Saturday, November 22, 2008

2008 Chess Olympiad: R8 India News

The photograph says it all. Indian men held, women lose in Chess Olympiad Dresden, Nov 22: The Indian medal hopes in the 32nd chess Olympiad suffered a severe jolt after the men could only manage a 2-2 draw with Slovenia while the women lost 1.5-2.5 to Serbia in the eighth round here. For the men, Grandmaster P Harikrishna scored over Dusko Pavasovic but on the fourth board Grandmaster Sandipan Chanda lost with white pieces against Jure Borisec. The other two boards ended in draws with Krishnan Sasikiran signing peace with veteran Alexander Beliavsky and G N Gopal achieving the same result against Lenik Luca on the third board. Among the women, Tania Sachdev and Mary Ann Gomes ran out of steam and that cost the team dearly even as D Harika struck hard on the top board for the eves and defeated Alisa Maric. Tania lost to Natasa Bojkovic while Mary Ann found her nemesis in Irina Chelushkina. The other game between Swati Ghate and Andjelija Stojanovic ended in a draw. The Indian men slipped to joint 14th spot in the standings on 11 points out of a possible 16 and now face an uphill task to keep their medal hopes alive. Armenia remained in sole lead in the open section with a 3.5-0.5 drubbing of France and took their tally to 15 points. Israel follow the leader closely on 14 points with a fine 2.5-1.5 victory over Germany while Russia and Ukraine are now joint third on 13 points each with just three rounds remaining in the biggest chess event. The Indian eves slipped to joint 10th spot after the debacle against Serbia and they too will need excellent score in the remaining matches to come within striking distance of a medal. Chinese ladies played out a draw with Ukraine on the top table and remained in sole lead on 14 points here. The four-way tie for the second spot is currently shared by United States, Serbia, Poland and Ukraine who all have 13 points apiece. Harikrishna outplayed Pavasovic from the white side of a Reti Opening. The middle game saw the Indian initiating an attack through the center and everything fell in place thereafter. Harikrishna wrapped the issue in 53 moves. Sandipan Chanda missed out some chances against Jure Borisec in a Ruy Lopez game. Playing white the Indian sacrificed a Bishop in the middle game and had a certain draw in hand. However, playing for a win proved futile in the end as Borisevic found some defensive resources and won in 54 moves. The Olympiad is an 11-round Swiss with 144 teams in the open and 111teams in the women section. Bureau Report

2008 Chess Olympiad

AP news: First-place teams defeated in chess round 9 By ROBERT HUNTINGTON – 3 hours ago DRESDEN, Germany (AP) — The mighty were brought low as the first-place teams in both the open and women's divisions fell in round nine on Saturday. In the open division, Israel played the role of David, knocking off Armenia 2.5-1.5. On the women's side, Serbia edged China 2.5-1.5. The U.S. women's medal hopes suffered a severe setback as Poland beat them 3-1. The U.S. men, already virtually eliminated from contention by Russia in round eight, crushed India 3.5-1.5. There were a number of other upsets in the open section. Ukraine downed top-seed Russia 2.5-1.5; 22nd-seed Serbia beat fourth-seed Azerbaijan by the same score. Sixteenth-seed Vietnam held fifth-seed Hungary to a 2-all tie; and Slovenia beat Norway 3-1. England kept its medal hopes alive by beating Vietnam 3-1 on wins from Michael Adams and Nigel Short on the top two boards. Veteran Boris Gelfand led the way for the Israelis on board one defeating the world's seventh rated player Levon Aronian with Black, exploiting his opponent's weakened king position to win a pawn and then winning the ensuing rook-and-pawn endgame. Israel's other win came from Maxim Rodshtein on board four over Tigan L. Petrosian. The American men put on a strong performance that was probably too little, too late. Gata Kamsky beat Krishnan Sasikiran on board one when Sasikiran apparently missed an interpolation on move 34 and had to resign just two moves later. On board two, Hikaru Nakamura won a powerful game out of an unorthodox opening against Penteala Harikrishna. The American's other win came on board four where Varuzhan Akobian won a tactical melee against Geetha Narayanan Gopal. Today's results put Israel in first place with eight points. Armenia and Ukraine are tied for second with 7.5 points. China, England, and Serbia each have seven points. Ten teams, including the United States and Russia, have 6.5 points. On the women's side, Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine have leapfrogged China into a first place tie with 7.5 points. Armenia, China, and Georgia have seven points each. Hungary, Russia, the United States, and Uzbekistan have 6.5 points each. Round 10 of the 11-round event takes place here on Sunday. In other news, the president of the world chess organization FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who was injured in an automobile accident just before the event started, has arrived in Dresden for the FIDE Congress after being released from a Moscow hospital. Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday Night Miscellany - One Day Late

