Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Red Pebble With A Secret???

Let's see - it's red (ochre); it's got grooved marks on it (at least 23), it was found in a part of Africa (in a cave) well known for early occupation by homo sapiens -- and yet the scientists can't figure out what this is? 
Riaan Rifkin

It's a woman's count calendar.  This one is the oldest found yet, about 100,000 years old. Well, that's my take on it!

Stone Age Pebble Holds Mysterious Meaning

The colorful pebble bearing a sequence of lines dates back 100,000 years and may be the first evidence of abstract art.
By Jennifer Viegas
Thu Feb 23, 2012

A colorful pebble bearing a sequence of linear incisions may be the world's oldest engraving.

The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back approximately 100,000 years ago and could also be the world’s oldest known abstract art. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

“Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens,” co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand’s Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News.

Rifkin and colleagues Francesco d’Errico and Renata Garcia Moreno performed extensive non-invasive analyses of the object. Methods like X-ray fluorescence and microscopic analysis enabled the researchers to examine every minute detail of the ochre pebble, which appears to have split off from a once larger piece.

The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble.

“Upon engraving the piece with a sharp lithic implement, it is likely to have produced a markedly bright and dark red-maroon powder,” Rifkin said. “The design may therefore have been strikingly visible shortly after it was produced.”

Ochre is a mineral-rich, naturally tinted clay that primarily consists of hydrated iron oxide. Ochre was among the earliest pigments used by humans and possibly other hominids for artistic purposes. Some even refer to it as the caveman's "crayon."

The Klasies River object measures close to 3 inches in length and contains a series of seven “deep broad engraved lines and several, about 16 or so, narrower and somewhat shallower linear features,” Rifkin said. “The fragment is a remnant of a formerly semi-circular ochre pebble that likely contained a much more extensive engraved design on its surface.”

Of particular interest now is whether or not the engraver made the design with symbolic intent. Use of symbols and meaningful images is thought to have been a significant breakthrough in human development. Language, math and countless other studies are tied to this basic skill, in addition to improved communication. To this day, art permits communication of identity and other things among diverse cultures.

Both linear and crosshatch engraved patterns may have been common thousands of years ago. Similar designs appear on engraved ochres from Blombos Cave, also in South Africa, and on ostrich eggshell fragments found in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape Province. Some of these, and other, similar objects may even predate the Klasies River pebble, but studies on them are ongoing.

“The employment of red ochre for symbolic purposes likely played an important role in mediating increasingly complex social relations that emerged during the Middle Stone Age,” Rifkin explained.

Christopher Henshilwood, a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand, did not work on this study, but he has examined other very early probable engravings. For example, he studied abstract markings of another piece of ochre dating to around 70,000 years ago.

In that case, the engraving consisted of a more complex geometric pattern that looks like the letter “X” repeated in a connected series.

The possible meaning of these lines remains a mystery, “but they are symbols that I think could have been interpreted by those people as having meaning that would have been understood by others,” Henshilwood said.

At present, Rifkin and his team are studying 30,000-year old cave art from Africa. So far, they have determined that the abstract images depict a zebra, a rhino, and a half human, half cat therianthorpe.

Horny Little Man?

CREDIT: photo collection of Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of São Paulo.
So, I ask you:  does this look like a man to you?  It looks like a lizard to me... The GEICO gekko? A lizard with a giant phallus?  Is this actually a representation of a transformed shaman???

'Little Horny Man': Rock Carving of Giant Phallus Discovered
Date: 22 February 2012 Time: 05:01 PM ET

A stick figure man with a giant phallus dubbed "the little horny man" by its discoverers is the oldest rock carving found yet in the Americas, researchers say.

These findings might shed new light on when the New World was first settled, scientists added.

The time frame during which humans first reached the Americas remains hotly debated. One key to settling this controversy would involve uncovering early examples of human artifacts, such as art.
Scientists discovered one ancient sample of such art in a cave named Lapa do Santo in central-eastern Brazil. The region is home to Luzia, the oldest human skeleton found to date in South America.

Lapa do Santo is one of the largest rock shelters excavated yet in the region, a limestone cave covering an area of about 14,000 square feet (1,300 square meters). Here, researchers have found buried human remains, tools made of stone and bone, ash from hearths, and leftovers from meals of fruit and small game.

In 2009, digging about 13 feet (4 meters) below the surface, the scientists found a rock carving or petroglyph of a man packed into the side of the cave. The figure, which appears to be squatting with his arms outstretched, is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall from head to feet and about 8 inches (20 centimeters) wide. [Photos of Phallus Petroglyph and Cave]

"We discovered this petroglyph in the final moments of excavation at the site," said researcher Walter Alves Neves, an archaeologist and biological anthropologist at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

The engraving is also depicted with a relatively oversized phallus about 2 inches (5 cm) long, or about as long as the man's left arm.

"We named the figure 'the little horny man,'" Neves said.

"The figure is probably linked to some kind of fertility ritual," Neves told LiveScience. "There is another site in the same region where you find paintings with men with oversized phalluses, and also pregnant women, and even a parturition (childbirth) scene."

Carbon dating and other tests of the sediment covering the petroglyph suggest the engraving dates between 9,000 and 12,000 years old. This makes it the oldest reliably dated instance of such rock art found yet in the Americas.

When this carving is compared with other examples of early rock art found in South America, it would seem that abstract forms of thinking may have been very diverse back then, which suggests that humans settled the New World relatively early, giving their art time to diversify. For instance, at one site in Argentina named Cueva de las Manos, paintings of hands predominate, while at another site there, Cueva Epullan Grande, engravings have geometric motifs.

