Saturday, December 22, 2007

Great Year for Chess in India

Press Trust of India Thursday, December 20, 2007 (New Delhi) The year 2007 witnessed a golden period for Indian chess with Viswanathan Anand reaching the top of the world ranking list while also becoming World Champion. Anand, who has been consistent in maintaining his top-three position for almost last 15 years, climbed to the top of FIDE's world ranking list for the first time in his over two-decade career and went on to clinch the World Championship title as well as the ELO rating of 2800 to make it a memorable year not only for himself but for the country as well. Besides Anand's unparallelled achievements, Koneru Humpy continued where she had left off last year, achieving the rare feat of an ELO rating of 2600 to become only the second woman in the world after Hungarian Judit Polgar to do so. Humpy was also awarded the Padmashree for claiming gold medals in the sport on its debut in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. Humpy repeated her dazzling performance at the Asian Indoor Games in Macau by winning two gold medals - one each in rapid and blitz - along with a silver in the classic version. She also proved her mettle by bagging back-to-back open tournaments at Hilversum in The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Tania Sachdev, the glamour girl of the sport, won the Asian women's title and then pocketed the National women's 'A' crown for the second successive year. Krishnan Sasikiran also reached new heights in his career by crossing the 2700 ELO rating mark, albeit for a brief period as he slipped after his none-too-impressive performance at the Aerosvit tournament. He was the only Indian to reach the fourth round of the World Cup at the Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia while citymate R B Ramesh lifted the Commonwealth Chess Trophy to end the year on a bright note for the country after Anand had set the ball rolling with his win in the Amber Rapid and Blindfold tournament. Anand comfortably won in the rapid format and finished overall second to Russian Vladimir Kramnik in the elite field with only Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria giving it a miss. Anand also won the 14-round prestigious category-20 Morelia-Linares Super GM tournament ahead of Topalov, Peter Svidler, Vassily Ivanchuk, Peter Leko and Levon Aronian to be at the top of the FIDE rankings.Anand won the Mainz rapid title for 10th time by defeating Aronian in the final. The Indian ace, however, finished runner-up to the Armenian in his debut in 'Chess960' rapid world championship at the same venue. The 38-year-old Chennai-born finished second to Ivanchuk in the World Blitz Championship. His happy hunting ground at Wijk Aan Zee was not so lucky for him this time as Anand finished fifth after losing to Kramnik and Topalov at the Corus Super Grandmasters tournament. Meanwhile, Delhi prodigy Parimarjan Negi tied for the top position but finished third after the tie-break in the World Youth Star competition while G N Gopal and teenager Abhijeet Gupta became the 16th and 17th Grandmasters of the country apart from many others earning various title norms. Prominent among the norm-makers included IM G Rohit, MS Thejkumar who earned GM norms, while 12-year-old Sahaj Grover claimed his first IM norm along with P Karthikeyan, Sasikant Kutwal and Nisha Mohta, Amruta Mokal, N Kirthika and R Preeti earned their respective WIM norms. If the seniors were at their best, the junior brigade was also exemplary with the national team winning the World Youth (Under-16) Chess Olympiad gold medal. The team members -- R Ashwath, B Adhiban, P Shyam Nikhil, Swayam Mishra and S Nitin -- also won individual medals. Adhiban bagged the bronze on first board, Nikhil pocketed the silver medal on fourth board and Mishra received bronze on the reserve board. In the age-group division, Ivana Furtado hogged the limelight for bringing the gold medal for the second time in world girls' Under-8 category at the Youth championships.Prince Bajaj was the boys' Under-10 bronze winner while Shalmali Gagare came third in girls' Under-14. However, none of the Indians could be successful at the Junior World championships as bright young stars - GM Parimarjan Negi, GN Gopal, Abhijeet Gupta, Ashwin Kamparia, Deepan Chakravarty, D Harika, Eesha Karvade -- failed to win a medal. It was particularly disappointing that top seed Harika lost the last three games in a row after leading in the initial rounds of the girl's event.Similar was the story for the seniors as all Indians, except Sasikiran, lost in the first round in World Cup chess. Grandmasters Abhijeet Kunte, Harikrishna, Surya Sekhar Ganguly and GN Gopal fell at the first hurdle. Sasikiran finally lost in the fourth round of the premier event.

China Raises 800-Year-Old Sunken Ship

Story from Associated Press BEIJING (AP) — After 800 years at the bottom of the sea, a merchant ship loaded with porcelain and other rare antiques was raised to the surface Friday in a specially built basket, a state news agency reported. The Nanhai No. 1, which means "South China Sea No. 1," sank off the south China coast with some 60,000 to 80,000 items on board, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Wu Jiancheng, head of the excavation project. Archaeologists built a steel basket around the 100-foot vessel, and it took about two hours for a crane to lift the ship and surrounding silt to the surface, Xinhua said. The basket was as large as a basketball court and as tall as a three-story building. Green-glazed porcelain plates and shadowy blue porcelain items were among rare antiques found during the initial exploration of the ship. Archaeologists have also recovered containers made of gold and silver as well as about 6,000 copper coins. The ship dates from the early Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). It was discovered in 1987 off the coast near the city of Yangjiang, in Guangdong province, in more than 65 feet of water. The Nanhai No. 1 was placed on a waiting barge. It will be deposited in a huge glass pool at a museum where the water temperature, pressure and other environmental conditions are the same as where it has lain on the sea bed. Feng Shaowen, head of the Yangjiang city cultural bureau, said visitors will be able watch the excavation of the ship through windows on the pool. The recovery of the Nanhai No. 1 was originally scheduled for Saturday, but organizers decided to raise it a day early because of favorable weather. More coverage at BBC News.

NEWS FLASH! Mars Replaces Rudolph!