Hola Darlings! I worked last week Saturday 3.5 hours; today I worked 5 full hours. I could work 125 full hours and not get caught up, eek! The problem, of course, is the relatively new (but undeclared) firm policy that all administrative staff must "support" three people with billable hours. New support staff is not being hired, nor are admin people. Those of us who are here are expected to just "do more." Well, there is only so much one can do for three very busy billers in 37.5 hours a week. All the admin stuff I used to have time to do (years ago) during regular working hours is now done hit-or-miss as I can squeeze it in - or not at all. So, I decided recently to work a few Saturdays a month, in an attempt to put a dent in the backlog of work I have. Believe me, I HATE giving up any portion of my precious Saturdays and no amount of overtime pay can make up for that, but things are a horrid mess in my office. I cannot get done what needs to be done between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. As long as the firm wants to pay me for OT, I will grudgingly put in the extra hours. Sigh. I did not get home from the office (with a stop at the supermarket) until 3:50 p.m. this afternoon. My whole day - gone! Now I'm frantically playing catch-up! However, I did take some time out to feed my fat and sassy squirrels. I whistled out the patio door when I got home, loaded down with a fresh pound of mixed nuts (in shell), and they came running! Walnuts are the big favorite, but pecans are a close-second. Any of the mixed nuts, though, is preferred over the lowly peanuts that I also toss out in abundance. Geez - I'm spending a fortune on the best fed squirrels in Milwaukee County! LOL! There is good news, though. This morning, I pulled out a pair of jeans I had not worn for probably four years (they were far too tight around the waistline) and I was able to jump into them with practically no struggle at all! Wow - this weight loss/exercise program is showing tangible results in the figure department! Used to be I'd have to tug and pull and then more tug and pull and then lay down on top of the bed and shimmy/pull the rest of my way into those jeans, and then getting the waist band snapped close - that was a whole 'nother chore! No more - that's a thing of the past! WOW! I hardly had to suck it in at all to get the waist band snapped close. Amazing! So - although I have not dropped any more pounds (can you spell P-L-A-T-E-A-U) my body is definitely shifting the rest of its fat reserves around thanks to dancing to the Moulin Rouge version of Lady Marmalade five nights a week! I also do the We Will Rock You commercial featuring Britney Spears (I can never remember how the heck to spell her name), Beyonce and Pink. Let me tell you, Pink really rocked in that commercial, holy smoke! I play all three parts and dance around the den like a maniac, shaking my booty like there's no tomorrow, shimmying, stretching, pumping my arms, swishing my hips 180 degrees, snapping my hair as if it were long (it isn't -- I had it cut off in a short version of Victoria Beckham), all the while shouting at myself in between breaths 'MOVE MOVE' when I think I'm going to have a heart attack and drop dead on the spot. It's working. I'm up to 30 minutes of mostly high intensity "dancing" and curves are starting to appear out of what used to be blubber. There's still blubber to get rid of - it will take awhile - but it took awhile to put this blubber on. I proudly earned every pound, darlings, and enjoyed each and every ounce along the way! When I started out this "excercise" program (a desperate attempt to increase physical activity since the weather rules out yard work and any length of walking during lunch hour), I could not even dance to the entire rendition of "Smooth." Now I can do five "Smooth"s in a row with less than a minute breather in between, but that's a bit boring, I like to mix up my music videos. Thank Goddess for YouTube! Here's some "Miscellany" stuff for your pleasure. Take a look at these totally misleading headlines! Ridiculous! "Screaming Mummy" Is Murderous Son of Ramses III? This week's contribution from the National Geographic - which used to be a class act but, unfortunately, has degenerated in a desperate attempt to make money. Hell, memberships, which used to cost $35 a year (including the magazine), are now going for $15 a year! What? It's true, darlings! The Great Depression really IS here! Back to topic - the article DOES explain (several paragraphs in) that the "death scream" is the result of a very natural process of decomposition/decay of a corpse (even in a supposedly "frozen in time" mummy). In historical times - well into the early 20th century before "wiring" of jaws became commonplace in embalming procedures, it was routine to tie a red cloth underneath the jaw tied in a bow at the top of the head, in an attempt to prevent the "yawn of death" from occurring in the death. (the use of the color red is a whole different topic). That is why, for instance, in the 1951 version of the movie "Scrooge" (based on "A Christmas Carol," written by Charles Dickens in the early-mid 1800's) you see the ghost of Jacob Marley untie what looks like a rag from around his face, and then his jaw drops in a horrible exaggerated manner! The death scream or yawn of death - seen on the cinema screen! I can imagine the screams that evoked back then! I certainly has a certain YECH factor. I also recall seeing in the 1990's version of "Scrooge" a scene where Scrooge (played by the actor formerly known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek, the Next Generation) is at the funeral and they show the body of Marley in the coffin, Marley's face tied up with a red cloth (true to what was written in the original novel). What is misleading, of course, is that even if one dies a horrible death by slow poison or torture, or the worst possible death you can possibly imagine, once rigor mortis releases its grip on the body (and it always does), the corpse is totally maleable. So even if one dies screaming with eyeballs bulging out of the sockets, that is not what one sees in the coffin. This is a basic lesson from CSI:101. We, in the western world of the 2oth and 21st century, so removed from death and what follows with respect to the corpse make horror movies out of a basic natural process. Geez.
Here is the second headline: Were Neanderthals stoned to death by modern humans? Makes it sound like a bloodthirsty horde of so-called "modern" humans deliberately hunted down and stoned to death the last few survivors of "primative" Neanderthal man. What a bunch of crap! The actual article is about innovation in the crafting of stone tools that may have given so-called "modern" humans an edge in hunting, etc. over so-called "Neanderthal" man. A lot of bunkum, but heck, maybe they get paid per word, just like Charles Dickens did back in the day, darlings. Okay, I'm starving, nothing to eat all day but 2 pieces of toast with my coffee this morning. I didn't intend to work as long as I did and I always intended to run out and get a Jimmy John's sub (they are lower fat than Cousins), but I never did. Now it's time to go downstairs and cook up some oven-baked pork chops - low fat, nutritious and, best of all, delish!

2008 Chess Olympiad

Bad news! The US women fell to Poland in R9 today, 3:1. Boo, hiss, boo! They have fallen from 2nd place all the way to 7th, with only 2 round left! And - get this - China was knocked out of first place, all the way down to 4th! Here are the current top 10 after R9: Rk. SNo Team Team Games + = - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4 1 2 Ukraine UKR 9 6 3 0 15 268,0 97,0 25,5 2 9 Poland POL 9 7 1 1 15 249,5 104,0 23,5 3 10 Serbia SRB 9 7 1 1 15 232,5 97,0 23,5 4 3 China CHN 9 6 2 1 14 278,5 109,0 24,0 5 4 Georgia GEO 9 6 2 1 14 269,5 97,0 25,5 6 6 Armenia ARM 9 7 0 2 14 230,0 97,0 24,0 7 7 United States of America USA 9 6 1 2 13 248,5 96,0 24,5 8 1 Russia RUS 9 5 3 1 13 245,0 100,0 24,0 9 8 Hungary HUN 9 6 1 2 13 229,5 97,0 23,5 10 43 Uzbekistan UZB 9 6 1 2 13 188,5 87,0 21,5 Uzbekistan??? Russia in 8th place? Stock market crash being compared to the Great Depression. THE END MUST BE NEAR. Everyone - pray to the Goddess - quick!

Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 Chess Olympiad

USA has jumped into the #2 spot by virtue of their winning the match today against the Russian Women's Team, which fell all the way to #10. Wow! Here are the top 10 after Round 8 - 3 more rounds to go. Rk. SNo Team Team Games + = - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4 1 3 China CHN 8 6 2 0 14 232,0 82,0 22,5 2 7 United States of America USA 8 6 1 1 13 215,5 74,0 23,5 3 2 Ukraine UKR 8 5 3 0 13 206,0 77,0 22,5 4 9 Poland POL 8 6 1 1 13 187,5 82,0 20,5 5 10 Serbia SRB 8 6 1 1 13 178,0 74,0 21,0 6 4 Georgia GEO 8 5 2 1 12 200,5 76,0 21,5 7 6 Armenia ARM 8 6 0 2 12 182,0 77,0 20,5 8 14 Slovenia SLO 8 5 2 1 12 170,5 66,0 22,5 9 16 Romania ROU 8 6 0 2 12 168,0 74,0 21,0 10 1 Russia RUS 8 4 3 1 11 191,0 81,0 21,0 Round 9 match-ups for the Top 10: China (#1) meets Serbia (#5) Poland (#4) meets USA (#2) Ukraine (#3) meets Romania (#9) Georgia (#6) meets Slovenia (#8) Argentina (#17) meets Armenia (#7) Russia (#10) meets Lithuania (#18) How are the US chess femmes now standing in contention for earning an individual medal? On Board #1, IM Irina Krush is currently in 5th place On Board #2, IM Anna Zatonskih is currently in 1st place On Board #3, WGM Rusudan Goletiani is currently in 1st place On Board #4, WGM Katerine Rohonyan is currently in 11th place On the Best Performance List, USA now has 2 players in the top 10: IM Anna Zatonskih is in 2nd place, with a PF of 2634 (her ELO is 2440) IM Irina Krush is in 7th place, with a PF of 2578 (her ELO is 2452) In addition, WGM Rusudan Goletiani is in 20th place with a PF of 2532 (her ELO is 2359), outshining a veritable galaxy of chess femme stars, including Stefanova, Sachdev, Ushenina, Cimilyte, and others. Getting ready to eat that hat...

Another Thracian Chariot Uncovered

From AP Bulgarian archaeologists discover ancient chariot 10 hours ago SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Archaeologists have unearthed a well-preserved 1,800-year-old bronze chariot at an ancient Thracian tomb in southeastern Bulgaria, the head of the excavation said Friday. "The lavishly ornamented four-wheel chariot dates back to the end of the second century A.D.," Veselin Ignatov told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the site, near the southeastern village of Karanovo. He said it was found in a funerary mound that archaeologists believe was the grave of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat, as he was buried with his belongings. Along with the chariot, which was decorated with scenes from mythology, the team unearthed well-preserved wooden and leather objects, some of which the archaeologists believe were horse harnesses. In August, excavations at another ancient Thracian tomb in the same region revealed another four-wheel chariot. About 10,000 Thracian mounds — some of them covering monumental stone tombs — are scattered across Bulgaria. The Thracians were an ancient people who inhabited the lands of present-day Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Turkey, Macedonia and Romania between 4,000 B.C. and the 6th century A.D., when they were assimilated by the invading Slavs. Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Erosion May Spell Future Famine for China

China's crops at risk from massive erosion Fri Nov 21, 2008 9:13am EST BEIJING (Reuters) - Over a third of China's land is being scoured by serious erosion that is putting its crops and water supply a risk, a three-year nationwide survey has found. Soil is being washed and blown away not only in remote rural areas, but near mines, factories and even in cities, the official Xinhua agency cited the country's bio-environment security research team saying. Each year some 4.5 billion tonnes of soil are lost, threatening the country's ability to feed itself. If the loss continues at this rate, harvests in China's northeastern breadbasket could fall 40 percent in 50 years, adding to erosion costs estimated at 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) in this decade alone. "China has a more dire situation than India, Japan, the United States, Australia and many other countries suffering from soil erosion," Xinhua quoted the research team saying. Beijing has long been worried about the desertification of its northern grasslands, and scaled back logging after rain rushing down denuded mountainsides caused massive flooding along the Yangtze in the late 1990s. But around 1.6 million square km of land are still being degraded by water erosion, with almost every river basin affected. Another 2.0 million square km are under attack from wind, the report said. The survey was the largest on soil conservation since the Communist Party took control of China in 1949. ($1=6.835 Yuan) (Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison)

2008 Chess Olympiad

Holy Caissa! Chessdom reports: USA (#4) wins against Russia (#3) 3:1 in the women section. IM Krush Irina 2452 - GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2525 1 : 0 IM Zatonskih Anna 2440 - IM Kosintseva Tatiana 2513 1 : 0 WGM Goletiani Rusudan 2359 - IM Kosintseva Nadezhda 2468 ½ : ½ WGM Rohonyan Katerina 2334 - IM Korbut Ekaterina 2459 ½ : ½ If the US chess femmes had played this way in the World Chess Championships, they'd have been battling for the title! #1 Team is China, #2 Team is Ukraine. USA has already played China and tied 2:2. USA has not played Ukraine. I'm going shopping for some allspice tonight just in case I have to eat my wool beret after all...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2008 Chess Olympiad

USA Women's Team has moved into 4th place overall after another solid round - holding China to 2:2! Could this team actually pull off a medal? I'd be the first to eat my hat if they do! USA Men's Team is in 9th place. Four rounds left to play. IM Irina Krush is in contention for an individual medal on Board 1, as is IM Anna Zatonskih on Board 2, WGM Rusudan Goletiani on Board 3 AND WGM Katerine Rohonyan on Board 4!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 Chess Olympiad

