

    This isn't even a blip yet on the West's radar, but it's some serious business. I happened to come across this story this morning while looking at something else - it's nearly a year old, from July, 2010, but certainly relevant:

    Nile River row: Could it turn violent?
    Jul 7, 2010

    The giggles started when the seventh journalist in a row said that his question was for Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam.

    The non-Egyptian media gave him a bit of a hammering at last week’s talks in Addis Ababa for the nine countries that the Nile passes through.

    Allam bared his teeth when a Kenyan journalist accused him of hiding behind “colonial-era treaties” giving his country the brunt of the river’s vital waters whether that hurt the poorer upstream countries or not.

    “You obviously don’t know enough about this subject to be asking questions about it,” he snapped before later apologising to her with a kiss on the cheek.

    Five of the nine Nile countries — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — last month signed a deal to share the water that is a crucial resource for all of them. But Egypt and Sudan, who are entitled to most of the water and can veto upstream dams under a 1929 British-brokered agreement, refused.

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have not signed yet either and analysts are divided on whether they will or not. Six Nile countries must sign the agreement for it to have any power but Egypt says even that wouldn’t change its mind. The five signatories — some of the world’s poorest countries — have left the agreement open for debating and possible signing for up to a year.

    Tensions were clearly still running high after two days of negotiations in Addis and despite grinning around the table and constantly referring to each other as “my brother”, the ministers always seemed in danger of breaking into bickering.

    When the Sudanese water minister said his country was freezing cooperation with the Nile Basin Initiative — the name given to the ten-year effort to agree on how to manage the river — Ethiopia’s water minister loudly protested to the media that his Sudanese colleague had not revealed that during their private meetings.

    Highlighting the seriousness of the issue, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abul Naga, arrived in Addis Ababaon Wednesday to again meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

    It’s no surprise that the spat is getting a lot of press in both Ethiopia and Egypt.

    “Egypt is a gift of the Nile,” people like to say in a country that worshipped the river as a God in ancient times. “If Egypt is a gift of the Nile, then the Nile is a gift of Ethiopia,” Ethiopians shoot back with growing confidence.

    And they have a point. More than 85 percent of the waters originate in Ethiopia, which relies on foreign aid for survival and sees hydropower dams as a potential cash cow and central to its plans to become one of Africa’s only power exporters.

    But Egypt is not for turning. Almost totally dependent on the Nile for its agricultural output (a third of its economy) and already worried about climate change, it is determined to hold onto its 55.5 billion cubic metres of water a year, a seemingly unfair share of the Nile’s total flow of 84 billion cubic metres.

    The Egyptians point out that they don’t benefit from rains like the upstream countries. Everybody, it seems, has valid points. Nobody is budging. Now some regional analysts are even saying the row could turn into the world’s first major water war and similar thoughts are being expressed in cafes from Cairo all the way upriver to Dar es Salaam.

    So what next? The nine countries are due to meet again in Nairobi sometime between September and November. But where is the way forward? Who will blink first? And who really should? Could this bickering turn violent?

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    More on the Exploration of the Origins of the Japanese

    From Past Horizons: Adventures in Archaeology
    Origins of the Japanese
    Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | Featured, News

    Jomon pottery (left) and image of Ainu (Japan)
    A team of researchers have been delving into the origins of the Japanese people, with some interesting findings. The research was centred on a study of Japanese dialects with the aim of finding the roots of the language.

    The language family is known as Japonic and this includes Japanese and a similar language called Ryukyuan, which is spoken in the chain of islands to the south of Japan.

    Comparing the cultures

    Whilst genetically, the modern Japanese are descended from two main migrant streams, the Jōmon culture and the Yayoi culture, the linguistic roots have now been determined as originating from the Yayoi.

    Archaeologists have found evidence for two waves of migrants, a hunter-gatherer people who created the Jōmon culture and rice farmers who left remains known as the Yayoi culture.

    The hunter-gatherers arrived in Japan before the end of the last ice age around 20,000 years ago, via land bridges that joined Japan to Asia’s mainland. They remained isolated until about 2,400 years ago when wet rice agriculture developed in southern China and was adapted to Korea’s colder climate.