"It shows that about 11,000 years ago, there was already a very diverse manifestation of rock art in South America, so probably man arrived in the Americas much earlier than normally is accepted," Neves said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Feb. 22 in the journal PLoS ONE.

1,000 Year Old Game Board Found in Mexico

From Latino Fox News

1,000-Year-Old Game Board Found in Mexico

Published February 23, 2012

A member of the team that found the artifact, Heber Ojeda, estimates the board was used between the 7th and 10th centuries during the Late Classic period of Dzibilnocac.

"It is an esgraffito scoreboard of approximately 50 centimeters (19.68 inches) on each side, which was discovered on the floor of the second highest space" in the building denoted A1, the archaeologist said.

Etched into the surface of the board are 58 rectangles of varying sizes and players would have used beans as game tokens, Ojeda said.

One of his colleagues, Judith Gallegos Gomora, said the board was designed for patolli, a game of chance described in Mayan codices and colonial Spanish chronicles.

She added, however, that the board bears a resemblance to the Maya quincunx, a schematic representation of the universe, and would likely also have been used for divination.

This image is not from the article - but it is a representation of patolli, from the Codex Florentinus, 1569.

This diagram shows various versions of the Mayan quincunx.  Interesting, no?  I found it in an online book published by the University of California Online Press from a book entitled Masks of the Spirit:  The Quincunx Variously Applied: a. Monte Albán Kan cross; b. Maya Kin glyph; c. Maya Lamat glyph;  d. Teotihuacán flower sign; e. Maya katun completion sign; f. Teotihuacán pecked cross;  g. Maya calendar from the Book of Chilam Balam of Kaua; h. Maya calendar from the Madrid Codex;  i. Aztec calendar from Durán; j. Mixtec calendar from the Codex Féjérvary-Mayer (a-e after Coggins 1980,  figs. 2a-d; f after Aveni 1980, fig. 71a;g-j after Aveni 1980, fig. 57).  I believe that it is meant to represent a three-dimensional concept of the heavens, the earth, and the underworld -- but I didn't read the book (just a few paragraphs of it) and so I could be wrong!  Here's the diagram - judge for yourself:

(Page 121, Masks of the Spirit, as presented online at UC Press E-Books Collection).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Modern Day Tribute Paid to Goddess in India

story from

Kolhapur's Goddess Mahalaxmi Gets Apt Tribute
February 21, 2012
By Mohsin Mulla

Mumbai-based occularist Dr. Chandrashekar Chawan gifted a pair of diamond-embedded artificial eyes to Goddess Mahalaxmi at the Mahalaxmi Temple on Sunday.

The pair has eighteen diamonds - nine in each cornea part of the artificial eyes.  Eighteen-karat gold has been used for fitting the diamonds.

The cost of the eyes is Rs90,000 as per Western Maharashtra Devasthan Committee.  Committee representative Appasaheb Kulkarni told media persons that the eyes will be handed over to priests for daily 'alankar pooja' so that they will be used on (sic) daily.

Chawan, who is the founder of Shekhar Eye Research, has obtained a patent for developing the eye jewellery.  In this concept, the lenses can be decorated with precious stones.

"Before launching Laser Eye jewellery in the market, I offered artificial eyes to the goddess for seeking her blessings," Chawan [said], who was accompanied by his wife Smita. 

2012 U.S. Women's Chess Championship

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is hosting the 2012 U.S. Chess Championships.  The women's event (invitational) will be a round robin:
The 2012 U.S. Women’s Championship will feature a guaranteed prize fund of $64,000 and 10 players, including:
  • IM Anna Zatonskih (2563)
  • IM Irina Krush (2500)
  • WGM Camilla Baginskaite (2419)
  • WGM Sabina Foisor (2413)
  • WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2350)
  • WIM Viktorija Ni (2349)
  • IM Rusudan Goletiani (2337)
  • FM Alisa Melekhina (2321)
  • WIM Iryna Zenyuk (2298)
  • NM Alena Kats (2233)
WIM Viktorija Ni and NM Alena Kats make their first trip to the Championship. 

Play will begin May 8th and conclude on May 19th, with play-offs on May 20th if necessary. 

Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush have been trading the title back and forth between themselves at least since the CCSC of St. Louis has taken over hosting the U.S. Championships.  Zatonskih will be defending her 2011 title.  Players bios and pics from CCSC of St. Louis:

IM Anna Zatonskih

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    International Master
Chess Highlights:
Four-Time U.S. Women’s Champion (2011, 2009, 2008, 2006); Gold Individual Medal in 2008 Chess Olympiad
Bio: Anna Zatonskih is a three-time U.S. Women's Champion. She came to Saint Louis to defend her title at last year's U.S. Women's Championship, but ran into stiff competition against IM Irina Krush who equaled Zatonskih with her third title. Two years ago, Zatonskih won the U.S. Women's Championship with a dominating score of 8.5/9 and took home $15,000. She'll have to bring another dominating performance to snatch the title away from Krush at this year's event. Zatonskih is described in a U.S. Chess Federation biography as an intense competitor who has trouble sleeping at night during tournaments because she ponders the next day’s games.

Anna said her chess highlights include the 2004 silver medal and the 2008 bronze she helped the U.S. team win at the Chess Olympics.

Outside of the chess, Anna has a variety of interests from bicycling to ping pong to scuba diving. She even played an underwater match while in scuba gear on a giant board. The game couldn’t go longer than 50 minutes, but she played to a draw. Coached by her husband, German Grandmaster Daniel Fridman, Anna comes into the tournament in the hopes of securing her fourth title.