I've been reporting what I consider highlights at Chess Femme News at Goddesschess. Here are the top 20 women by performance rating after Round 6: 1 Tan Zhongyi 2395 China 2946 5,0 5 100,0 5 2 WGM Pogonina Natalija 2474 Russia 2835 4,0 4 100,0 5 3 WGM Zdebskaja Natalia 2419 Ukraine 2808 5,0 5 100,0 5 4 IM Vajda Szidonia 2380 Hungary 2710 4,5 5 90,0 2 5 IM Krush Irina 2452 United States of America 2632 4,5 5 90,0 1 6 GM Cramling Pia 2550 Sweden 2630 4,0 4 100,0 1 7 WGM Calzetta Monica 2328 Spain 2628 4,5 5 90,0 1 8 GM Peng Zhaoqin 2455 Netherlands 2628 4,0 5 80,0 1 9 WGM Goletiani Rusudan 2359 United States of America 2623 5,5 6 91,7 3 10 WGM Munguntuul Batkhuyag 2410 Mongolia 2623 5,0 6 83,3 1 11 WGM Hou Yifan 2578 China 2619 4,5 6 75,0 1 12 IM Zatonskih Anna 2440 United States of America 2615 4,5 5 90,0 2 13 IM Houska Jovanka 2399 England 2611 4,0 5 80,0 1 14 GM Chiburdanidze Maia 2489 Georgia 2589 3,5 5 70,0 1 15 WGM Zhukova Natalia 2488 Ukraine 2570 4,5 6 75,0 2 16 WGM Shen Yang 2450 China 2567 4,0 5 80,0 3 17 WIM Linares Napoles Oleiny 2261 Cuba 2565 5,5 6 91,7 4 18 WGM Voiska Margarita 2318 Bulgaria 2564 5,5 6 91,7 3 19 IM Moser Eva 2376 Austria 2562 4,5 5 90,0 1 20 IM Socko Monika 2434 Poland 2562 3,5 5 70,0 1

Hubei Bronze Horse - A Beauty!

Real life large bronze horse unearthed in Hubei WATCH VIDEO Source: 11-19-2008 09:47 An excavation of a tomb has unearthed the largest bronze horse ever discovered in an ancient ruin. The discovery was made in Xiangfan, in Central China's Hubei province. The bronze horse was found recently in a tomb from the Eastern Jin Dynasty. The dynasty dates back around 16-hundred years. The life-sized horse wears a spirited expression. Experts say the piece is beautifully cast. It is a work of primitive simplicity, characterizing the style of the Han dynasty. Although the hind quarters of the statue have been damaged, the work is expected to make an important contribution to the study of the art of its era. The horse, reportedly is even larger than those unearthed in the tomb where the Terra Cotta warriors were discovered. Editor:Liu Fang

The Mummies of Urumchi Make the New York Times!

Great story on one of my favorite subjects: the mummies of Urumchi in the Tarim Basin. The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To By EDWARD WONG Published: November 18, 2008 URUMQI, China — An exhibit on the first floor of the museum here gives the government’s unambiguous take on the history of this border region: “Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the territory of China,” says one prominent sign. But walk upstairs to the second floor, and the ancient corpses on display seem to tell a different story. One called the Loulan Beauty lies on her back with her shoulder-length hair matted down, her lips pursed in death, her high cheekbones and long nose the most obvious signs that she is not what one thinks of as Chinese. The Loulan Beauty is one of more than 200 remarkably well-preserved mummies discovered in the western deserts here over the last few decades. The ancient bodies have become protagonists in a very contemporary political dispute over who should control the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The Chinese authorities here face an intermittent separatist movement of nationalist Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who number nine million in Xinjiang. At the heart of the matter lie these questions: Who first settled this inhospitable part of western China? And for how long has the oil-rich region been part of the Chinese empire? Uighur nationalists have gleaned evidence from the mummies, whose corpses span thousands of years, to support historical claims to the region. Foreign scholars say that at the very least, the Tarim mummies — named after the vast Tarim Basin where they were found — show that Xinjiang has always been a melting pot, a place where people from various corners of Eurasia founded societies and where cultures overlapped. Contact between peoples was particularly frequent in the heyday of the Silk Road, when camel caravans transported goods that flowed from as far away as the Mediterranean. “It’s historically been a place where cultures have mixed together,” said Yidilisi Abuduresula, 58, a Uighur archaeologist in Xinjiang working on the mummies. The Tarim mummies seem to indicate that the very first people to settle the area came from the west — down from the steppes of Central Asia and even farther afield — and not from the fertile plains and river valleys of the Chinese interior. The oldest, like the Loulan Beauty, date back 3,800 years. Some Uighurs have latched on to the fact that the oldest mummies are most likely from the west as evidence that Xinjiang has belonged to the Uighurs throughout history. A modern, nationalistic pop song praising the Loulan Beauty has even become popular. “The people found in Loulan were Uighur people, according to the materials,” said a Uighur tour guide in the city of Kashgar who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of running afoul of the Chinese authorities. “The nationalities of Xinjiang are very complicated. There have been many since ancient times.” Scholars generally agree that Uighurs did not migrate to what is now Xinjiang from Central Asia until the 10th century. But, uncomfortably