Mars May Replace Rudolph Christmas Eve Red Planet Will Shine Brightly, Positioned Opposite The Sun December 20, 2007 (AP) Mars will be unusually bright this Christmas Eve and the moon will be shining full - a development that might make Santa Claus rethink his need for Rudolph's red nose. That idea, from Miami Space Transit Planetarium director Jack Horkheimer, made us wonder if retooling a certain reindeer song is the best way to explain it to the kids: Mars is a red-tinged planet With a very shiny glow And if you look to see it You will find the moon in tow. The red planet will shine brighter because it will be directly opposite the sun, reflecting the most light, and fairly close to Earth, only 55.5 million miles away. The full moon will appear nearby, rising about an hour later, said Horkheimer, host of the public television show "Star Gazer." All of the other Yuletides Santa would have at his side The shiny nose of Rudolph Acting as his big sleigh's guide Mars will outshine the brightest star and won't be as noticeable in the sky for nine more years, Horkheimer said. The Hubble Space Telescope took a picture of Mars, which came closest to Earth on Dec. 18, but it will be brighter on Christmas Eve because of its position opposite the sun. But this very Christmas Eve Santa came to say: "Rudolph, now with Mars so bright, You just stay at home tonight." "It will be a brilliant red light," Horkheimer said. "It is so bright it knocks your socks off." He added that this would allow Santa to give Rudolph a pink slip, albeit a temporary one. Then all the reindeer teased him. And they shouted out with glee: "Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer Outsourced to astronomy." © MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

2007 Russian Championship Superfinals

Women's standings after 3 rounds: 1. Pogonina, Natalija wg RUS 2462 3 2. Kosintseva, Tatiana m RUS 2492 2½ 3. Ovod, Evgenija m RUS 2386 2 4. Matveeva, Svetlana m RUS 2433 2 5. Tairova, Elena m RUS 2391 2 6. Korbut, Ekaterina m RUS 2443 2 7. Stepovaia, Tatiana wg RUS 2375 1½ 8. Shadrina, Tatiana wg RUS 2379 1 9. Kovalevskaya, Ekaterina m RUS 2448 1 10. Kosintseva, Nadezhda m RUS 2469 ½ 11. Gunina, Valentina wf RUS 2359 ½ 12. Girya, Olga wf RUS 2338 0

Nepal's Goddess Stumbles Into Modernity

From The New York Times By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: December 21, 2007 Filed at 3:12 p.m. ET KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) -- The living goddess likes bubble gum. On a cold autumn evening, during a festival giving thanks for the monsoon rains, dozens of chanting worshippers pulled her enormous wooden chariot through the narrow streets of Katmandu's old city. Thousands of cheering people pressed forward, hoping for a blessing. Drunken young men danced around her, pounding drums and shouting. But the goddess -- a child wrapped in red silk, a third eye painted on her forehead as a sign of enlightenment -- took little notice of the joyous riot. Instead, she stared ahead intently, her jaw pumping furiously. Then, finally, she blew a yellow bubble about the size of a plum. And then the goddess smiled, just a little. Priti Shakya is 10 years old, the daughter of a family of poor goldsmiths. At the age of 4, a panel of judges examined her in a series of ancient ceremonies -- checking her horoscope, searching for physical imperfections and, as a final test, seeing if she would be frightened after a night spent in a room filled with 108 freshly decapitated animal heads. She was not. So Priti became a goddess, worshipped as the incarnation of the powerful Hindu deity Taleju, and going into near-complete isolation in an ancient Katmandu palace. She will return home only at the onset of menstruation, when a new goddess will be named. Then Priti will be left to adjust to a life that -- suddenly and absolutely -- is supposed to be completely normal. That is how it has been for nearly four centuries, in a tradition that held out against modernity even as Nepal, ever so slowly, began to change. But modernity is coming, even to the goddess. She has been dragged into Nepal's political maelstrom, her influence argued over by everyone from Maoist militants to the prime minister. Her role, meanwhile, has become a topic of public debate, with human rights lawyers, politicians and academics wrangling about a child's rights and an ancient form of worship. Today, everything from television to insults reach into the goddess' palace. A communist politician called her an ''evil symbol'' and the Supreme Court launched an investigation after activists said the tradition violates Nepalese law. In a showdown that melded religion, politics and the monarchy, the nascent democratic government refused to allow King Gyanendra to receive the goddess' annual blessing -- thought to be an all-important protector of the king. When the king went without permission, the government slashed the number of royal bodyguards. Among the Shakyas, the goldsmith caste that chooses the goddess from its daughters, it has become increasingly difficult to find families willing to send their girls away. For some people, all this is simply too much. ''We know there needs to be change,'' said Manju Shree Ratna Bajracharya, the eighth generation of priest from his family to oversee the temple of the royal kumari -- or virgin -- as the goddess is commonly called. ''But this criticism of the tradition, this is pure ignorance.'' He is bitter about politicians who focus on the kumaris for political gain, and the way she has been pulled into their battles with the king. He distrusts the rights activists, wondering if they are using the practice for publicity. ''The tradition can't be treated like this,'' said Bajracharya, who spends most of his days working as a bureaucrat in the state electricity company. ''It is too important to Nepal.'' But any criticism at all would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago, when Nepal was emerging from centuries of Himalayan isolation. It was a nation bound by feudal traditions, a country that handed out visitors' visas very reluctantly, and where few people could imagine a king without absolute power. While change did eventually come -- foreigners began arriving regularly in the 1960s, when Katmandu became famous for its hippies and cheap drugs -- it came slowly. It was only five years ago, for instance, when women earned equal inheritance rights under Nepalese law. Today, Nepal is a democracy -- albeit a fragile one, with crushing poverty, a figurehead monarch and a powerful Maoist militant movement with tenuous ties to mainstream politics -- and change is coming even to the kumari. Some of those changes are political, such as how the prime minister now seeks her official blessing, instead of the king. But some are more personal. Teachers have been appointed, keeping the goddess on the same academic track as any other girl her age. There's also television in the palace these days, giving the kumari access to everything from Bollywood to the news, and there's talk that she may be allowed someday to live at home with her family. It is an attempt to give some normalcy to the goddesses, who can flail desperately when they return to the outside world. Rashmila Shakya, one of eight ex-royal kumaris still alive, remembers the pain of her return. Now a 25-year-old computer technician, she left the kumari palace at age 12. She'd had no proper schooling, and her feet had not touched the outside ground for years. Her only playmates had been the children of the palace's caretaker, and while her family could visit, even they saw her as a goddess. Her return home took a heavy toll. ''I didn't even know how to walk around like a regular person,'' said Shakya, a quiet, bookish young woman who dreams of becoming a software designer. ''The crowds frightened me.'' Still, she said, she doesn't regret her time in the palace. ''Not everybody gets to be a goddess,'' she said, smiling. ''In one life, I got to have two lives.''