IM Irina Krush

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Brooklyn, NY
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    International Master
Chess Highlights:
Three-time U.S. Women’s Champion: 2010, 2007, 1998 (youngest winner ever at age 14); Member of 2004 Silver Medal U.S. Olympiad Team and 2008 Bronze Medal Team
Bio: Irina Krush looks forward to chess matches, but doesn’t spend much time contemplating her chess success or failures. “I’m more attached to my future accomplishments.” She said she enjoys the challenge of playing grandmasters most. “When you beat a strong GM, that's when you feel like you can play chess.” Krush was the only female player to compete in the 2010 U.S. Championship, and turned in an impressive 12th-place finish, narrowly missing another GM norm.

Her performance at last year's U.S. Women's Championship just a few months later delivered her third title and further cemented her as one the top players in the nation.

While Irina has a degree in international relations from NYU, she is currently concentrating on chess. In 2008 she received a Samford Chess Fellowship, allowing her to pursue chess full time. Eventually, she figures she will make a career out of chess by playing, teaching and writing about it. Becoming a top-flight chess player takes a lot of time.

But Irina is far from one-dimensional. On top of tennis, reading, writing and yoga, Irina has also immersed herself in the hip-hop scene.

Coming into the tourney second by rating, Krush looks to defend her U.S. Women's Championship title against IM Anna Zatonskih and six other strong competitors.

WGM Camilla Baginskaite

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Sioux Falls, SD
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    Woman Grandmaster
Chess Highlights:
1987 World Under-20 Champion; 2000 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion; Six Chess Olympiads
Bio: Camilla's deep understanding of chess and years of experience at elite competitions like the Olympiad and the Women's World Championships makes her capable of major surprises despite being less active than many of her rivals. For instance, in the 2009 U.S. Women's Championship, Camilla took clear second place, winning some brilliant games in the process, and earning herself an IM norm.

These days, Camilla’s energies go largely toward her family. She is married to grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky, and has two children. Camilla has a master’s degree in art history and is studying to become an art teacher.

She is blunt when asked how she balances chess and the rest of her life: “There is no such thing as a good balance. You either do chess professionally or not.” But Camilla quickly adds that she’s not giving up on winning another championship, and vows to become a more aggressive player. Camilla is not about to let age get in the way of continuing to be a top player. She’s hopeful that 10 to 15 years from now, her name will still be on the list of U.S. Women’s Chess Championship invitees. “When the kids are out of the house,” Camilla figures, she will have more time to devote to chess.

WGM Sabina Foisor

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Baltimore, MD
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    Woman Grandmaster
Chess Highlights:
Multiple Romania girls youth champion; 2004 Multiple Romanian and European champion in blitz and rapid; finished in top 20 at European Chess Championship in 2007, qualifying her for the World Chess Championship
Bio: Sabina Foisor has been a chess dynamo since starting around age 4. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Gary Kasparov and the late Bobby Fischer. Like many players, she has traveled the globe playing in tournaments, and she has participated in each of the past two U.S. Women's Championships (2010 and 2009). 2011 will mark her third appearance. Her main goal in chess is to become one of the top 20 women players in the world.
When not playing or training for chess, she likes to travel, read books, watch movies and hang out with friends. “Of course I can manage to balance chess with other things,” she says. She has many heroes outside of chess, including her family, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Sigmund Freud. After listing those three she added, “I will stop here because the list would be too large.”

One of her biggest challenges was moving to the U.S. to study at University of Maryland at Baltimore County, which has a strong chess program. Indeed, UMBC won the 2009 U.S. national collegiate title. At UMBC Foisor studies psychology, modern language and linguistics.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Glendale, CA
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    Woman Grandmaster
Chess Highlights:
2004 U.S. Women’s Championship Runner-Up; 2008 and 2005 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship Third Place; 2006 Pan-Am U18 (Perfect Score)
Bio: Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at 8 after her father took her to the Chess Olympiad games in 1996. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest woman player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. “I was in complete awe,” Tatev said. “My first thought was, ‘I want to be just like her.’” She was soon playing competitively among the top players her age in Europe and has played in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship eight times.

But becoming a top chess player has not been easy. “The main problem is balancing school with chess. Even though college is the number one priority for me, I usually take time off to play in major events, like this one.” When she is not studying or playing chess, she likes to read, play tennis, travel, watch movies and hang out with friends.
Another big challege for Tatev was moving to the U.S. In fact, she said: “It was the biggest change in my life, and it happened in a very short period of time. Everything in my life changed in a matter of few months. I had to give up everything I knew and start a new life. Even though I have lived here for some time now, it was a very big adjustment, and I think a continuous one."

Tatev is a formidable competitor. At the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship she played her heart out to a fantastic 7/9 score, which would usually be enough to net first place, but actually put her in a tie for second place, half a point behind Irina Krush. Tatev's strong play and fighting qualities in 2010 earned her the 9 Queens/goddess chess fighting spirit award, which was selected by former Women's World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk."

WIM Viktorija Ni

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    Woman International Master
Chess Highlights:
2010 Chicago Open, WGM norm 2009 Czech Open, 1st Latvian Rapid Women's Championship (2004, 2005), 2009 Latvian Youth Champion, 1st European Rapid Championship Girls Under 18
Bio: Viktorija Ni learned chess at the age of 7 from her mother, Polina, who is an Expert. She earned the title of Woman FIDE Master (WFM) in 2007 and the Woman International Master (WIM) title in 2010, earning her final norm at the 19th Chicago Open. Viktorija represented Latvia twice at the Chess Olympiad (2008, 2010) on the women's team. She recently switched her federation form Latvia to the United States, and will be competing in her first-ever U.S. Women's Championship. Viktorija is a formidable competitor, coming into the tournament ranked 5th in the country by rating for Women. She is the spouse of 2012 U.S. Championship competitor GM Yury Shulman, and they both live just outside of Chicago with their son Gabriel. Their son was born during last year's U.S. Championship, in which Yury finished second.