    Several languages seem to have been spoken on the Korean Peninsula at this time, but that of the Yayoi people is unknown. The work of two researchers at the University of Tokyo, Sean Lee and Toshikazu Hasegawa, now suggests that the origin of Japonic coincides with the arrival of the Yayoi.

    The finding, if confirmed, indicates that the Yayoi people took Japonic to Japan, though still leaves unresolved the question of where in Asia the Yayoi culture or Japonic language originated before arriving in the Korean Peninsula.

    The linguistic link was provided by a method known as the ‘Bayesian phylogeny’. This uses a computer to map several language trees employing a limited vocabulary of approximate 200 words which are known to evolve slowly.

    By feeding all the data from the dialect studies into this computer model, a date of 2,182 years ago was predicted for the origin of Japonic, and this fits with the arrival of the Yayoi.

    Whilst John B Whitman, of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics in Tokyo refers to the results as “solid and reasonable”,other linguists are far more sceptical.

    A question of identity

    “There has been a gap in thinking,” said Hisao Baba, curator of anthropology at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. “Archaeology has made a lot of progress, but politics has made it difficult for the general public to take a critical look at their own past.”

    The question of origin cuts to the core of Japan’s identity as they have long celebrated themselves as ethnically unique.

    As such, archaeology in Japan until the 1950s had to conform to accepted belief and all archaeological deposits in Japan, no matter how old, were left by ancestors of the modern Japanese. Japanese archaeologists said Japan’s gene pool had remained isolated since the end of the last ice age, over 20,000 years ago.

    Confronted with evidence that a sudden change had swept Japan in about 400 BCE — replacing the millennia-old Jōmon hunter-gatherer culture with a society that could grow rice and forge both iron weapons and tools — archaeologists attributed it to nothing more than technological borrowing from the mainland rather than influx of a people. Even although recent analysis of skull shapes has shown the rice farmers who appeared 2,400 years ago were quite different from the hunters whom they replaced, it is still difficult for the Japanese to take this on board.

    Direct comparisons between Jōmon and Yayoi skeletons show that the two peoples are noticeably distinguishable. The Jōmon tended to be shorter, with relatively longer forearms and lower legs, more wide-set eyes, shorter and wider faces, and much more pronounced facial topography. They also have strikingly raised brow ridges, noses, and nose bridges. Yayoi people, on the other hand, averaged an inch or two taller, with close-set eyes, high and narrow faces, and flat brow ridges and noses. By the Kofun period (250 to 538 AD) almost all skeletons excavated in Japan, except those of the Ainu and prehistoric Okinawans, resemble those of modern day Japanese.

    Many Japanese people want to believe that their distinctive language and culture required uniquely complex developmental processes. To acknowledge a relationship of the Japanese language to any other language seems to constitute a surrender of cultural identity.

    This recent study of linguistic evidence may be further proof of a more complex history and genetic studies have suggested interbreeding between the Yayoi and Jōmon people, with the Jōmon contribution to modern Japanese being as much as 40 percent. However it was the Yayoi language that prevailed, along with their agricultural technology.

    Learn more.
    ■Neolithic – Yayoi period (c. 250 BC-c. AD 250)
    ■ Article by Richard Hooker on the Yayoi and the Jōmon.
    ■Jōmon Culture (ca. 10,500–ca. 300 B.C.)
    ■Hanihara K. 埴原和郎 日本人の誕生。人類はるかなる旅 (Nihonjin no tanjō. Jinrui haruka naru ryo – The birth of Japanese ethnicity. Long journey of the human race), Tokyo (1996;)
    ■Japanese roots are remarkably shallow, Martin Fackler, The Japan Times (August 31, 1999)
    ■Just who are the Japanese? Where did they come from, and when?, Jared Diamond Discover Magazine Vol. 19 No. 6 (June 1998).