Friday Afternoon Miscellany

Hola! Just a few quick posts. dondelion is here and we've got a full schedule planned, so I am not sure how much time (or inclination) to post until after Christmas. Tonight we're going to see a play, tomorrow it's the art museum, Sunday the Packer game is the Number One Priority, on Monday we will do our visit to the mall and lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, on Tuesday it's dinner with the family - the rest of the time we spend talking and cooking (we both like cooking). Some items that caught my eye during the past week (enjoy!): The Bactrian Gold hoard discovered in Afghanistan in 1978 is going to be touring the United States for the first time ever, beginning in May, 2008. The National Geographic has an article and some stunning photos of the objects and jewelry. The treasures will begin a 17-month tour of the U.S starting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where they will be on display from May 25 to September 7, 2008. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City have also tentatively scheduled stops along the tour. Oooohhh, a trip to San Francisco or New York to see this - hmmm... The thought of scientists (or anyone) tinkering around with "artificial DNA" creating new life forms is something VERY disturbing and scary to me. Here's a quote: "We're heading into an era where people will be writing DNA programs like the early days of computer programming, but who will own these programs?" asked Drew Endy, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Won't those guys EVER learn? Maybe they all need to go see "I Am Legend" or revisit the 1970's version, "Omega Man" - or read Stephen King's classic "The Stand." Geez! These guys might genetically engineer an "artificial life form" that could wipe out every single living thing on the planet, and they're worried about frigging property rights! Honestly, have certain people lost ALL sense of proportion - not to mention their sense of humor? Borders under fire from evangelicals for a promotional Christmas card that says "Oh come all ye faithless... ." LOL! I think that's hilarious! The Norwegian government has plans to build a "doomsday" vault to house seeds of all the known food crops. Gee, nice to know that our seeds will be safe even though the scientists may wipe us all out with their genetically engineered "artificial life forms." We'll leave the seeds for some future instellar travelers - assuming the "aritficial life form" doesn't also knock them off should they ever land here in the future... The Haunted Internet: be afraid, very afraid... Everything you never wanted to know about crystal skulls. I understand a crystal skull will be featured in the new Indiana Jones movie and no, I'm not referring to Harrison Ford who is looking rather skeletal to me these days; he hasn't aged well and even with all the makeup they pile on him he is too old looking to be playing the formerly hunky main character! Harrison, darling, it's an unfortunate fact of life that we all grow older and greyer. Sixty-something you should not be portraying thirty-something Indy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Record-Breaking Treasure Trove Found In Gaul

Record-breaking haul from Gaul discovered at farm in Brittany By John Lichfield in Paris Published: 20 December 2007 Asterix and Obelix, had they existed, might have paid for their mead and other magic potions with gold-silver-copper coins stamped with elaborate images of men and horses. The largest treasure trove of pre-Roman, Gaulish money ever to be found has been discovered in central Brittany. The 545 coins Рeach worth thousands of euros to collectors but priceless to historians and archaeologists Рcould overturn much of the received wisdom about the complexity, and wealth, of pre-Roman Celtic society in France. Why was such enormous wealth, a king's ransom at the time, buried in the grounds of a large Gaulish farm 40 miles south of Saint-Brieuc in the first century BC? Why was the hoard never recovered?' "Treasure on this scale would only have been used for transactions between aristocratic families," said Yves Menez, an archaeologist specialising in iron-age Brittany. It has always been assumed that the Celtic nobility lived in fortified towns, not in the wild and dangerous countryside. "The reality must have been more complex," Mr Menez said. Like all Gaulish coins, the 58 "stateres" and 487 quarter "stateres" found near to the village of Laniscat are copies of early Greek money. Gauls served as mercenaries in the armies of Alexander the Great. The money that they brought home served as the model for home-minted coins. Some of the new treasure trove, rescued from the site of a proposed dual-carriageway, have the familiar Celtic monetary pattern of a horse on one side and a man's head on the reverse. Other coins have hitherto unknown designs, such as horses with human heads. There are also images of riders and wild boars. Smaller caches of Gaulish coins have turned up in the past but rarely of such quality and never in such numbers. Most transactions for goods in Gaulish times were conducted through barter. Coins were for the super-rich. "This is an exceptional discovery," said Mr Menez. "It represents a colossal fortune for the period. Each of these coins was like a 500 euro note today." The hoard of coins was discovered by the French government agency, the Institut National de Recherches Arch̩ologiques Pr̩ventives (INRAP), which has the right to explore any potentially significant site before a road or new building covers it forever. The coins are believed to have been minted in around 75 to 5BC. They were probably buried just before, or during, the first Roman invasions of what is now northern and western France. A dig led by INRAP archaeologist Eddie Roy discovered the coins scattered over 200 square metres of a site soon to be occupied by a new by-pass. It is believed that they were all buried together but disturbed over the centuries by agricultural ploughing. "We found a single coin about 30cms down and then we started a systematic search," Mr Roy said. "We found 50 more in a single day and then, with the help of metal detectors, we located all the others." The dig unearthed the remains of a large manor house or farm, which is thought to have belonged to the "Osisme" people Рa Celtic tribe living in the far west of the Breton peninsula. The coins were probably buried in the farm's boundary embankment. Why? To hide the wealth from the Romans? Possibly. The farm was occupied for several centuries after the treasure was buried but the coins were never recovered: one small part of Gaul which resisted the Roman invasion.