for the Chinese authorities, evidence from the mummies also offers a far more nuanced history of settlement than the official Chinese version. By that official account, Zhang Qian, a general of the Han dynasty, led a military expedition to Xinjiang in the second century B.C. His presence is often cited by the ethnic Han Chinese when making historical claims to the region. The mummies show, though, that humans entered the region thousands of years earlier, and almost certainly from the west. What is indisputable is that the Tarim mummies are among the greatest recent archaeological finds in China, perhaps the world. Four are in glass display cases in the main museum here in Urumqi, the regional capital. Their skin is parched and blackened from the wear and tear of thousands of years, but their bodies are strikingly intact, preserved by the dry climate of the western desert. Some foreign scholars say the Chinese government, eager to assert a narrative of longtime Chinese dominance of Xinjiang, is unwilling to face the fact that the mummies provide evidence of heterogeneity throughout the region’s history of human settlement. As a result, they say, the government has been unwilling to give broad access to foreign scientists to conduct genetic tests on the mummies. “In terms of advanced scientific research on the mummies, it’s just not happening,” said Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania who has been at the forefront of foreign scholarship of the mummies. Mr. Mair first spotted one of the mummies, a red-haired corpse called the Cherchen Man, in the back room of a museum in Urumqi while leading a tour of Americans there in 1988, the first year the mummies were put on display. Since then, he says that he has been obsessed with pinpointing the origins of the mummies, intent on proving a theory dear to him: that the movement of peoples throughout history is far more common than previously thought. Mr. Mair has assembled various groups of scholars to do research on the mummies. In 1993, the Chinese government tried to prevent Mr. Mair from leaving China with 52 tissue samples after having authorized him to go to Xinjiang and to collect them. But a Chinese researcher managed to slip a half-dozen vials to Mr. Mair. From those samples, an Italian geneticist concluded in 1995 that at least two of the mummies had a European genetic marker. The Chinese government in recent years has allowed genetic research on the mummies to be conducted only by Chinese scientists. Jin Li, a well-known geneticist at Fudan University in Shanghai, tested the mummies in conjunction with a 2007 National Geographic documentary. He concluded that some of the oldest mummies had East Asian and even South Asian markers, though the documentary said further testing needed to be done. Mr. Mair has disputed any suggestion that the mummies were from East Asia. He believes that East Asian migrants did not appear in the Tarim Basin until much later than the Loulan Beauty and her people. The oldest mummies, he says, were probably Tocharians, herders who traveled eastward across the Central Asian steppes and whose language belonged to the Indo-European family. A second wave of migrants came from what is now Iran. The theory that the earliest mummies came from the west of what is now modern China is supported by other scholars as well. A textile expert, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, in a book called “The Mummies of Urumchi,” wrote that the kind of cloth discovered in the oldest grave sites can be traced to the Caucasus. Han Kangxin, a physical anthropologist, has also concluded that the earliest settlers were not Asians. He has studied the skulls of the mummies, and says that genetic tests can be unreliable. “It’s very clear that these are of Europoid or Caucasoid origins,” Mr. Han, now retired, said in an interview in his apartment in Beijing. Of the hundreds of mummies discovered, there are some that are East Asian, but they are not as ancient as the Loulan Beauty or the Cherchen Man. The most prominent Chinese grave sites were discovered at a place called Astana, believed to be a former military outpost. The findings at the site span the Jin to the Han dynasties, from the third to the 10th centuries. Further clouding the picture, a mummy from the Lop Nur area, the 2,000-year-old Yingpan Man, was unearthed with artifacts associated with an entirely different part of the globe. He was wearing a hemp death mask with gold foil and a red robe decorated with naked angelic figures and antelopes — all hallmarks of a Hellenistic civilization. Despite the political issues, excavations of the grave sites are continuing. Mr. Abuduresula, the Uighur archaeologist, made a trip in late September to the desert site at Xiaohe, where 350 graves have been discovered. The bottom layer of graves dates back nearly 4,000 years. More recent graves point to a matriarchal herding society that worshiped cows, Mr. Abuduresula said. Somewhere in those sands, he said, archaeologists have discovered a woman as striking as the Loulan Beauty. She is called the Xiaohe Princess, and even her eyelashes are intact.
The Xiaohe Princess? When was she discovered? I don't recall reading about her!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Legendary Korchnoi