IM Rusudan Goletiani

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Hartsdale, NY
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    International Master
Chess Highlights:
2005 U.S. Women's Champion, Soviet Union champion under age of 12; Georgian and Russian champion under 14; World Junior Champion under 14, 16, 18
Bio: For about as long as Rusudan Goletiani has been playing chess, she has been among the elite players, and that includes the ten years she has spent in the United States. The winner of the 2005 U.S. Women’s Championship says she can’t pick out one or two highlights that stand out. “Every accomplishment means a lot,” she says, adding that her ultimate chess goal is to become a grandmaster.

Rusudan considers the late, great Russian grandmaster Alexander Alekhine as her biggest chess influence and adds that outside of chess she admires “every person that works hard to achieve his or her goal.”
Outside of chess, Rusudan enjoys ping pong, reading and cooking. She is married with two children, but Rusudan says she doesn’t have much difficult fitting the rigors of chess into her daily life. “I wish I had more time for everything, but somehow I manage it all,” she says. Indeed, her most difficult challenge was moving – from her native country of Georgia to the New York when she was 19. “I did not have a family in New York, and did not know much English,” she says.
Two years ago, she took a break from the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship to have her second child, and she came back with a strong performance in 2011. She is hoping the 2012 event will bring her her second title.

WIM Iryna Zenyuk

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Pittsburgh, PA
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    Woman International Master
Chess Highlights:
First Woman to Win Jerry Simon Memorial (2006); 2007 MVP of NY Knights Chess Team and Best 4th Board; 2450 Tournament Performance Rating in 2008 Berkeley International
Bio: Iryna Zenyuk has two huge goals in life: To be a chess champion and to help the environment. She has a good start on her chess goal, ranking as one of the top 10 women players in the U.S. And she is active with her second goal too, currently pursuing a master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She plans to use the degree to develop ways to make renewable energy more prevalent. Iryna defines her interests this way: Chess is her love, it’s fun. But mechanical engineering will give her the means to give back to society.
Iryna will undoubtably fight hard for her passions, as she is used to that overcoming long odds and adversity. Iryna’s father died when she was 8 and her mother moved to the U.S., leaving her and her brother in the Ukraine alone until Iryna could join her 6 years later. “It taught me to be independent,” she says without a trace of bitterness.

Other interests play a big role in Iryna’s life too. Although only 5 feet 4, she was able to play volleyball in college. And these days dancing, particularly Latin and cha-cha, has become a main pursuit. Furthermore, she is friends with many of her chess competitors. “I have a lot of chess friends. We do the normal stuff: hang out, go to restaurants ... I don’t call myself solitary.”

  • Status:
  • Age:
  • Residence:
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Birthplace:
  • Rating:
  • Title:
    FIDE Master
Chess Highlights:
Represented the U.S. in Eight Consecutive World Youth Tournaments and Three Pan-American
Bio: Alisa Melekhina started playing at age 5 and entered her first tournament at age 7. In less than three years, she was winning prestigious international tournaments. the 2012 U.S. Women's Championship marks her fourth time competing for this sought-after title.

Alisa has already earned an International Master norm, which she considers her top chess accomplishment so far, but her ultimate goal is to become a grandmaster.

Alisa learned chess from her father, who was her first coach and remains a strong influence today.
Outside of chess, she is a ballerina, having studied dance for 12 years. But Alisa knows where her priorities lie: squarely with chess. “I try to maintain a flexible schedule, but chess always takes precedence, though I will have to concentrate more on school now that I am in college,” she said.
Alisa has had a remarkable year, picking up more than 50 USCF rating points since last year's U.S. Women's Championship. She will be a formidable opponent at this year's event.

2012 Romanian Women's Chess Championship

Report courtesy of

The 2012 Romanian Chess Championships for men and women took place from 13th to 21st February at the Great Hall of the Hotel Casino in Sarata Monteoru. The start of the competitions was delayed for two days due to heavy snow and blocked roads.
Men’s championship was played over 11 rounds of Swiss system, while ladies competed over 9 rounds of Swiss.

In the women’s championship Cristina-Adela Foisor defended the last year’s title after edging fellow Grandmasters Elena-Luminita Cosma and Corina-Isabela Peptan on tie-break. All three players finished on 6.5/9 points. Full standings bellow.

1 WGM Foisor Cristina-Adela 2395 – 6.5
2 WGM Cosma Elena-Luminita 2325 – 6.5
3 WGM Peptan Corina-Isabela 2425 – 6.5
4 WGM L’Ami Alina 2360 – 6
5 WFM Foisor Mihaela-Veronica 2215 – 6
6 WIM Dragomirescu Angela 2240 – 6
7 WGM Sandu Mihaela 2248 – 5.5
8 WIM Bulmaga Irina 2360 – 5.5
9 WCM Adam Andrea 1906 – 5.5
10 WIM Padurariu Ioana-Smaranda 2247 – 5
11 WFM Uta Adeline-Ramona 2087 – 5
12 WFM Baciu Anca-Otilia 2129 – 5
13 WFM Visanescu Daria-Ioana 2047 – 5
14 WCM Gelip Ioana 2025 – 5
15 WCM Cosman Andreea-Marioara 1885 – 4.5
16 WCM Cirlig Ioana-Andreea 1665 – 4.5
17 WCM Stanciu Ioana-Georgiana 1697 – 4.5
18 WCM Cusmuliuc Diana-Elena 1745 – 4
19 WCM Vasile Teodora 1985 – 4
20 WCM Anton Roxana-Ana 1859 – 4
21 I Bulmaga Elena 1816 – 3.5
22 I Bratu Andreea 1787 – 3.5
23 I Didiliuc Dariana-Gabriela 1508 – 3.5
24 I Coman Emilia-Florentina 1463 – 3
25 I Sonfalean Maria-Laura 1628 – 3
26 I Ciungan Diana-Alexandra 1677 – 2.5
27 I Ciocan Maria-Alexandra 1563 – 2
28 I Porcoleanu Doina-Olga 1767 – 1.5