Celebrating Yalda in Iran

Throughout history religions and governments have tried to remove the Goddess from the world, but people always have and always will pay homage to her in one way or another: Yalda, the victory of light over darkness Tue, 18 Dec 2007 22:00:40 By Tamara Ebrahimpour, Press TV, Tehran On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. Every 21st of December Iranians celebrate Yalda which means birth in Syriac. It is believed that when this night ends, days become longer as light (Sun) has defeated darkness. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda. The Persians would burn fires all night to ensure the defeat of evil. They would hold feasts, raise charity, honor their deities and pray to the goddess Mithra. As Yalda coincides with the beginning of winter, people also celebrated the end of the previous harvest by eating dried and fresh fruits and praying to the deities for a bumper winter crop next year. One of the main features of the Yalda festival was the temporary subversion of order, which lasted up to the Sassanid period. Masters served servants, children headed the family and a mock king was crowned. Today the Yalda festival is a time when family members gather at the home of the elders until after midnight. Guests are served with dried fruits, nuts, and winter fruits like pomegranates and watermelons, which symbolize the red color of dawn in the sky. They also practice bibliomancy with the poetry of the highly respected mystic Iranian poet Hafez. Persians believe whenever one is faced with difficulties or has a general question, one can ask the poet for an answer. Hafiz sings to the questioner in his own enigmatic way and allows individuals to look in the mirror of their soul through his poems. TE/HGH/MG

Iraqi Cuneiform Tablet Offered on eBay

From BBC online: eBay Iraq relic auction stopped December 18, 2007 Swiss authorities have blocked the sale of an ancient clay tablet, thought to have been smuggled from Iraq, on the internet auction site eBay. A German archaeologist spotted the 4,000-tear-old tablet on eBay's Swiss site. It is carved with cuneiform - one of the oldest known types of writing. Swiss authorities were alerted and eBay stopped the auction minutes before the end of the bidding deadline. Police confiscated the tablet at a storage facility in Zurich. Swiss officials said that criminal proceedings have been started against the seller, who has not been named but faces a fine of up to 500,000 Swiss francs (300,000 euros) or a prison term. Switzerland has a ban on trading Iraqi cultural artefacts exported from the country after 1990. 'Invaluable' Yves Fischer, a senior official in Switzerland's culture department, said the tablet had been offered at a starting price of 250 euros ($360) on eBay but it was not clear if any bids were made. Cuneiform tablets are on a list of endangered Iraqi cultural objects drawn up by the International Council of Museums. "This Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet has an invaluable historical value," but the seller "could have acquired it for less than 300 euros," Mr Fischer said. "If it's a tainted object, then the goal will be to return it to Iraq," he added. The tablet has not yet been deciphered. Cuneiform tablets were used throughout the Middle East and ancient Persia for recording the deeds of leaders as well as correspondence and book-keeping. The Iraqi National Library and the country's National Museum were both heavily looted in the days following the US-led invasion in 2003.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goddess Padmavati

From Diamond-studded gold armour to Padmavati Wednesday December 19 2007 07:33 IST TIRUPATI: J Rameshwara Rao, Chairman and Managing Director of My Home group of companies, will offer diamond-studded golden armour to Goddess Padmavati on Wednesday. Rao will hand over the 'Swarna Vajra Kavacham', which costs about Rs 1 crore, to Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swamy who, in turn, will hand it over to priests at the pre-designated time on Wednesday evening. ******************************************************************************** Just how much money (in US dollars) is RS 1 crore? RS 1 crore = 10,000,000.00 INR = 253,119.65 USD

Anand Says: Koneru Humpy - Our Best Hope

Anand Speaks: From The December 19, 2007 Calcutta: Not many were aware of Viswanathan Anand’s visit to the city late on Tuesday evening, his first after being crowned world champion. The occasion was the felicitation of NIIT’s zonal chess champions, DPS Ruby Park. The lateness of the hour was the cause of a sparse turnout at the function, at which state sports minister Subhas Chakraborty was also present, but Anand had no complaints. He even said he felt proud to be in the “sports city”. The following are excerpts from his interaction with the media: On his goals for the New Year Anything I attain in chess gives me great joy. I will be playing in the Corus event next month. Although I have won the title there five times, I am motivated to do really well this time too. I would also like to defend my world title. On whether he was satisfied with the reception he received when he got back to India I must say that I was satisfied with the reception. It was fantastic on my return in New Delhi and Chennai. There are no complaints. On whether he has plans of settling down in Chennai I have been operating out of Spain for the past few years… It’s not that I haven’t been in touch with India but the thing is that I spend a lot of time travelling. In October I moved to Chennai and will gradually settle down there. But I will still have to travel a lot to play in different tournaments across the world… A lot of Indian players have emerged strongly in the last few years. I regularly work with Sandipan Chanda, Surya Sekhar Ganguly and others. Lack of practice partners was one of the reasons for my moving out but now things have changed. I can now spend more and more time at home. On whether he is keen on fighting Garri Kasparov again If Kasparov changes his mind about his retirement I would welcome that. We can have a great match. We didn’t have an opportunity after 1995 and that’s a pity. On whether he is feeling the pressure of being world champion October was pleasant and passed off in a haze… The feeling was funny. But thereafter, as things settled down, the feeling was no different. I’ve stopped thinking about it. For me things have remained the same. Maybe when you go here and there and people refer to you as the world champion it will hit you. I think I have enough experience to cope with the pressures involved. Maybe I will have a new feeling when I go to Linares the next time. On how he looks at the new crop of Indian talent Youngsters have been emerging but the progress has been slow. Sasikiran has made steady progress over the years. The next set of players behind him are also making progress though it has been slower than expected. There are other players coming through. (G.N.) Gopal was impressive in Russia. Koneru (Humpy) has done well too and remains our best hope to become the second world champion. On the lack of international tournaments in India I agree there has been lack of showpiece tournaments. We really need to do a bit more here… I hope something is done. On the lack of infrastructure in the game We need to develop more sponsorship for the national championships and other showcase events. On Sourav Ganguly’s ensuing 100th Test in Melbourne All the best Sourav… We are waiting… Just go for it.