GM Victor Korchnoi has quite the reputation for hating to lose. He has unleased barbed comments on more than one unsuspecting player through the years. One of the most recent players to experience the lash of Korchnoi's tongue was GM Fabiano Caruana of Italy. While doing research on a somewhat related topic in answer to an inquiry from one of the few readers of L'eches des Femmes at Chessville, I came across this video at You Tube, showing that The Great One does have a sense of humor and an exquisite sense of irony :) Kudos to Korchnoi! This is no doubt blasphemy to say but in some ways, he reminds me of my Grandpa Newton; I was very close to him as a girl verging on the edge of adolescence in the early 1960's. He didn't let me get away with any crap when we played poker, checkers or cribbage!

Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul

Story from The New York Times By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Published: November 17, 2008 In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts “for my soul that is in this stele.” University of Chicago archaeologists who made the discovery last summer in ruins of a walled city near the Syrian border said the stele provided the first written evidence that the people in this region held to the religious concept of the soul apart from the body. By contrast, Semitic contemporaries, including the Israelites, believed that the body and soul were inseparable, which for them made cremation unthinkable, as noted in the Bible. Circumstantial evidence, archaeologists said, indicated that the people at Sam’al, the ancient city, practiced cremation. The site is known today as Zincirli (pronounced ZIN-jeer-lee). Other scholars said the find could lead to important insights into the dynamics of cultural contact and exchange in the borderlands of antiquity where Indo-European and Semitic people interacted in the Iron Age. The official’s name, for example, is Indo-European: no surprise, as previous investigations there had turned up names and writing in the Luwian language from the north. But the stele also bears southern influences. The writing is in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and a Semitic language that appears to be an archaic variant of Aramaic. The discovery and its implications were described last week in interviews with archaeologists and a linguist at the University of Chicago, who excavated and translated the inscription. “Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone.” A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.” Dr. Pardee said the word used for soul, nabsh, was Aramaic, a language spoken throughout northern Syria and parts of Mesopotamia in the eighth century. But the inscription seemed to be a previously unrecognized dialect. In Hebrew, a related language, the word for soul is nefesh. In addition to the writing, a pictorial scene chiseled into the well-preserved stele depicts the culture’s view of the afterlife. A bearded man wearing a tasseled cap, presumably Kuttamuwa, raises a cup of wine and sits before a table laden with food, bread and roast duck in a stone bowl. In other societies of the region, scholars say, this was an invitation to bring customary offerings of food and drink to the tomb of the deceased. Here family and descendants supposedly feasted before a stone slab in a kind of chapel. Archaeologists have found no traces there of a tomb or bodily remains. Joseph Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research, said cult offerings to the dead were common in the Middle East, but not the idea of a soul separate from the body — except in Egypt. In ancient Egypt, Dr. Wegner noted, the human entity has separate components. The body is important, and the elite went to great expense to mummify and entomb it for eternity. In death, though, a life force or spirit known as ka was immortal, and a soul known as ba, which was linked to personal attributes, fled the body after death. Dr. Wegner said the concept of a soul held by the people at Sam’al “sounds vaguely Egyptian in its nature.” But there was nothing in history or archaeology, he added, to suggest that the Egyptian civilization had a direct influence on this border kingdom. [What? Like these people would have neve heard of the Egyptians or their religious beliefs? That's a lot of baloney! They haven't found the proof yet - may never do so - that doesn't mean contact and cultural blending did not happen, it just means we can't prove it. We know it happens today; people haven't changed since the beginning of human history, the same things happened back then as today. As the writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes succinctly wrote: There is nothing new under the sun.] Other scholars are expected to weigh in after Dr. Schloen and Dr. Pardee describe their findings later this week in Boston at meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature. Lawrence E. Stager, an archaeologist at Harvard who excavates in Israel, said that from what he had learned so far the stele illustrated “to a great degree the mixed cultural heritage in the region at that time” and was likely to prompt “new and exciting discoveries in years to come.” Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, said the stele was a “rare and most informative discovery in having written evidence together with artistic and archaeological evidence from the Iron Age.” The 800-pound basalt stele, three feet tall and two feet wide, was found in the third season of excavations at Zincirli by the Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute. The work is expected to continue for seven more years, supported in large part by the Neubauer Family Foundation of Chicago. The site, near the town of Islahiye in Gaziantep province, was controlled at one time by the Hittite Empire in central Turkey, then became the capital of a small independent kingdom. In the eighth century, the city was still the seat of kings, including Panamuwa, but they were by then apparently subservient to the Assyrian Empire. After that empire’s collapse, the city’s fortunes declined, and the place was abandoned late in the seventh century. A German expedition, from 1888 to 1902, was the first to explore the city’s past. It uncovered thick city walls of stone and mud brick and monumental gates lined with sculpture and inscriptions. These provided the first direct evidence of Indo-European influence on the kingdom. After the Germans suspended operations, the ruins lay unworked until the Chicago team began digging in 2006, concentrating on the city beyond the central citadel, which had been the focus of the German research. Much of the 100-acre site has now been mapped by remote-sensing magnetic technology capable of detecting buried structures. This summer, on July 21, workers excavating what appeared to be a large dwelling came upon the rounded top of the stele and saw the first line of the inscription. Dr. Schloen and Amir Fink, a doctoral student in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, bent over to read. Almost immediately, they and others on the team recognized that the words were Semitic and the name of the king was familiar; it had appeared in the inscriptions found by the Germans. As the entire stele was exposed, Dr. Schloen said, the team made a rough translation, and this was later completed and refined by Dr. Pardee. Then the archaeologists examined more closely every aspect of the small, square room in which the stele stood in a corner by a stone wall. Fragments of offering bowls to the type depicted in the stele were on the floor. Remains of two bread ovens were found. “Our best guess is that this was originally a kitchen annexed to a larger dwelling,” Dr. Schloen said. “The room was remodeled as a shrine or chapel — a mortuary chapel for Kuttamuwa, probably in his own home.” They found no signs of a burial in the city’s ruins. At other ancient sites on the Turkish-Syrian border, cremation urns have been dated to the same period. So the archaeologists surmised that cremation was also practiced at Sam’al. Dr. Stager of Harvard said the evidence so far, the spread of languages and especially the writing on stone about a royal official’s soul reflected the give-and-take of mixed cultures, part Indo-European, part Semitic, at a borderland in antiquity.
Well, I think that last paragraph is baloney too, because if I remember my history correctly, Indo-European speaking peoples invaded Persia and India about 1,000 years before, and I'll eat my wool beret if it took 1,000 years for the intermixture of language, writing and culture to occur in this dynamic region.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ancient Jewelry: Earrings

Ancient earrings found in Jumilla By h.b. - Nov 16, 2008 - 9:29 AM The 2,300 year earrings found in Jumilla - Photo EFE Their grape design confirms the tradition of wine making in the area. Some earrings in the form of grapes and thought to date from 2,300 years ago have been found in Jumilla, Murcia. They are being used to confirm the wine-making tradition and activities in the area. The find came as excavation work continues at the necropolis at Coimbra del Barranco Ancho. Work at the site continues.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Illegal Antiquities in Chicago - Or Not...