    "Unicorn" Sculpture Found in India

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011 9:06:56 AM (IST)
    Udupi: Ancient Unicorn Idol Found at Kalya
    Daijiworld Media Network – Udupi (SP)

    Udupi, Jun 14: S A Krishnaiah, folklore scholar, and Prof T Murugeshi, professor of MSRS College Shirva in the department of history and archaeology, said that a very rare unicorn sculpture of ‘Hayagajanandi' (combination of horse, elephant, bull), has been found from Nagabrahmasthana at Kalya near Nitte in Karkala taluk. They were addressing a press conference here on Monday June 13. This stone sculpture is claimed to be one of the rarest of the unicorn icons found in India.
    The hind and front left legs of the sculpture have been damaged. The right front leg clearly resembles that of an elephant. The hind leg is like those of the bulls, with hoof at the tip. The tail of the icon is like that of the bull instead of horse. The sculpture has the face of a horse, and a part of the face has been broken. A single horn standing at the centre of the sculpture's head, is in broken condition. An artistic chain with tiny jingle bells joined together adorns the body of the sculpture, and a saddle is carved atop its back, while another attractive chain has been looped around the neck and face of the sculpture.

    This unicorn sculpture happens to be the vehicle of Bermeru Daiva (demigod) of the Nagabrahmasthana. In Tulu folklore, the demigods riding horse or such other animals are identified as ‘Bermeru’ or ‘Jaina Bermeru’. The sculpture now found, which is an imaginary animal created by creative artistes, is said to be the first of its kind in the country. The sculpture is estimated to be belonging to the 12th or 13th century AD. The sculptures with features of different animals represent fertility, Prof Murugeshi said.

    He noted that some precious artefacts are often found during the reconstruction and renovation of various temples and Daivasthanas in the coast. Some of them get buried under the debris, while there is also a practice of throwing them into water bodies. He requested the concerned to preserve these treasures in archaeological museums instead. Prof Murugeshi also added that the unicorn sculpture now found will be preserved at the National Archaeological Museum at New Delhi.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Priceless Artifact Stolen from Church

    Absolutely the lowest of the low.  From The Upshot at

    St. Anthony’s stolen religious relic sparks searches
    By Mike Krumboltz
    I dom't see angel-shaped gold handles.
    A 780-year-old treasure honoring St. Anthony of Padua has been stolen from a Southern California Catholic church.
    The relic, which is normally kept under lock and key, was brought out by the Rev. Jose Magana because he thought it might help his parishioners regain their faith during the difficult economic climate. In a bit of bitter irony, St. Anthony is known as the patron saint of lost things. Following news of the theft, web searches on "st. anthony stolen" and "who was st. anthony" both surged.
    The relic was taken at some point on Monday, "the feast day of the church's namesake." According to a buzzy article from the AP, the relic was likely stolen at some point between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. When the parishioners realized the relic had been taken, there was an audible gasp in the church.
    A police lieutenant said "the relic is housed in a 16-inch reliquary case with angel-shaped handles made of gold and silver on either side." The reverend called the relic invaluable," according to the AP.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    The First Museum - Found in Ur of the Chaldees!

    An absolutely fascinating article.  I'd no idea Woolley also discovered this while excavating at Ur! From, Secret History (cue spooky music....)

    The story behind the world’s oldest museum, built by a Babylonian princess 2,500 years ago
    May 25, 2011

    Alasdair Wilkins—In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world's first museum.

    It's easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history - Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That's part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it's also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.

    The Archaeologist

    Ennigaldi's museum was just one of many remarkable finds made by Leonard Woolley, generally considered to be among the first of the modern archaeologists. Born in London in 1880, Woolley studied at Oxford before becoming the assistant keeper at the school's Ashmolean Museum. It was there that Arthur Evans - himself a renowned archaeologist for his work with the Minoan civilization on the Greek island of Crete - decided that Woolley would be of more use out in the field, and so Evans sent him to Rome to begin his excavating career.

    Although Woolley had a longstanding interest in excavation, he had little or no formal training in how to actually go about doing it. He would be left to teach himself on the job, and many of the techniques and approaches he came up with would prove hugely influential to future archaeologists. Just before the outbreak of World War I, he excavated the ancient Hittite city of Carchemish alongside his younger colleague T.E. Lawrence, who would soon cast aside his archaeological career for his more famous role as...well, as Lawrence of Arabia. You can see the two together in the photo on the left.