Ancient Egyptians Ahead of Time

From The Times of India 18 Dec 2007, 0107 hrs IST, AGENCIES The recent discovery of an industrial complex in Egypt has led researchers to revise their conceptions over what level of advancement the Nile civilization had actually reached, with their advanced glass-making abilities proving that the ancient Egyptians were technologically much more ahead of their time than scholars previously thought, according to The site, at Amarna, is on the banks of the Nile and dates back to the reign of Akhenaten (1352-1336 B C), just a few years before the rule of Tutankhamun. Historians have said Egyptians of that time imported their glass. But a team led by archaeologist Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University in Wales has reconstructed a 3,000-year-old glass furnace, showing that ancient Egyptian glassmaking methods were much more advanced than thought. The researchers used local sand to produce a glass ingot from their own experimental reconstruction of an ancient furnace near the site. They also discovered that the glassworks was part of an "industrial complex," as they've described it. The site contained a potter's workshop and facilities for making blue pigment and materials used in architectural inlays. The site was near one of the main temples at Amarna and may have been used to produce materials for state buildings, the researchers figure. "It has been argued that the Egyptians imported their glass and worked it into the artefacts that have been discovered from this time," Nicholson said. "I believe there is now enough evidence to show that skilled craftsmen could make their own glass and were probably involved in a range of other manufacturing industries as well." The findings, announced today, are detailed in the book "Brilliant Things for Akhenaten" (Egypt Exploration Society, 2007).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saudi Rape Victim "Pardoned"

Original article posted on November 16, 2007. From The New York Times. Saudi King Pardons Rape Victim Sentenced to Be Lashed, Saudi Paper Reports By KATHERINE ZOEPF Published: December 18, 2007 RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — King Abdullah has pardoned a woman who was sentenced to 200 lashes after pressing charges against seven men who raped her, a Saudi newspaper reported Monday. There was no immediate confirmation from the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Information, but the paper, Al Jazirah, is close to the religious establishment that controls the Justice Ministry, Reuters reported. The case has provoked a rare and angry public debate in Saudi Arabia, leading to renewed calls for an overhaul of the Saudi judicial system. The rape took place a year and a half ago in Qatif, a small Shiite town in the Eastern Province, the center of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. The woman, who has been publicly identified only as the “Qatif girl,” said she met a former boyfriend to retrieve a photograph of herself. They were sitting in a car when seven men attacked, raping them both. The woman and her former boyfriend were originally sentenced to 90 lashes for being together in private, while the attackers received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison, and 80 to 1,000 lashes. For a woman to be meeting in private with a man who is not her husband or a relative is a crime in Saudi Arabia, where the legal code is based on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law. The woman’s lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a well-known human rights activist, appealed, saying that the attackers’ sentences were too lenient and that of the victim was too harsh. The appeal brought down the wrath of the court. In November, it doubled the woman’s sentence and stripped Mr. Lahem of his license to practice, but it also increased the sentences of her attackers to prison terms of two to nine years. Mr. Lahem could not be reached by phone late Monday, but the editor in chief of Al Watan, a Saudi daily that Mr. Lahem writes for, said it had been known in Riyadh political circles since early this month that the woman would be pardoned. The editor, Jamal Khashoggi, said he believed that the timing of the pardon, on the eve of the Id al-Adha holiday, was coincidental. “I’ve been hearing for two or three weeks now that the pardon would be issued,” Mr. Khashoggi said in a telephone interview. “It has been expected that the girl would be pardoned in the end — in similar cases, very public cases like this, it has been the same,” he said. “One of our writers was recently sentenced to a number of lashes and received a pardon from the king.” Mr. Khashoggi said the woman, who has married, was not jailed while she appealed. There have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her to remove the “stain” to the family’s honor, and bloggers and international human rights activists have expressed concern for her safety. The Saudi minister of social affairs, Abdul Mohsin al-Akkas, reached by telephone, said Saudi women who ran into trouble with the law frequently feared retribution from their relatives. Some women who serve prison time refuse to leave prison at the end of their sentences, he said. The Ministry of Social Affairs operates shelters for those women, and Mr. Akkas said the Qatif victim would be able to live in one. “If after the pardon she decides that she needs housing because of her circumstances, then we will offer that,” he said. Commenting on the pardon, the Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Sheik, told Al Jazirah that the king fully supported the verdicts against the woman but had decided to pardon her because it was in the “interests of the people.” Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi Arabia, said that was a kind of “double message” commonly employed by the Saudi government. “On one hand this tells people, ‘We support our system and we will punish you if you violate it,’” he said. “Yet he’s also showing mercy. Throughout, he’s making it clear that he is not disagreeing with the judge’s opinion on this sensitive issue of sexual chastity, but he believes that there is a higher interest to be served by the pardon, whether that’s relationships between Shiites and Sunnis, or international opinion.” “Conservative scholars and judges will still take this pardon as a slap in the face,” Mr. Haykel continued. “These decisions are always made like this, ad hoc, so that the core values and institutions of the Saudi state are not questioned or threatened.” ********************************************************************************** What about the "sexual chastity" of the men who committed the rape - remember, both the female AND the male who was with her in the car were gang raped. What does this say about the "sexual chastity" of Saudi males? And - never mentioned - what kind of sentence did the male who was raped receive from the Islamic Court?