From The Chicago Tribune Loot! Chicago at center of battle between archeologists, collectors A 4,000-year-old artifact turns up at O'Hare. Stolen property or museum piece? By Tom Hundley November 9, 2008 On April 11, 2003, three days after American tanks rumbled into Baghdad and the day after looters swarmed the Iraq National Museum like a plague of locusts, Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon press corps enjoyed a little laugh at the expense of Iraq's catastrophe. "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?' Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?" the defense secretary asked with mock astonishment. This was vintage Rumsfeld, and the journalists chuckled appreciatively. The looting would continue for two more days.McGuire Gibson, a man who may know as much about ancient Mesopotamian archeology as anyone on the planet, was horrified by the events in Baghdad and by Rumsfeld's cavalier attitude, but he wasn't particularly surprised. In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion, the distinguished University of Chicago scholar had repeatedly warned the Pentagon and State Department about the likelihood of looting. n The warnings fell on deaf ears. n I had been hearing about the legendary Mac Gibson for years, but I did not meet him until a month after the ransacking of the museum, when I was in Baghdad as a Tribune correspondent and he traveled to that benighted city to inspect the damage for himself.Glass from shattered display cases crackled underfoot as we walked the museum's devastated galleries, Gibson with the aid of a cane, which he occasionally used as a pointer."This chunk of rock is extremely important. We were very worried about it," he said, indicating a 5,000- year-old carved frieze that the looters had ignored. "It shows a guy killing a lion with a bow and arrow. It's important because it is one of the earliest examples of someone acting like a king. All through history, this is what kings do. They hunt," he explained. Gibson, who is 69 and can sometimes come across as ornery, has been sifting through the ruins of Iraq's ancient civilizations for more than four decades. He is president of the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq. His first dig in the country was in 1964, and he has been back pretty much every year since then.After the walk-through, Gibson pronounced his verdict: "We dodged a bullet."This didn't appear to jibe with the mess that I had just seen, but at the time Gibson knew much more about the precarious state of Iraq's archeological heritage than the media or the general public. He knew, for instance, that some of the museum's most precious treasures had been stored for more than a decade in the basement vaults of Iraq's Central Bank. He also knew that something far worse was afoot, that the sack of the National Museum was only a symptom of a much more serious crisis that had been building for more than a decade, ever since Saddam Hussein's defeat in the first Persian Gulf War, a crisis that would soon reach a new crescendo.At the close of the war in 1991, as Saddam fought off insurrections from the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, the U.S. government imposed a no-fly zone over large swaths of Iraq. This, along with strict UN trade sanctions, created a kind of perfect storm. With the weakened Baghdad regime unable to control large parts of the country, impoverished Iraqi villagers—often with the blessing of village elders—turned to the only source of income available to them: scavenging the hundreds of archeological sites that dot the landscape between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.In some areas, the trade in looted antiquities accounted for almost 85 percent of local economic activity. Meanwhile, a weak U.S. economy at the end of George H. W. Bush's presidency was encouraging the truly rich to look for alternatives to stocks and bonds. Art and antiquities fit the bill. As supply obligingly met demand, the market for Mesopotamian antiquities blossomed. Within months of the war's end, a treasure trove of Mesopotamian antiquities began to show up in the gilded display rooms of auction houses in London and New York, no questions asked."In the 1990s, you couldn't buy a bag of dates from Iraq, but you could buy almost any antiquity you wanted," Gibson said during a recent interview at his musty, book-cluttered office on the second floor of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.In the years since the first Gulf War, the ransacking of Iraq's archeological heritage has proceeded at a breathtaking pace. If it has slowed slightly in the last year or so, it is only because the market has become saturated. Archeologists have decried this as a terrible loss to all humanity. Museum directors, whose institutions are the repositories for the most important archeological finds, agree. But a war of words has broken out between the two camps. Archeologists argue that major museums and the wealthy private collectors who often sit on their boards have hastened the destruction of archeological sites by their willingness to pay high prices for objects that have almost certainly been looted. The museum directors and private collectors contend that by rescuing these artifacts from the vicissitudes of the black market they are giving safe shelter to the historical patrimony of all mankind.The high-end trade in illegal antiquities is centered in New York and London, but Chicago has emerged at the vortex of the debate. Earlier this year, the Oriental Institute mounted an important exhibition called "Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past." It will run through the end of the year. On the other side of the argument, James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, has recently published a book called "Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage." In it, Cuno reflects on the meaning and origins of culture, and attempts by government to manipulate culture for political advantage. He also suggests that archeologists are a self-interested group guilty of working all-too-cooperatively with the dodgy regimes that happen to rule the territory where some of the world's most significant archeological sites are located.As president and director of the Art Institute, Cuno presides over a world-class art collection that cuts across the centuries from the ancient to the modern. With thousands of masterpieces to choose from, one of Cuno's favorites is a 14th-Century German monstrance, an 18-inch-tall silver reliquary whose design resembles a Gothic church. Its focal point is an exquisite rock crystal bottle that contains a tooth said to belong to John the Baptist. The bottle, made in medieval Egypt during the Fatimid Caliphate, was originally a vessel for perfume. With the collapse of the Fatimids, it probably ended up in Constantinople, and from there was carried off to northern Europe after Crusaders sacked Byzantium—a textbook example of cultural cross-fertilization producing an artistic masterpiece."Here you have a secular object, made in a Muslim context, transformed into a sacred reliquary for the holiest of Christian saints," explains Cuno.The lesson, he says, is that culture doesn't occur in a vacuum. Items such as the monstrance demonstrate what he describes as the "hybridity and interrelatedness" of the world's cultures."My argument is that there is no such thing as autonomous culture," he says. "Culture has never been ethnically pure; culture is not national."Cuno, 57, is a compact man who inhabits a spacious and tastefully decorated office at the Art Institute. Soft-spoken and solicitous, he carries himself with the air of a slightly distracted Ivy League professor. He arrived in Chicago four years ago after stints as director of the Harvard University art museums and the University of London's prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art.Earlier this year, Cuno was on almost everyone's shortlist to become the next director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after the aristocratic and long-reigning Philippe de Montebello announced that he was stepping down. Although the Met ultimately picked one of its own curators for the post in September, Cuno's book, which features a photo of the heavily guarded entrance of the Baghdad Museum on the front cover and a ringing endorsement from de Montebello on the back, was seen by some as a not-so-subtle pitch for the job. As it turned out, the controversy that has grown up around book may have hurt his chances.The book is a spirited attack on what Cuno calls "nationalist retentionist cultural property laws." These are the laws that virtually every country in the world uses to protect its archeological sites and claim sovereignty over culturally significant artifacts on its territory. Most of these laws are based on the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which has been signed and ratified by 93 nations (but not the U.S.), and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, signed and ratified by 111 nations (including the U.S.).Cuno argues that cultural property laws are chauvinistic and elitist, and that governments use these laws to impose a bogus national identity on cultural objects. The result, he says, is that the world's ancient artistic legacy is in danger of being held hostage to the nationalist agendas of petty tyrants. Rest of article.

2008 Chess Olympiad

USA Results: Bo. 32 Moldova (MDA) Rtg - 7 United States of America (USA) Rtg 1 : 3 16.1 IM Petrenko Svetlana 2285 - IM Krush Irina 2452 0 - 1 16.2 WGM Smokina Karolina 2235 - IM Zatonskih Anna 2440 ½ - ½ 16.3 WGM Partac Elena 2168 - WGM Goletiani Rusudan 2359 0 - 1 16.4 WIM Bulmaga Irina 2287 - WGM Rohonyan Katerina 2334 ½ - ½ Bo. 4 Azerbaijan (AZE) Rtg - 10 United States of America (USA) Rtg 3 : 1 6.1 GM Radjabov Teimour 2752 - GM Kamsky Gata 2729 1 - 0 6.2 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2731 - GM Nakamura Hikaru 2704 1 - 0 6.3 GM Gashimov Vugar 2703 - GM Onischuk Alexander 2644 ½ - ½ 6.4 GM Huseynov Gadir 2650 - GM Shulman Yuri 2616 ½ - ½