    But it was Woolley's work in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur that would really cement his legacy. Beginning in 1922, Woolley excavated huge swaths of an ancient city-state that had endured for thousands of years, from the ancient Sumerian civilization of 3000 BCE to the Neo-Babylonian Empire of 500 BCE. One of his biggest discoveries - you might call it the Sumerian equivalent of King Tut's tomb - was the tomb of Shubad, a woman of great importance in 27th century Sumer whose tomb had remained undisturbed through the ensuing 4,600 years.

    However, it was the discovery of something from the very end of Ur's existence that interests us in this particular case. And for that, we might as well go straight to the words of Leonard Woolley himself.

    The DiscoveryIn his book Ur of the Chaldees, Woolley recounts his excavations of a palace complex in Ur. This particular palace dated to the very end of the city-state's long history, right before the absorption of its territories into the Persian Empire and the eventual abandonment of the city around 500 BCE. This was the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and while Babylon was (unsurprisingly) the capital of this empire, the now ancient city of Ur was still important both for its strategic location near the Persian Gulf and for its legacy as a once great power.

    As Woolley explains in his book, he and his team were quite confident that they were excavating Ur from its latest period, which is why the artifacts they found in one particular chamber (a photo of which is on the left) made so little sense:

    Suddenly the workmen brought to light a large oval-topped black stone whose top was covered with carvings in relief and its sides with inscriptions; it was a boundary-stone recording the position and the outlines of a landed property, with a statement as to how it came legally into the owner's hands and a terrific curse on whosoever should remove his neighbor's landmark or deface or destroy the record.

    Now, this stone belonged to the Kassite period of about 1400 BC Almost touching it was a fragment of a statue, a bit of the arm of a human figure on which was an inscription, and the fragment had been carefully trimmed so as to make it look neat and to preserve the writing; and the name on the statue was that of Dungi, who was king of Ur in 2058 BC. Then came a clay foundation-cone of a Larsa king of about 1700 BC, then a few clay tablets of about the same date, and a large votive stone mace-head which was uninscribed but may well have been more ancient by five hundred years.

    What were we to think? Here were half a dozen diverse objects found lying on an unbroken brick pavement of the sixth century BC, yet the newest of them was seven hundred years older than the pavement and the earliest perhaps sixteen hundred.

    Rest of article.

    Treasure Trove!

    Whoa!  Story at

    4 tons of old coins found in China
    Published: June 5, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    NANJING, China, June 5 (UPI) -- A cache of about 200,000 ancient coins has been discovered in a well at a construction site in Suzhou in eastern China, archaeologists say. [I wonder how many coins happened to make it 'elsewhere' before the authorities were notified...  The ancient Chinese did not make their coins out of precious metals like gold and silver, alas.]

    The king's ransom of coins, weighing in at about 4 tons, are likely from the Northern Son Dynasty, which ran from A.D. 960 to A.D. 1126, the state news agency Xinhua reported Saturday.

    The city's archaeological institute said archaeologists went to the site after construction workers came upon the coins Wednesday. Archaeologists' conjecture is the coins may have been hidden by an unidentified wealthy family during war in the relatively prosperous region.

    © 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Southwest Chess Club Action in June!

    It's that time again!  Polish Fest (one of the oldest of Milwaukee's ethnic festivals) is once again coming to the beautiful Maier Festival Grounds on Milwaukee's fabulous lakefront, and Southwest Chess Club will once again have a presence there.  This year introduces a new feature - SIMULS!  YAAAAHHHHHH!  A great idea, I hope tons of people sign up!  This is your chance area residents and visitors from out of town to match your chess skills and wits against a national master:
    Southwest Chess Club
    Polish Fest

    June 17-18-19
    12 Noon to 10 PM each day

    Advance reservations are being accepted
    for Simuls to play
    NM Jeff Cooper at 6 pm on Saturday, June 18
    NM Bill Williams at 6 pm on Sunday, June 19

    Contact Sheldon Gelbart (414-529-5931) for details

    The Club also has one of their artfully named club tournaments scheduled.  Do some of the members sit around someone's kitchen table drinking beer and playing penny-ante poker while making up names for these events?  Just wondering...
    Sweat Dripping Steamy Humid Swiss
    June 16, 23 and 30
    3-Round Swiss in Two Sections (Open and U1600)

    Game/100 minutes. USCF Rated. EF: $5.00. (One ½ Point Bye Available for any round (except round three) if requested at least 2-days prior to round).
    TD is Fogec; ATD is Grochowski. Contact 414-405-4207 (cell) or email.