The best Romanian players sit out this event, and it is unfortunate.  But the total prizes for both the Men's and Women's Championships is approximately Euros 6,900. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012 European Individual Women's Chess Championship

Almost here, already!  Where does the time go?  Stay tuned, I'll be providing reports before you know it.

March 1 - 14, 2012
March 15 - 18, 2012 Rapid and Blitz Championships
Gazientepe, Turkey

Three, Three, Three Championships in One!  Women's Individual; Women's Rapid; and Women's Blitz titles are all on the line.

Current List of Players (104) - neither in alphabetical nor ELO order, unfortunately (at the moment)

A whopping Euros 100,000 is on the line for the European Women's Individual Chess Championship:

8.1. European Individual Women Championship
1 € 20.500
2 € 15.500
3 € 11.500
4 € 8.200
5 € 7.100
6 € 6.100
7 € 5.600
8 € 5.100
9 € 4.600
10 € 4.100
11 € 3.600
12 € 3.100
13 € 2.600
14 € 2.400

There will be additional prizes awarded for U-16 and U-20 Age Categories, National Prizes (by the Turkish Chess Federation), and ELO Category Prizes (for lower rated players, to give them a shot at some prize money.  Well Done, Turkish Chess Federation!) 
Rank2150-22992000-21491800-1999< 1799
1 € 500 € 500 € 300 € 250
2 € 300 € 300 € 200 € 150
3 € 200 € 200 € 100 € 100
Total € 1.000 € 1.000 € 600 € 500

2012 ACP Women's Cup

The results are in, darlings!  From The Week in Chess:

Mark Crowther - Tuesday 21st February 2012
The ACP Women Cup Rapid took place in Tbilisi, Georgia, 17th-21st February 2012. Anna Muzychuk, Kateryna Lahno and Nadezhda Kosintseva were the top seeds in this 12 player all-play-all. Pia Cramling and Nana Dzagnidze finished on 8/11. Nana Dzagnidze won a play off.

Final Ranking crosstable after 11 Rounds

Rk. NameRtgFED123456789101112Pts.
GMCramling Pia2491SWE*1½1½1½1½½½18.0
GMDzagnidze Nana2535GEO0*½01111½1118.0
GMLahno Kateryna2557UKR½½*½½½11½1½17.5
GMMuzychuk Anna2580SLO01½*½01½11½17.0
GMChiburdanidze Maia2500GEO½0½½*½½01½116.0
GMKosintseva Tatiana2513RUS00½1½*01½0115.5
GMKosteniuk Alexandra2448RUS½000½1*½10115.5
GMStefanova Antoaneta2523BUL000½10½*11105.0
GMKosintseva Nadezhda2537RUS½½½00½00*½114.5
IMZatonskih Anna2506USA½000½110½*014.5
GMCmilyte Viktorija2503LTU½0½½000001*13.5
WGMMamedjarova Zeinab2318AZE00000001000*1.0

Monday, February 20, 2012

Battle Brewing Over Bronze Head of Goddess Anahit

Will Armenian minister bring Goddess Anahit’s statue home? - newspaper
February 15, 2012 | 10:18
YEREVAN. – Armenia’s Education and Science Minister Armen Ashotyan seems to be determined to bring to Armenia the pagan goddess Anahit’s bronze head from the British Museum in London, Haykakan Zhamanak daily writes.

“The Minister expressed such wish in his Facebook account. He proposed to his [Facebook] friends to join him and to petition—with corresponding signatures under a joint text—to the Great Britain’s Embassy in Armenia, asking that the head and the hands of Goddess Anahit’s statue be returned to Armenia. Through his spokesperson, Ashotyan informed that his call had received a huge response, especially from the youth and university students. And they launched a signature campaign, and Minister Armen Ashotyan will likewise join them at the end [of the campaign, and they will petition to Great Britain’s Embassy. The latter responded to Ashotyan’s call, likewise on its Facebook account. Ambassador Cathy Leach wrote: “For long years the British Museum has provided its unique items for worldwide display. It will be marvelous if such exchange program be carried out between the British Museum and the State Museum of History of Armenia.” In this way the Ambassador alluded not to the possibility of returning of the statue, but, instead, to its sending for a temporary display,” Haykakan Zhamanak writes.

Amazing Discoveries in 2000 Year Old Chinese Herbal Treatment

How cool is this? Documented for at least 2,000 years, this traditional Chinese herbal treatment for malaria may prove the answer to the prayers of millions who suffer from auto-immune related diseases.

Scientists discover molecular secrets of 2,000-year-old Chinese herbal remedy

February 12, 2012 by Cathryn Delude

For roughly two thousand years, Chinese herbalists have treated Malaria using a root extract, commonly known as Chang Shan, from a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepal. More recent studies suggest that halofuginone, a compound derived from this extract's bioactive ingredient, could be used to treat many autoimmune disorders as well. Now, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine have discovered the molecular secrets behind this herbal extract's power.
It turns out that halofuginone (HF) triggers a stress-response pathway that blocks the development of a harmful class of immune cells, called Th17 cells, which have been implicated in many autoimmune disorders.

"HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether," said Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the new study. "This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders."

"This study is an exciting example of how solving the molecular mechanism of traditional herbal medicine can lead both to new insights into physiological regulation and to novel approaches to the treatment of disease," said Tracy Keller, an instructor in Whitman's lab and the first author on the paper.

This study, which involved an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere, will be published online February 12 in Nature .

Prior research had shown that HF reduced scarring in tissue, scleroderma (a tightening of the skin), multiple sclerosis, scar formation and even cancer progression. "We thought HF must work on a signaling pathway that had many downstream effects," said Keller.

In 2009, Keller and colleagues reported that HF protects against harmful Th17 immune cells without affecting other beneficial immune cells. Recognized only since 2006, Th17 cells are "bad actors," implicated in many autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. The researchers found that minute doses of HF reduced multiple sclerosis in a mouse model. As such, it was one of a new arsenal of drugs that selectively inhibits autoimmune pathology without suppressing the immune system globally. Further analysis showed that HF was somehow turning on genes involved in a newly discovered pathway called the amino acid response pathway, or AAR.

Scientists have only recently appreciated the role of the nutrient sensing-AAR pathway in immune regulation and metabolic signaling. There is also evidence that it extends lifespan and delays age-related inflammatory diseases in animal studies on caloric restriction. A conservationist of sorts, AAR lets cells know when they need to preserve resources. For example, when a cell senses a limited supply of amino acids for building proteins, AAR will block signals that promote inflammation because inflamed tissues require lots of protein.

"Think about how during a power outage we conserve what little juice we have left on our devices, foregoing chats in favor of emergency calls," said Whitman. "Cells use similar logic."

For the current study, the researchers investigated how HF activates the AAR pathway, looking at the most basic process that cells use to translate a gene's DNA code into the amino acid chain that makes up a protein.

The researchers were able to home in on a single amino acid, called proline, and discovered that HF targeted and inhibited a particular enzyme (tRNA synthetase EPRS) responsible for incorporating proline into proteins that normally contain it. When this occurred, the AAR response kicked in and produced the therapeutic effects of HF-treatment.

Providing supplemental proline reversed the effects of HF on Th17 cell differentiation, while adding back other amino acids did not, establishing the specificity of HF for proline incorporation. Added proline also reversed other therapeutic effects of HF, inhibiting its effectiveness against the malaria parasite as well as certain cellular processes linked to tissue scarring. Again, supplementation with other amino acids had no such effect. Such mounting evidence clearly demonstrated that HF acts specifically to restrict proline.

The researchers think that HF treatment mimics cellular proline deprivation, which activates the AAR response and subsequently impacts immune regulation. Researchers do not yet fully understand the role that amino acid limitation plays in disease response or why restricting proline inhibits Th17 cell production.

Nevertheless, "AAR pathway is clearly an interesting drug target, and halofuginone, in addition to its potential therapeutic uses, is a powerful tool for studying the AAR pathway," said Whitman.

More information: "Halofuginone and other febrifugine derivatives inhibit prolyl-tRNA synthetase" by Keller et al. Nature Chemical Biology, online publication, February 12

Provided by Harvard Medical School

2012 ACP Women's Cup

Rank after Round 8

GMLahno KaterynaUKR25576.0
GMCramling PiaSWE24916.0
GMDzagnidze NanaGEO25355.5
GMMuzychuk AnnaSLO25805.0
GMKosintseva NadezhdaRUS25374.0
GMKosintseva TatianaRUS25134.0
GMChiburdanidze MaiaGEO25004.0
GMKosteniuk AlexandraRUS24483.5
GMStefanova AntoanetaBUL25233.5
IMZatonskih AnnaUSA25063.5
GMCmilyte ViktorijaLTU25033.0
WGMMamedjarova ZeinabAZE23180.0

Website.  Rounds 9 through 12 and tie-breaks, if necessary, on February 21, 2012. 

Interview with 12th Women's World Chess Champion, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hales Corners Chess Challenge XV

Hola darlings!

The Hales Corners Chess Challenge is back!  This year's spring edition will be on April 21, 2012 at the well-appointed Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel—4747 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin!

Goddesschess has sponsored special prizes since Hales Corners Chess Challenge VIII and we're so happy to continue the tradition! 

For the ladies only: In the Open - $40 per win; $20 per draw.  In the Reserve, $20 per win; $10 per draw.  In addition, top finishing chess femmes in both the Open and Reserve sections receive pre-paid entry to the next Hales Corners Chess Challenge courtesy of Goddesschess, should they register and play. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Two Sections – Open and Reserve (Under 1600)
FORMAT: Four Round Swiss System - Four Games in One Day
USCF Rated TIME LIMIT: Game in One Hour (60 minutes per player)
ENTRY FEE: $35 – Open; $25 – Reserve (both sections $5 more after April 18, 2012)
Comp Entry Fee for USCF 2200+: Entry fee subtracted from any prizes won
SITE REGISTRATION: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
ROUNDS: 10 am -- 1 pm -- 3:30 pm -- 6 pm Pairings by WinTD
---No Computer Entries---No Smoking
OPEN: 1st—$325*; 2nd—$175*; A - $100; B and below - $75
RESERVE:  1st - $100; 2nd - $75; D - $50; E and below - $40
Goddesschess prizes are awarded in addition to any other prizes.

Will I play or will I stay away? Only The Shadow knows for sure...

Buxton's Mermaid To Be Studied

I love a good mermaid yarn!  From the BBC News.