We're Mad as Hell, and We Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore

Using Webster's newest word "WOOT WOOT WOOT WOOT..." From Pretty in pink, female vigilantes also handy with an axe Amrit Dhillon, New Delhi December 15, 2007 THE day her sister was dragged by the hair around the courtyard by an alcoholic husband was the day Sampat Devi decided that men needed to be given a taste of their own medicine. Her brother-in-law was angry at being reproached for squandering his wages on liquor rather than on food for their children. She rounded up other women in Banda, a remote region of north India, and ran after the malefactor with whatever "weapons" were lying around — walking sticks, iron rods, a child's cricket bat. The women chased him into a sugar cane field and thrashed him. That was two years ago. Now, more than 100 women, dressed in pink nylon saris and known as the "Gulabi Gang" or Pink Gang, are the scourge of violent husbands, inefficient policemen and corrupt officials. "None of the men here pay any attention to us. The only way to get them to listen is to scare them. I'm not scared of any of them. But to make sure we have the upper hand, we always go with sticks and axes to deal with someone," said Ms Devi, 50, speaking from Banda on her mobile phone. Ms Devi decided on the uniform of a pink sari for the vigilantes so that they would be easily recognised. The Pink Gang's activities range from beating up men who abuse their wives for not bearing a son to shaming officials who have sold subsidised grain intended for the poor on the black market for a profit. In Maharashtra, western India, women in some villages have forcibly shut down liquor shops to stop their families being ruined by the man's alcohol addiction, but this is the first time women have taken the law into their own hands. The Pink Gang has even stormed the local police station to confront policemen who refused to file a complaint from a low-caste man against a moneylender simply because of his caste. Women in Indian villages are traditionally in thrall to husbands and social conventions that restrict their freedom. The countryside is still feudal in its attitudes towards women. When they walk on the street, it is usually two paces behind the husband, to show his superior "god-like" status. The worst-treated women are poor and low-caste. Few have the courage to stand up for themselves. But Ms Devi is feisty and forceful. She marches at the front of her female storm-troopers whenever a deviant man needs to be put right. Her husband, who supports her activities, sells ice-cream and earns a small income with which they raise five children. They were married when Ms Devi was 12 years old. "Women are at the bottom of society with no help from anyone. We can't keep waiting forever. That's why I formed the group so that the moment a woman calls me to say she's in trouble, we're on the spot fast," she said. "A woman on her own would be ineffective. Men would just laugh at her. But when we're in a group, men get nervous. "Even the local criminals are scared of us," she said, adding that her husband supports her.

The "Portable Antiquities Scheme"

The PAS has been a resounding success in Great Britain since enacted, but it's now under threat:

From The Guardian Unlimited

Maev Kennedy

Monday December 17, 2007

Some 1,650 years ago someone was so comprehensively fed up with the state of the Roman empire that they committed an act of treason, blasphemy and probably criminal defacing of the coinage. They cursed the emperor Valens by hammering a coin with his image into lead, then folding the lead over his face.

The battered scraps of metal discovered by Tom Redmayne, an amateur metal detector, in a muddy field in Lincolnshire are a unique find.

The mid-fourth century was a time of turmoil in Roman Britain. A Roman aristocrat, Valentinus, had been exiled to Britain where he was stirring up trouble.

Thousands of Roman cursing charms survive, scrawled on pieces of lead with a hole punched to hang them up. Many were found thrown into the hot springs in Bath, demanding revenge on those guilty of petty theft.

Nothing as audacious as cursing an emperor has ever been found before. However, Sam Moorhead, a coins expert at the British Museum and expert adviser to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages voluntary reporting of finds, is convinced it is the only explanation.

Redmayne's find is unprecedented, but is just one of a torrent of 300,000 valuable, fascinating or downright weird object finds reported by amateurs in the 10 years since PAS was created.

It is a time of turmoil for the scheme itself. Leading and amateur archaeologists are joining forces to lobby the government to ring-fence its funding. Lord Renfrew, retired professor of archaeology at Cambridge, calls on the culture department to transfer PAS and its funding to the British Museum, which is facing a budget cut of 25% in the wake of the recent government spending review.

Caral - Oldest Civilization in the World?

From the Times of India:

16 Dec 2007, 0001 hrs IST

Shobhan Saxena,TNN

The ruins were so magnificent and sprawling that some people believed that the aliens from a faraway galaxy had built the huge pyramids that stood in the desert across the Andes.

Some historians believed that the complex society, which existed at that time, was born out of fear and war. They looked for the telltale signs of violence that they believed led to the creation of this civilisation. But, they could not find even a hint of any warfare. It was baffling. Even years after Ruth Shady Solis found the ancient city of pyramids at Caral in Peru, it continues to surprise historians around the world. It took Ruth Shady many years and many rounds of carbon dating to prove that the earliest known civilisation in South Americas—at 2,627 BC–was much older than the Harappa Valley towns and the pyramids of Egypt.

Solis, an archaeologist at the National University of San Marcos, Lima, was looking for the fabled missing link of archaeology— a ‘mother city’—when she stumbled upon the ancient city of Caral in the Supe Valley of Peru a few years ago. Her findings were stunning.

It showed that a full-fledged urban civilisation existed at the place around 2700 BC. The archaeologist and her team found a huge compound at Caral: 65 hectares in the central zone, encompassing six large pyramids, many smaller pyramids, two circular plazas, temples, amphitheatres and other architectural features including residential districts spread in the desert, 23 km from the coast.