    Club website

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Just One More Reason to Break Away From FIDE!

    It is said that Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned.  Gaddafi plays chess while Tripoli is blown to pieces by NATO bombs.  He's playing chess with - get ready for it - none other than the President of FIDE (the International Chess Federation), who was guaranteed the post (sub-rosa, of course) by the Russian Chess Federation in exchange for Ilyymzhinov "honorably retiring" from the Presidency of Kalmakya, which Putin wanted to give as a plum assignment to some other thug in order to rape the riches of the hard working peasants of the dirt-poor country.

    Here's an English version from Chess in Translation:
    Ilyumzhinov plays chess with Gaddafi
    By mishanp on June 12, 2011

    FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has just announced he held a two-hour meeting today in Tripoli with the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is currently in a state of civil war, with NATO and allies engaged in bombing raids, and Gaddafi himself accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

    The news of the meeting between Gaddafi and Ilyumzhinov was reported by the Russian news agency, Interfax, which spoke by telephone with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:

    The meeting lasted around two hours. Gaddafi and I played chess. The meeting didn’t take place in some sort of bunker, but in one of the administrative buildings in the Libyan capital.

    Gaddafi declared he’s not intending to leave Libya, emphasising that it’s his home and the land where his children and grandchildren have died. He also said he doesn’t understand what post he’s supposed to leave.
    Ilyumzhinov quotes Gaddafi:

    “I’m not a prime minister, a president or a king. I don’t hold any post in Libya, and therefore there’s no position that I should leave”. adds that Ilyumzhinov said:

    I expressed my condolences on behalf of my family in connection with the death of his 20-year-old son, two grandsons and 4-month-old granddaughter. And then he showed me the house on which five bombs fell and where his relatives died.

    The meeting with the Libyan leader is all the more remarkable as Russia has recently joined the chorus of protest against Muammar Gaddafi remaining in power. At the recent G8 summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted the following joint statement (one of the arrest warrants mentioned was for Gaddafi himself):

    Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go.

    We welcome the work of the international criminal court in investigating crimes in Libya and note the chief prosecutor’s request on 16 May for three arrest warrants.

    It appears Russia may be trying to play a mediating role in the conflict, with Medvedev’s envoy, Mikhail Margelov, having visited the opposition leaders in Benghazi last week. It’s unlikely Ilyumzhinov could travel to Libya without Russian approval, so there’s some speculation he might be on a political mission. notes:

    Known for his extravagant actions and statements, Ilyumzhinov doesn’t particularly suit such a responsible mission. He does, however, have an excellent relationship with the Libyan leader, which started seven years ago.

    That refers, of course, to the FIDE World Chess Championship in Tripoli in 2004. Although there were promising signs from Libya at the time – the BBC called the event “the latest plank of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s strategy to end years of international isolation” – it was extremely controversial. Apart from general concerns about Libya’s alleged support for terrorism, Israeli players were effectively barred from attending. Despite invitations being sent out, Grandmaster Boris Gulko noted in his open letter to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:

    Yet on May 5, the son of Moammar Qadafy, Mohammad, who is also the president of the Libyan Organizing Committee, announced (according to the Associated Press) that “We did not and will not invite the Zionist enemies to this championship…We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society… but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya.”

    It probably comes as little surprise to learn that this time round Ilyumzhinov also met with Gaddafi’s son. quotes Ilyumzhinov:
    I had a meeting with Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, who heads the National Olympic Committee. We also had a game of chess, playing the Sicilian Defence.

    Some more details have emerged about the “chess content” of Ilyumzhinov’s unannounced visit to Libya. He called it part of FIDE’s “Year of Africa”, recently announced on trips to Nigeria and Zambia, while cites a Kommersant FM radio interview in which Ilyumzhinov stated the visit was planned a year ago, and connected to a tournament to take place on 1 October. The FIDE President stated his belief that it would be a success, despite the Libyan capital being under constant bombardment. The only quote that’s likely to be remembered from that article, however, is Ilyumzhinov’s comment on the military conflict: “the world doesn’t hear and doesn’t want to hear the voice of the Libyan people”.