Buxton Mermaid origins probed at University of Lincoln

University staff and students are doing tests to uncover the origins of a museum exhibit which looks like a mummified mermaid.
They have already found the mysterious Buxton Mermaid's hair is human.
The University of Lincoln team is now testing the DNA of the mermaid's tail to see what fish it came from.
Anita Hollinshead, a conservation and restoration masters student, came across the mermaid while working at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
"We think that it came from the mid-19th Century," she said. "We are still doings tests to find that out.
"She may have come from Japan or the Far East. A lot of these kind of mermaids came from that area and were made by fishermen and they sold them to supplement their income as sort of fake mermaids.
"Sometimes people bought them thinking they were the real thing.
"They were very popular side-show attractions, particularly in London in the mid-19th Century."
Monkey ruled out
X-ray examinations have shown the mermaid's upper body is built upon a wooden and wire structure.

"The teeth are carved bone and we think the eyes are actually some sort of mollusc shell," said Ms Hollinshead.

"We didn't know if there were any bits of monkey in the top half, as there are in some of these, but that's proven not to be the case."

The team hopes further tests will determine what the mermaid's skin is made from. Their research suggests that until 1982 the Buxton Mermaid was held with a merman at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, in London.

The merman is now held at the Horniman Museum, also in London.  The mermaid and merman will be reunited at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery for an exhibition from 19 March to 13 May.

Check out "What is a Lamiak?" and compare the stone carved image of the Lamiak to this little "mermaid" creature.

Sardinia's Stone Warriors

From the

Prehistoric cybermen? Sardinia's lost warriors rise from the dust
David Keys
Friday 17 February 2012
An elite force of prehistoric warriors – carved from solid rock in the western Mediterranean 2700 years ago – is rising from oblivion.

Archaeologists and conservation experts on the Italian island of Sardinia have succeeded in re-assembling literally thousands of fragments of smashed sculpture to recreate a small yet unique army of life-size stone warriors which were originally destroyed by enemy action in the middle of the first millennium BC.

It’s the only group of sculpted life-sized warriors ever found in Europe. Though consisting of a much smaller number of figures than China’s famous Terracotta Army, the Sardinia example is 500 years older and is made of stone rather than pottery.

After an eight year conservation and reconstruction program, 25 of the original 33 sculpted stone warriors – archers, shield-holding ‘boxers’ and probable swordsmen – have now been substantially re-assembled.

The warriors were originally sculpted and placed on guard over the graves of elite Iron Age Sardinians, buried in the 8 century BC. The stone guardians are thought to have represented the dead individuals or to have acted as their eternal body-guards and retainers.

However, within a few centuries, the Carthaginians (from what is now Tunisia) invaded Sardinia– and archaeologists suspect that it was they who smashed the stone warriors (and stone models of native fortress shrines) into five thousand fragments. It’s likely that the small sculpted army - and the graves they were guarding - were seen by the invaders as important symbols of indigenous power and status.

The site was abandoned and forgotten. Carthaginian control of Sardinia gave way to Roman, then Vandal, then Byzantine, Pisan, Aragonese, Spanish, Austrian, Savoyard and finally Italian rule.
The thousands of fragments were rediscovered only in the 1970s – and were excavated in the early 1980s by Italian archaeologist Carlo Troncheti. Two of the statues were then re-assembled– but the vast majority of the material was put into a local museum store where it stayed until 2004 when re-assembly work on the fragments was re-started by conservators in Sassari, northern Sardinia.

Sardinia’s newly recreated ‘stone army’ is set to focus attention on one of the world’s least known yet most impressive ancient civilizations – the so-called Nuragic culture which dominated the island from the 16 century BC to the late 6 century BC. Its Bronze Age heyday was in the mid second millennium BC - roughly from the 16 to the 13 century BC, when it constructed some of the most impressive architectural monuments ever produced in prehistory.

Even today, the remains of 7000 Nuragic fortresses (the oldest castles in Europe) still dominate the landscape of Sardinia. Several dozen have stood the test of time exceptionally well – and give an extraordinary impression of what Sardinian Bronze Age military architecture looked like.

The re-assembled stone army is expected to go on display from this summer at southern Sardinia’s Cagliari Museum, 70 miles south-east of the find site, Monte Prama in central Sardinia.

Many of the stone warriors are armed with bows or protected by shields –and wear protective carved stone armour over their chests and horned stone helmet over their heads. Some of the fighters – those believed to portray boxers – carry shields in their left hands, held aloft over their heads.

These‘boxers’ may well have represented or embodied shield-bearers serving the high-ranking members of the Sardinian Iron Age interred in the adjacent graves.

There were also a series of at least ten model Nuragic castles of different designs – some single-towered and others sporting more elaborate‘multi-tower’ fortifications.

It’s likely that the models represent the actual monumental buildings (Bronze Age fortresses transformed into Iron Age ‘ancestral’ shrines) associated with each buried individual’s immediate family.

The ruling elite of this part of Sardinia may well have been a relatively tightly knit group of closely related individuals. For scientific work carried out on the skeletal material at a laboratory in Florence, suggests that most of the dead individuals were from just two generations of a single extended family.

Queen of Sheba's Gold Mine Possibly Found

from the
Archaeologists strike gold in quest to find Queen of Sheba's wealth
A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba derived her fabled treasures
Louise Schofield
Archaeologist Louise Schofield stands in front of the mine, believed to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba, in northern Ethiopia. Photograph: The Tigray Trust
A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.

Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory.

Louise Schofield, an archaeologist and former British Museum curator, who headed the excavation on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, said: "One of the things I've always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have the Queen of Sheba's mines is extraordinary."