The discovery of Caral has pushed back the history of the Americas: Caral is more than 1,000 years older than Machu Picchu of the Incas. They built huge structures in Caral hundreds of years before the famous drainage system of Harappa and the pyramids of Egypt were even designed.

But, it was not easy for Ruth Shady to prove this. It was only in 2001 that the journal Science reported the Peruvian archaeologist’s discovery. And, despite the hard evidence backing her, she is still trying to convince people that Caral was indeed the oldest urban civilisation in the world.

"There were many problems, many of them in my own country," says Ruth Shady, on a visit to India to discuss her discovery with other historians. "The discovery of Caral challenged the accepted beliefs. Some historians were not ready to believe that an urban civilisation existed in Peru even before the pyramids were built in Egypt," she says.

Basically, there were two problems. First, for decades archaeologist have been looking for a ‘mother city’ to find an answer to the question: why did humans become civilised?

The historians had been searching for this answer in Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq), India and China. They didn’t expect to find the first signs of city life in a Peruvian desert. Secondly, most historians believed that only the fear of war could motivate people to form complex societies. And, since Caral did not show any trace of warfare; no battlements, no weapons, and no mutilated bodies, they found it hard to accept it as the mother city.

That’s when Ruth Shady stepped in with her discovery. "This place is somewhere between the seat of the gods and the home of man," she says, adding that Caral was a gentle society, built on trade and pleasure. "This great civilisation was based on trade in cotton. Caral made the cotton for the nets, which were sold to the fishermen living near the coast. Caral became a booming trading centre and the trade spread," she says.

Caral was born in trade and not bloodshed. Warfare came much later. This is what this mother city shows: great civilisations are born in peace. Ruth Shady continues to battle for this great truth.
We've got several articles about Caral archived at our Delphi discussion board "On Chess." You do not have to be a member to read any post at "On Chess," but if you wish to make a post you need to sign up. Membership is free and it takes only a few moments to sign up.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

2007 Russian Championship Superfinals

I saw this report at The Week in Chess: The Russian Championship Superfinals take place 17th-30th December 2007. Players are: Men: Alekseev, Amonatov, Vitjugov, Grischuk, Dreev, Inarkiev, Morozevich, Rychagov, Svidler, Timofeev, Tomashevsky, Jakovenko. Women: Galliamova, Gunina, Matveeva, Kovalevskaya, Korbut, N.Kosintseva, T.Kosintseva, Kosteniuk, Ovod, Stepovaya, Tairova, Shadrina. Official site: Unfortunately for me, the official site is in Russian (can't read it). The players' lists are quite impressive. Some of the best male and female players in the world (and some very promising up-and-coming players) will participate in this event.

2007 World Cup

Wow! USA's GM Gata Kamsky beat Spain's GM Alexei Shirov 2.5 to 1.5 and takes the World Cup. In defeating Shirov, Kamsky has won the right t0 play - someone - and if he wins, he gets the right to eventually play - someone else - for a future chance at the world championship - at some future time. LOL! Well, that's how I understand it, darlings. Check the official website if you want to review the action going all the way back to the first round of knock-out games. In any event, this is a big WIN for US chess. Too bad the event hasn't been covered by the American press - although there's lots of blog and chess website coverage. Perhaps if Kamsky succeeds in advancing to the world championship match he will get some decent press coverage by non-chess folks! There's great commentary about the Kamsky win at Mig's Daily Dirt.

Cleopatra's Needle (London)

There are three "Cleopatra's Needles" (0belisks) from ancient Egypt that were given as gifts from Egypt to England (London), France (Paris) and the United States (New York). A fascinating story from the Timesonline about the transport of the London obelisk:

IT required some true Victorian ingenuity to bring Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria to the banks of the Thames.

Photographs to be auctioned next month show it in the final stages of its trip, encased in an iron cylinder, having been transported some 2,000 miles from Egypt in a specially built vessel.

The rare photographs, dating from January 1878, capture the moment when the 69ft-high, 187-ton red granite monument was lifted onto its site on the Thames Embankment.

It had survived an eventful journey. It was given to Britain by Mehmet Ali, the Albanian-born viceroy of Egypt, to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory over Napoleon in the battle of the Nile in 1798, but the vessel carrying it was caught up in a storm and had to be abandoned before it was safely towed to harbour.

Etched with hieroglyphs, it became known as Cleopatra’s Needle because of its association with her home city, Alexandria, even though it was made in Egypt for Thotmes III, the pharaoh, in 1460BC, about 1,400 years before her reign.

The archive, whose owner wishes to remain anonymous, is expected to raise £20,000 when it is auctioned by the Exeter-based Hampton & Littlewood. It also includes letters that belonged to Waynman Dixon, one of the people responsible for transporting the 3,500-year-old obelisk to Britain.

Rachel Littlewood, a director of Hampton & Littlewood, said: “The photographs chart the progress of the Needle as it was lowered into a 93ft-long cigar-shaped container ship called the Cleopatra.

“On October 14, 1877 disaster struck in storm-force seas in the Bay of Biscay. With the Cleopatra in danger of sinking, the steam ship Olga, which was towing her, sent six volunteers in a boat to take off the Cleopatra’s five crew and skipper. But the boat was swamped and the volunteers drowned.

“Eventually the Olga cut the tow rope, leaving the Cleopatra adrift in the Bay of Biscay. It remained afloat and was spotted five days later floating peacefully off the northern coast of Spain. It was towed into Falmouth, Cornwall, and from there to the Embankment in London.”

More information from

Follow-Up: Antiquities Fraud Back in the News

Here's a follow-up to a recent post from BBC News:

December 13, 2007

A sculpture which has drawn crowds to a Chicago museum has been unmasked as a fake created by a British forger.

The Art Institute of Chicago reportedly paid $125,000 (£61,225) for the faun in 1997, believing it to be by the 19th Century French artist Paul Gauguin.

