Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mooooo! The Milky Way, Mother's Milk, Cows and Creation

I've been wanting to write this up ever since last week, when I posted about the ancient Egyptians and the "ox leg" i.e., Big Dipper symbolism they used in their religious iconography as well as their astronomy and simultaneously.  Unknown to each other, Mr. Don in the meantime posted the most amazing photograph of an Old Europe religious sanctuary at Random Round-up.  One-half of the pair of icons in that Neolithic sanctuary is a model of a cow's (ox) head with horns.  Shades of Hathor!

I was so taken with that image that I emailed Mr. Don about it and spouted off about possible connections between Egypt and Old Europe via cow worship!  I don't think he took me seriously, or my email may have put him to sleep.  So, I was gearing up to do some research today when, lo and behold, after I posted here earlier today the entry from Barbara Walker's wonderful The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets about "Convent" - that one was sure an eye opener to yours truly, by the way, geez, I hapened to flip the page over and there is was, an entry on -- COW! 

First, a brief return visit to the November 14, 2010 Random Round-up at Goddesschess - honestly, we did not plan this!  Here is a photo of the reconstructed sanctuary at Parta at the Banat Museum.  Unfortunately, I am not clear by the description whether the "ox" is the female, or the other figure is the female -- the description of the reconstruction is rather ambiguous: 

The monumental statue has been reconstructed based on some fragments discovered, unfortunately very few fragments – thus, fragments of the shoulder of the statue have been very well preserved, the belly of the feminine statue (the Mother statue), the ear and the a part of the ox’s muzzle – based on these fragments the reconstruction of the ox was possible; the feminine statue, because no fragment of the head was kept it was built based on some analogies.

Reconstruction of the Parta sanctuary, at
Banat Museum.

Barbara Walker in her truly remarkable Encyclopedia did all of the research for me.  This is what she wrote under "Cow:"

Goddess Hathor giving sustenance
to young Horus, Temple of Hathor,
at Dendera, Egypt.
Perhaps the most common manifestation of the Great Mother as Preserver was the white, horned, milk-giving Moon-cow, still sacred in India as a symbol of Kali [how about that, Mr. Don, ha!]  Egypt revered Mother Hathor as the heavenly cow whose udder produced the Milky Way, whose body was the firmament, and who daily gave birth to the son, Horus-Ra, her Golden Calf, the same deity worshipped by Aaron and the Israelites: "These be the gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:4).

The name of Italy meant "calf-land."(1)  This country too was the gift of the Milk-giver, whom Etruscans called Lat, Arabs called Al-Lat, Greeks called Latona, Lada, Leto, or Leda.  She ruled Latium, and gave her milk (latte) to the world.

All Europe was named after the Goddess as a white Moon-cow, whom the Greeks mated to the white bull incarnation of Zeus.  Her alternative name was Io, "Moon."  Under this name she was presented in classic mythology as a rival of Hera, but patriarchal writers were always setting different manifestations of the same Goddess at odds with one another, posibly on the principle of divide and conquer.  Hera herself was named Io, ancestress of the Ionians.  In her temple on the site of Byzantium she appeared as teh same lunar cow, the Horned One, wearing the same crescent headdress as the Egyptian Cow-goddess.(2)

Herodotus said the milk-giving Mother Hera-lo-Latona was the same as Egypt's Buto, "an archaic queen of the Lower Kingdom."(3)  The holy city of Buto, Egypt's oldest oracular shrine, was known to the Greeks as Latopolis, "city of Lat."(4)  Of course Buto, or Lat, was only another name for Hathor, or Isis, or Mut, or Neith: all represented "the great cow which gave birth to Ra, the great goddess, the mother of all the gods ... the Cow, the great lady of the south, the great one who gave birth to the sun, who made the germ of gods and men, the mother of Ra, who raised up Tem in primeval time, who existed when nothing else had being, and who created that which exists."(5)