An initial clue lay in a 20ft stone stele (or slab) carved with a sun and crescent moon, the "calling card of the land of Sheba", Schofield said. "I crawled beneath the stone – wary of a 9ft cobra I was warned lives here – and came face to face with an inscription in Sabaean, the language that the Queen of Sheba would have spoken."

On a mound nearby she found parts of columns and finely carved stone channels from a buried temple that appears to be dedicated to the moon god, the main deity of Sheba, an 8th century BC civilisation that lasted 1,000 years. It revealed a victory in a battle nearby, where Schofield excavated ancient bones.

Although local people still pan for gold in the river, they were unaware of the ancient mine. Its shaft is buried some 4ft down, in a hill above which vultures swoop. An ancient human skull is embedded in the entrance shaft, which bears Sabaean chiselling.

Sheba was a powerful incense-trading kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman empire. The queen is immortalised in Qur'an and the Bible, which describes her visit to Solomon "with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold and precious stones ... Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices."

Although little is known about her, the queen's image inspired medieval Christian mystical works in which she embodied divine wisdom, as well as Turkish and Persian paintings, Handel's oratorio Solomon, and Hollywood films. Her story is still told across Africa and Arabia, and the Ethiopian tales are immortalised in the holy book the Kebra Nagast.

Hers is said to be one of the world's oldest love stories. The Bible says she visited Solomon to test his wisdom by asking him several riddles. Legend has it that he wooed her, and that descendants of their child, Menelik – son of the wise – became the kings of Abyssinia.

Schofield will begin a full excavation Schofield said that as she stood on the ancient site, in a rocky landscape of cacti and acacia trees, it was easy to imagine the queen arriving on a camel, overseeing slaves and elephants dragging rocks from the mine.

Once she has the funds and hopes to establish the precise size of the mine, whose entrance is blocked by boulders.

Tests by a gold prospector who alerted her to the mine show that it is extensive, with a proper shaft and tunnel big enough to walk along.

Schofield was instrumental in setting up the multinational rescue excavations at the Roman city of Zeugma on the Euphrates before it was flooded for the Birecik dam. Her latest discovery was made during her environmental development work in Ethiopia, an irrigation, farming and eco-tourism project on behalf of the Tigray Trust, a charity she founded to develop a sustainable lifestyle for 10,000 inhabitants around Maikado, where people eke out a living from subsistence farming.

Sean Kingsley, archaeologist and author of God's Gold, said: "Where Sheba dug her golden riches is one of the great stories of the Old Testament. Timna in the Negev desert is falsely known as 'King Solomon's Mines', but anything shinier has eluded us.

"The idea that the ruins of Sheba's empire will once more bring life to the villages around Maikado is truly poetic and appropriate. Making the past relevant to the present is exactly what archaeologists should be doing. "

Language Out of Africa? Not So Fast Says Expert


Out of Africa? Data fail to support language origin in Africa

February 15, 2012
Last year, a report claiming to support the idea that the origin of language can be traced to West Africa appeared in Science. The article caused quite a stir. Now linguist Michael Cysouw from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich has challenged its conclusions, in a commentary just published in Science.

In the beginning was the word – yes, but where exactly? Last year, Quentin Atkinson, a cultural anthropologist at Auckland University in New Zealand, proposed that the cradle of language could be localized in the southwest of Africa. The report, which appeared in Science, one of the world's leading scholarly journals, was seized upon by the media and caused something of a sensation. Now however, Michael Cysouw from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich has published a commentary in Science which argues that this neat "Out-of-Africa" hypothesis for the origin of language is not adequately supported by the data presented. The search for the site of origin of language remains very much alive.

Atkinson based his claim on a comparative analysis of the numbers of phonemes found in about 500 present-day languages. Phonemes are the most basic sound units – consonants, vowels and tones – that form the basis of semantic differentiation in all languages. The number of phonemes used in natural languages varies widely. Atkinson, who is a biologist and psychologist by training, found that the highest levels of phoneme diversity occurred in languages spoken in southwestern Africa. Furthermore, according to his statistical analysis, the size of the phoneme inventory in a language tends to decrease with distance from this hotspot. To interpret this finding Atkinson invoked a parallel from population genetics. Biologists have observed an analogous effect, insofar as human genetic diversity is found to decrease with distance from Africa, where our species originated. This is attributed to the so-called founder effect. As people migrated from the continent and small groups continued to disperse, each inevitably came to represent an ever-shrinking fraction of the total genetic diversity present in the African population as a whole.

So does such a founder effect play a similarly significant effect in the dispersal and differentiation of languages? Michael Cysouw regards Atkinson's finding as "artefactual". Cysouw, whose work is funded by one of the prestigious Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC), heads a research group that studies quantitative comparative linguistics in LMU's Faculty of Languages and Literatures. He says he has no objection in principle to the use of methods borrowed from other disciplines to tackle questions in linguistics, but that problems arise from their inappropriate application. For example, he finds that if Atkinson's method is employed to examine other aspects of language, such as the construction of subordinate clauses or the use of the passive mood, the results "do not point in the same direction".

Indeed, in their article in Science, Cysouw and his coauthors Steven Moran (LMU) and Dan Dediu of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen show that, depending on the features considered, Atkinson's method places the site of origin of language in eastern Africa or the Caucasus or somewhere else entirely. As Cysouw points out, linguists have long sought to throw light on the origin of language by analyzing patterns of distribution. The problem is that such relationships can be reliably traced only as far back as about 10,000 years before the present. (math/PH)
More information: Science, 02/10/2012.
Provided by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen
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