But it was created by Shaun Greenhalgh, from Bolton, Greater Manchester, who was jailed last month for fraud. His mother, Olive, received a suspended sentence for fraud. His father, George, 84, will be sentenced later.

The institute's director of public affairs, Eric Hogan, told the Chicago Tribune: "No one could think of any other instance in which anything like this happened here."

Last month, British police said the Greenhalgh family were behind "the most sustained and diverse" art forgery case ever. The family had conspired to defraud art institutions between June 1989 and March 2006. All three admitted fraud and money laundering at Bolton Crown Court in November.

Following the court case, police said they had evidence of a forged Gauguin ceramic, although they did not know its whereabouts. This prompted investigators from the Art Newspaper to step in.

It revealed that the half-man, half-goat ceramic figure in Chicago was a fake. Mr Hogan said "everyone who bought and sold [the work] did so in good faith", and the institute did not "have experience in this area".

Shaun Greenhalgh passed off scores of faked artefacts and artworks as genuine. Last month he was jailed for four years and eight months. His 83-year-old mother was given a 12-month suspended sentence for her part in the con. And his father will be sentenced after medical reports.

The trio made about £850,000 ($1.74m) from the sale of art and antiques. Bolton Council paid thousands of pounds for the so-called Amarna Princess believing it was 3,300 years old - but three years later experts found it was counterfeit. The statue was said to represent one of the daughters of Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, the mother of Tutankhamun.

The scam came to light after George Greenhalgh presented three faked Assyrian reliefs - ancient stone wall art - to the British Museum for examination in 2005. Errors in the cuneiform script - in effect, spelling mistakes - prompted museum officials to doubt their authenticity. They alerted the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques Unit which began an investigation.

Antiquities: The Hottest Investment

From By Maria Baugh Wednesday, December 12, 2007 The sculpture is just three and a half inches tall and looks like a female body-builder with a lion's head. But there's no question that the 1948 purchase of the "Guennol Lioness" by Alistair Bradley Martin was a brilliant investment. The 5,000 year-old piece of Mesopotamian religious art — presumably of Inanna, goddess of sex and war — was sold at auction by Sotheby's New York last week for a record-shattering $57.2 million. Found at an archaeological dig near Baghdad, it is an extremely rare representation of the goddess — known elsewhere as Ishtar — in animal form. She is one of the earliest of the gods whose names have survived through history. Before her sale, the most expensive piece of sculpture of any period sold at auction was a piece by Pablo Picasso which went for $29 million. The previous antiquities record was set by a Roman bronze which sold for $28 million. Such prices may scare away ordinary investors from even considering antiquities, which are defined as relics of ancient times that include coins, sculpture, tools, pottery and jewelry. among other objects. Can such objects even be a possibility for folks of much more modest means? The good news is that it is possible for the individual investor to buy antiquities — and for a surprisingly moderate sum. According to John Ambrose, founder and director of Fragments of Time, a Boston-area antiquities dealer, they're within even a modest investor's reach. "For under $10,000 a year you could acquire two to four quality objects with good provenance that you could expect would not only hold their value but increase in value over time," he says. In the past, the increase was anywhere from 8 to 9% annually, but in recent years that figure has gone up. Hicham Aboutaam, who is co-owner with his brother, Ali, of Phoenix Ancient Art in New York City and Geneva, attributes the increasing value to a couple of factors. For one, there is now a finite number of legitimate objects circulating in the U.S. due to more stringent art import legislation, enacted within the last few years. In addition, there is an increased interest in art and antiquities as investment. "People have started to appreciate the fact that this is a field where you can still get high quality objects for a fraction of what you would spend on a contemporary art object, where speculation is the biggest element determining value," he says. Ambrose agrees: "The art market has gained status as a respected asset class." So what should the novice collector know before jumping in and buying the first Greek vase they find? Ambrose advises that they study up on an era or object that they are truly interested in. He also suggests building rapport with a dealer. "A respected dealer will work with you...and they love to share their knowledge," he says. Aboutaam says that the new collector needs to understand the importance of the provenance, or history, of the object. "Check the authenticity of the piece. Who is selling it and who has seen it in terms of scholars or experts?" he says. "And it's crucial to get a condition report from a third party." Are there particular eras that the investor should look at now? "In terms of investments I do think there are still pockets of antiquities that are generally undervalued," says Ambrose, sounding as much like a stock broker as an art dealer. He lists Roman lamps, Roman bronze brooches, Greek pottery (especially south Italian Greek pottery) and Egyptian amulets, which, he says, are overlooked. "There can be fascinating intact examples," says Ambrose. And, no matter how ornate a stock certificate might be, an Egyptian amulet is always going to look better in your living room display case.

Nearly 1,000 Ancient Tombs Discovered in China

A fantastic discovery in China - I wish there were some photographs of the artifacts excavated: From United Press International Nearly 1,000 ancient tombs found in China Published: Dec. 9, 2007 at 3:33 PM ZHENGHOU, China, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Archaeologists in China recently discovered nearly 1,000 tombs in Henan Province, some of which may have been created 2,200 years ago. A significant portion of the 972 discovered tombs are thought to date back to China's Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which occurred between 770-221 B.C., while others have been linked to the later Han and Northern Wei Dynasties, China's official Xinhua news agency said Saturday. The hundreds of tombs were found near the ancient city of Luoyang, which served as the capital of six major Chinese dynasties.The discovery was made during a State Administration of Cultural Heritage archaeological effort that began in 2003 and had been attempting to preserve the area's ancient relics. The dig also unearthed 20,000 artifacts ranging from bronze basins to jade ornaments, Xinhua reported.An expert with the excavation effort said those artifacts will offer a glimpse into the funeral customs and daily rituals of the ancient cultures. © 2007 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be reproduced, redistributed, or manipulated in any form.
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