    All that’s left for chess fans is to watch, perhaps in horror, as chess finds itself the focus of a media circus - for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with chess.

    What Is It?

    History Mystery: Ancient Dodecahedron's Purpose Remains Secret
    By Alexandria Hein
    Published June 10, 2011

    Can you do what the world's archaeologists can't? Can you explain this -- thing?

    It’s been called a war weapon, a candlestick, a child’s toy, a weather gauge, an astronomical instrument, and a religious symbol -- just to name a few. But what IS this mystery object, really?

    There are books and websites dedicated to properly identifying it, dissertations dedicated to unveiling the truth, textbooks and class curriculums spent arguing over what its function is. Fans can even “Like” it on Facebook.

    Yet the only thing historians will agree on is a name for the odd object: a Roman dodecahedron.

    That part was easy, seeing as the mathematical shape of this artifact is a dodecahedron. Best described as a bronze or stone geometric object, it has twelve flat pentagonal faces, each with a circular hole in the middle (not necessarily the same size). All sides connect to create a hollowed out center.

    It’s dated from somewhere around the second and third century AD, and has been popping up everywhere in Europe. Archeologists have found the majority of them in France, Switzerland and parts of Germany where the Romans once ruled.

    But its use remains a mystery, mostly because the Romans who usually kept meticulous accounts make no mention of it in records. And with sizes varying from 4 to 11 cm, and some bearing decorative knobs, it only gets harder to pinpoint a function.

    Speculation among historians has resulted in many different hypotheses, which is as close as we may get to an accurate answer. Few archeologists will even comment on it, because the dodecahedron isn't defined to a specific cultural area and therefore not their area of expertise. Even the theories that do exist are highly debated among historians.

    Plutarch, the famous Greek historian reportedly identified the dodecahedron as a vital instrument for zodiac signs. The twelve sides represent the twelve animals in the circle of the Zodiac, but even this theory comes under contest when the argument of the knobs as decoration is presented.

    “My take is that it is yet another piece the use of which we shall never completely sort out even though we are fortunate to have Plutarch’s testimony,” said Andrea Galdy, who holds a Ph.D from the School of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Manchester and is currently teaching Art History in Florence, Italy. Galdy has not come across it in her own work, and does not regard herself as a specialist, but she does have plenty of experience in labeling artifacts.

    Bloggers from all over the world are stumped as they argue over the purpose of what the different size holes can be used for, and why they are being discovered all over Europe and not in a concentrated area. One was reportedly found in a woman's burial ground, leading many to settle on "religious artifact."

    Can you do what archaeologists can't? Can you help solve the mystery?

    Email us your thoughts at We'll print the best suggestions shortly.

    Colin Renfrew Says...

    ...that all of those smashed statues on the Greek island of Keros were probably disposed of there in sacred ceremonies (they were buried, after all) at the end of their useful lives as votive objects.

    Colin Renfrew is one of my heroes :)

    Monday 13 June 2011
    Smashing discovery
    Cambridge University scientists have discovered that the ancient Greeks smashed valuable pottery in bizarre ceremonies 4,500 years ago.
    Archaeologists embarked on a huge dig on the uninhabited Greek island of Keros in 2006 and discovered hundreds of pieces of ornate statues.

    The Cambridge University team has now proved that the smashing of these marble pottery and statues was part of a bizarre religious ritual.

    They believe that statues and pottery used for spiritual services were taken to Keros and broken, then buried in shallow pits.

    Colin Renfrew, professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University, has spent hundreds of hours cataloguing the “remarkable” finds.

    He said: “We believe that the breaking of the statues and other goods was a ritual and that Keros was chosen as a sanctuary to preserve the effects.

    “They had a use-life, probably being painted and repainted from year to year.

    “We believe the convention was that when a figure had reached the end of its use-life, it could not simply be thrown away or used conventionally, it needed to be desanctified in an elaborate process.

    “Strangely, there seems to have been some obligation to bring a piece of the broken figure and deposit it on what must have been the sacred island of Keros, possibly staying a few days on Dhaskalio while the ceremony was completed.

    “This is a remarkable find. The marble statues are very beautiful and have much value. We have never heard of a ritual like this before.”