2008 Chess Olympiad

Photo: Round 4, from official photos, two chess legends: GM Susan Polgar and GM Maia Chiburdanidze Some results from Round 4. I am watching the Packers/Bears game on television right at the moment, I wil be doing an update of the Round 4 results at Chess Femme News later this afternoon (after a nice long nap). Indian Women defeat the German Women: IM Harika Dronavalli 2462 - IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2471 ½ : ½ IM Tania Sachdev 2425 - IM Kachiani-Gersinska Ketino 2371 1:0 WGM Swathi Ghate 2320 - WGM Michna Marta 2399 ½ : ½ WGM Gomes Mary Ann 2298 - WFM Hoolt Sarah 2274 1:0 Photo: Round 4, from official photos, GM Polgar, GM Aronian, GM Shirov. Korchnoi, the old warrior playing for Switzerland on Board 1, lost to GM Caruna of Italy, but I don't know what colors they were playing (I'm not following the games live, just logging in to various websites and reading what is being posted). Caruna had a rough start the first couple of rounds, but seems to be finding his stride. China shows muscle against the Armenian Women's Team, with Mkrtchian on Board 2 (she had a very impressive result at the Women's World Chess Championship earlier this year): WGM Hou Yifan 2578 - IM Danielian Elina 2513 1 : 0 GM Zhao Xue 2518 - IM Mkrtchian Lilit 2443 * WGM Shen Yang 2450 - WGM Aginian Nelly 2325 1 : 0 Tan Zhongyi 2395 - WIM Galojan Lilit 2305 1 : 0

D'Artagnan Buried in The Netherlands?

Only goes to show, the old saying is true: I learn something new every day! I thought the "The Three Musketeers" (plus one, sometimes) were purely fictional characters! Wrong! Dumas based his novel on a biography of a real D'Artagnan written about 25 years after his death. This is a fascinating story. Story from the Ottawa Citizen (Canada) Musketeer D'Artagnan's grave in Netherlands, historian says Adam Sage, The Ottawa CitizenPublished: Saturday, November 15, 2008 PARIS - A five-year quest to locate the tomb of d'Artagnan -- the inspiration for Alexandre Dumas's novel The Three Musketeers -- has led to a small Dutch church where new research suggests the swashbuckling hero is buried. Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan died during the Siege of Maastricht on June 25, 1673, and, according to a leading French historian, was laid to rest only few kilometres away at Saint Peter and Paul Church in Wolder. "The trail is very precise," said Odile Bordaz, the author of several works on the musketeer. Ms. Bordaz discounted theories that d'Artagnan's body was brought back to France, and is pressing the Dutch authorities and the Catholic Church to approve an archaeological dig of the site. "I would rate the chance of success at 50/50," she said. "But it would be wonderful to find him. It's like a police inquiry." Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers in 1844 after reading about d'Artagnan's exploits in Les Memoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, which was published almost 150 years earlier. Although he brought the action forward by 15 years and invented much of the storyline, the main characters are rooted in history. D'Artagnan was born in southwestern France between 1611 and 1615 and became a member of the King's musketeers by the age of 20. Athos, Porthos and Aramis were among his comrades. He engaged in cloak-and-dagger operations for Louis XIII and then for Louis XIV, the Sun King, who appointed him to lead the musketeers in 1658. Ms. Bordaz said that his reputation as a lady-killer was justified: "The musketeers and their officers led joyous lives and multiple conquests not only on the battlefield but also in the secret of the alcoves." D'Artagnan was killed during a charge led by the Duke of Monmouth, who was at the head of an English contingent allied to France. For decades, historians assumed that his body had been repatriated but Ms. Bordaz said she could find no trace of his tomb in France. She argued that because the hot, humid weather in June 1673 would have caused corpses to putrify rapidly, embalming would have been too costly and time-consuming. During the siege the bodies of French officers were buried in the nearest Catholic church and recently discovered documents revealed that d'Artagnan's camp was close to Wolder. This almost certainly meant that he was buried in Saint Peter and Paul Church, Ms. Bordaz said. Rev. Peter van der Aart, the parish's priest, said that there was a good possibility d'Artagnan was buried in or near the church, but said that an excavation would only be authorized if historians could be sure of the exact location of the tomb. "I don't think we could dig up everything to look for him." © The Ottawa Citizen 2008

Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

Book review. Who was Cleopatra? British historian Joyce Tyldesley tries to tell us. By Randy Dotinga November 14, 2008 edition With the help of everyone from William Shakespeare to Elizabeth Taylor, history has found plenty of ways to depict the ancient world’s most famous woman. Who was Cleopatra? Take your pick: Fearless leader. Sly seductress. Brazen hussy. Separating the truth from myth about Cleopatra is no easy matter. British historian Joyce Tyldesley makes a valiant attempt in her new biography, Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt, but she has trouble giving us a full portrait of this most mysterious of monarchs. The challenge lies in the scarcity of reliable accounts of Cleopatra’s life, including her flings with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, two of the most powerful men on earth. Much of what we think we know about Cleopatra comes from Roman historians with axes – or asps – to grind. “There are simply too many details missing” to write a conventional biography of Cleopatra’s life, Tyldesley admits. Even so, Tyldesley notes that some basic facts of the queen’s life seem clear, although perhaps not well-known amid two millennia of speculation about her love life. Cleopatra was “ambitious and ruthless,” as Tyldesley puts it; she most likely had two of her siblings killed. Smart and savvy, and hardly the emotion-driven female of history, she ruled as a living incarnation of the goddess Isis. And while she’s known for her supposed lusty liaisons, it appears she had no intimate relations with men other than Caesar and Anthony. There are other surprises. It turns out that the queen probably wasn’t much of a looker; depictions on coins show a woman lacking natural beauty by ancient or current standards. But she was rich, intelligent, and powerful, and all these things made her irresistible. While Tyldesley provides occasional doses of wit, “Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt” is a bit of a slog at times, especially when Tyldesley delves into the complicated politics of ancient Egypt. Readers must cope with 15 Egyptian kings named Ptolemy – Cleopatra alone co-ruled with three of them – and a slew of royals also named Cleopatra. (The queen in question was No. VII.) Tyldesley is careful to avoid turning Cleopatra into a doomed romantic, noting that it’s impossible to know whether she and Anthony shared “genuine passion.” But this cautious approach saps life from the Queen of the Nile, turning her into an interesting but remote character, one whose motivations may be forever veiled by time and myth. Ultimately, the most vivid and fascinating version of Cleopatra will always be found in our imaginations. Randy Dotinga is a freelance writer in San Diego.
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