Friday, November 10, 2017

Nishapur Chess Set Offered for Sale by Sotheby's


I receive advertisements from Sotheby's regarding various auctions they are hosting all around the globe.  To make a long story short, here is an offering from a recent auction held in London on October 25, 2017, Arts of the Islamic World.

Chess Collectors International members may most likely recognize the name of the owner:  Lothar Schmid (1928 - 2013), from his collection:

Image from Sotheby's auction website.

Sixteen (16) pieces of ivory described as "a rare Saminid part chess set, Nishapur, 10th/11th century, or earlier."  Estimated auction value was between 15,000 and 20,000 GBP (roughly $19,600 - $26,200 USD).

The pieces were evidently not sold (auction lot 138).  [Two rock crystal "Fatimid chess pieces" from the Lothar Schmid collection were also offered at this sale and also did not sell, Lots 136 and l37.]

I am having a few problems with asserting the age and authenticity of these pieces.  The catalog claims that these pieces are of a "set"  - nearly a complete set - and are as old as the dating range suggests:  " almost complete chess set of this early period."  Sixteen pieces, some from "each" side (I am assuming the somewhat darker colored ivory pieces are the "black" pieces and the lighter pieces are the "white" pieces, or the colored equivalents of what was prevalent in use back in that time period), are not a complete chess set of 32 pieces.

Setting aside one's reliance upon Grandmaster Schmid's collecting expertise (despite the fact that we know experts can be and have been fooled by clever forgeries of nearly everything in the world of art and collecting in the past and present), I have some qualms about assuming these pieces are authentic:

(1)  We have only one source cited for reference, a 1987 article in German from a publication that, you can be sure, is most likely not available online and would need to be translated by anyone who does not read/speak German.

(2)  We know nothing about how the pieces were acquired, when, where, or the circumstances surrounding their discovery/excavation.  Were the pieces individually carbon date tested to confirm age?  What were the circumstances of their discovery?  Who, what, when and where were the pieces discovered or excavated?  How did they come into the possession of Grandmaster Schmid?

(3)  Were the pieces purchased at the auction and, if so, by a museum?  My first assumption is that, given the rarity of such pieces, many museums would have been vying for ownership of the pieces to add to a collection of Islamic art and history -- IF (and that's a big IF) the curator(s) trusted their authenticity.

The pieces certainly LOOK authenticate; but then, remember what happened with the allegedly ancient gameboards supposedly excavated at Jiroft - and how they were exposed as frauds by a (now retired) research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Oscar White Muscarella.

Most Scientists Now Reject Idea That First Americans Came By Land

Great synopsis of research that has led scientists to conclude that man first travelled here by water, not overland (or over ice) routes.


Most scientists now reject the idea that the first Americans came by land

Researchers embrace the kelp highway hypothesis in “a dramatic intellectual turnabout.”

It's been one of the most contentious debates in anthropology, and now scientists are saying it's pretty much over. A group of prominent anthropologists have done an overview of the scientific literature and declare in Science magazine that the "Clovis first" hypothesis of the peopling of the Americas is dead.
For decades, students were taught that the first people in the Americas were a group called the Clovis who walked over the Bering land bridge about 13,500 years ago. They arrived (so the narrative goes) via an ice-free corridor between glaciers in North America. But evidence has been piling up since the 1980s of human campsites in North and South America that date back much earlier than 13,500 years. At sites ranging from Oregon in the US to Monte Verde in Chile, evidence of human habitation goes back as far as 18,000 years.

In the 2000s, overwhelming evidence suggested that a pre-Clovis group had come to the Americans before there was an ice-free passage connecting Beringia to the Americas. As Smithsonian anthropologist Torben C. Rick and his colleagues put it, "In a dramatic intellectual turnabout, most archaeologists and other scholars now believe that the earliest Americans followed Pacific Rim shorelines from northeast Asia to Beringia and the Americas."

Now scholars are supporting the "kelp highway hypothesis," which holds that people reached the Americas when glaciers withdrew from the coasts of the Pacific Northwest 17,000 years ago, creating "a possible dispersal corridor rich in aquatic and terrestrial resources." Humans were able to boat and hike into the Americas along the coast due to the food-rich ecosystem provided by coastal kelp forests, which attracted fish, crustaceans, and more.
No one disputes that the Clovis peoples came through Beringia and the ice free corridor. But the Clovis would have formed a second wave of immigrants to the continent.
Despite all the evidence for human habitation, ranging from tools and butchered animal bones to the remains of campfires, scientists are still uncertain who the pre-Clovis peoples were. We have many examples of Clovis technology, with characteristic shapes for projectile points made from bone and stone. But we have no recognizable pre-Clovis toolkit.

That may be about to change, however. The pre-Clovis people traveled along a now-drowned coastline, submerged after the last of the ice-age glaciers melted. New techniques in marine archaeology, ranging from ROVs to underwater lasers, are helping scientists explore ancient submerged villages. A team even turned up a 14,500-year-old campsite in Florida in a blackwater sinkhole last year. [Would these "campers" have travelled from Europe?]

Rick and his colleagues write that the big question now is when pre-Clovis people actually arrived in the Americas. They suggest the arrival could be as early as 20,000 years ago on the verdant kelp highway. Other researchers, however, say people could have arrived during a temperate period about 130,000 years ago. A recent paper in Naturedescribes what appear to be the 130,000-year-old butchered remains of mastodons in California, along with sharp stones used to deflesh the animals. There is plenty of skepticism in the scientific community about this discovery, but the evidence can't be ignored.
To the best of our knowledge, the kelp highway brought humans to the Americas. Using boats and fishing tools, humans made it all the way from Asia to the Americas, founding many coastal communities along the way. And now for the next debate: who were they, and when exactly did they arrive?
Science, 2017. DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5473 (About DOIs).
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