    The beautiful figurines, with their folded arms, sloping feet and featureless faces, have been found previously in Cycladic Bronze Age graves.

    More information in this very informative article from

    Broken idols of Keros: British archaeologists explain Greek mystery
    Cambridge scientists dig up evidence of beautiful marble figurines broken then buried by Greeks 4,500 years ago
    Mark Brown, arts corresponden
    The Guardian
    Friday 10 June 2011

    When Women Ran Synagogues

    Very interesting.  What I call "the St. Paul influence that succeeded eventually in shutting females out from any meaningful role in the Roman, Orthodox and Coptic christian churches also succeeded in shutting them out from any meaningful role in Jewish synagogues.  But there was a time when women held positions of great authority in the early christian churches and, it turns out, at least in some synagogues.

    From The Jerusalem Post
    His/Her Story: A woman 'head of the synagogue'
    06/10/2011 16:55

    As it turns out, the evidence available about women in the Greco-Roman Diaspora is distinctive and, at times, quite difficult to interpret.

    Jews living in the Greco-Roman Diaspora in the period known as late antiquity (second/third centuries until the fall of the Empire in the fifth century) had experiences that differed considerably from those in the Land of Israel. This held true for women as well as men. As it turns out, the evidence available about women is distinctive and, at times, quite difficult to interpret.

    One Greek inscription in particular has long attracted the attention of scholars in the field. This inscription is from Smyrna (modern-day Izmir), located in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and was commissioned in the second or third century by a woman named Rufina.

    While the name Rufina is Latin, the dedicator immediately identified herself by the Greek term Ioudaia. This term is unusual in inscriptions otherwise thought to be Jewish, and suggests that it was important for Rufina. It may even suggest that she wasn’t born Jewish, but converted at some point in her life. The second detail recorded was that she was the archisynagogos, the head (or possibly the president) of the synagogue.

    Bernadette Brooten discussed this woman, as well as others, in her path-breaking book, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue (1982). Ross S. Kraemer has also translated and included this inscription (most recently in Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook, 2004) and has attempted to reconstruct the life of Rufina on the basis of four sentences that appeared on the marble plaque. (See the fascinating article in Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, Judith Baskin, ed., 2nd ed., 1998.) In order to pay for such a substantial inscription, Rufina had to have had some wealth of her own; after all, she owned the burial site. Because the tomb was for “her freed slaves and the slaves raised in her household,” it is possible that she was head of her household. One can only conjecture as to how her wealth was accumulated. Other inscriptions reveal additional Jewish women who were independent and active in the public realm.

    Note that there is no evidence regarding the presence of rabbis in these communities; at this time, there are Greek terms to designate teacher, such as sophodidaskalos (teacher of wisdom) or nomodidaskalos (teacher of law), but the developments in the Land of Israel are not reflected in the Greco-Roman Diaspora of late antiquity.

    Some women possibly attended synagogue services and appear to have been active members, donors and leaders. The titles they received do not seem to be derived from their fathers or husbands, but then again, it is not entirely clear what exactly constituted a synagogue in second- or third-century Smyrna.

    The continuation of the inscription is also revealing. Rufina paid to include the fact that this burial place was hers, and that no one should dare to use it for other burials. She listed a double fine for all transgressors, who, if caught, would have to pay the “sacred treasury” as well as the Jewish community (possibly a legal entity).

    It was also stated that the public archives had a copy. While it was not unusual to pay the local treasury or the community, this extra double insurance policy was less common. Kraemer explains that this is an indication that she was connected in some way to the non-Jewish community.

    Note that no men are mentioned in this inscription. No one knows if Rufina was single or married, a widow, a mother or a grandmother. At the same time, she seems to be free of male control, making her own decisions, using her own finances, owning her own slaves, negotiating her own arrangements both for the burial place as well as for the protection she was offering those buried there. It is fascinating to see how much (or little) can be learned on the basis of four sentences commissioned by an elite woman from second- or third-century Smyrna.

    The writer is a professor of Jewish history and the dean at the Schechter Institute, as well as academic editor of the journal Nashim. She has pupublished books and articles on Sephardi and Oriental Jewry and on Jewish women.
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