The Cow as creatress was equally prominent in myths of northern Europe, where she was named Audumia; she was also Freya, or a Valkyrie taking the form of a "fierce cow.(6)  A semi-patriarchal Norse myth tried to attribute the creation of the world to the giant Ymir, whose body and blood made the universe.  But he was not the first of creatures.  The Cow preceded him, for he lived on her milk.(7)

Earlier myths showed the universe being "curdled" into shape from the Cow's milk. In India, many still believe literally the creation myth known as Churning of the Sea of Milk.(8)  The Japanese version said the primordial deep went "curdlecurdle" (kowororkoworo) when stirred by the first deeities, to make clumps of land.(9)  The ancient near east thought human bodies too were curdled from the Goddess's milk.  One of her liturgies was copied into the Bible: "Has thou not poured me out as milk, and curled me like cheese?" (Job 10:10).

The root of "cow" was Sanskrit Gau, Egyptian kau or kau-t.  Goddess-names like Gauri and Kauri also designated the yonic cowrie shell.(10)  Brahman rebirth ceremonies used either a huge golden yoni or an image of the Cow-mother.  "When a man has for grave cause been expelled from his caste, he may be restored to it after passing several times under the belly of a cow."(11)  The Egyptian Goddess as birth-giver typically wore a cow's head or horns, as she offered her breasts with both hands.(12)  As the nursing mother who gave each Egyptian his secret soul-name (ren), she was entitled Renenet, the Lady of the Double Granary, a reference to her inexhaustible breasts.(13)  The bovine enzyme rennet, used even in antiquity to curdle milk, was also sacred to her.

A favorite Roman emblem of the Goddess was the Cornucopia, Horn of Plenty: a cow's horn pouring forth all the fruits of the earth.  The cow was honored as the wetnurse of humanity, and her image is still inadvertently invoked to this day as an expletive Holy Cow, or a perjorative Sacred Cow.


1.  Thomson, 50.
2.  Elworthy, 183, 194.
3.  Larousse, 29. 
4.  Herodotus, 106.
5.  Budge, C.E. 1, 457-58, 463.
6.  Turville-Pette, 256.
7.  Larousse, 248.
8.  O'Flaherty, 274.
9.  Campbell, Or. M., 467.
10.  Waddell, 404.
11.  Frazer, F.O.T., 220-22.
12.  Neumann, G.M., pl. 9.
13.  Larousse, 38; H. Smith, 24. 

The Narmer Palette, c. 3500 BCE, Egypt.  Note the presence of Hathor at the top of both the front and reverse sides.

Chess Femme Interviews

Our friends at Chessdom do a creditable job of presenting interviews with female players.  I just visited Chessdom this evening and found three new interviews:

Interview with WGM Irina Sudakova
Irina Sudakova is organizer of Chigorin Memorial

Interview with IM Martha Fierro
Top board of CS Fischer Chieti at the ECC 2010

Natalia Pogonina Interviewed
by Radio Xadrez
(Pogonina is currently tied for first place in the 60th Russian Women Super Finals after Round 5, with six more rounds to go)
I may have already published a link to this interview -

60th Russian Women Super Final

60th ch-RUS w (Moscow RUS) Tue 16th Nov 2010 - Sat 27th Nov 2010
(12 players 11 Rds SRR Indiv TC:90m:30m+30spm(1))

Current cross-table from The Week in Chess, after 5 games, with 6 to go:

60th ch-RUS w Moscow (RUS), 16-27 xi 2010cat. IX (2458)
1.Pogonina, NatalijawgRUS2472*.1..½1½.1..42661
2.Kosintseva, NadezhdamRUS2576.*.1..1½½.1.42691
3.Paikidze, NaziwgGEO24010.*.1...1.1½2634
4.Shadrina, TatianawgRUS2384.0.*01.1.1..32554
5.Kosteniuk, AlexandragRUS2507..01*0.1.½..2422
6.Galliamova, AlisamRUS2487½..01*.0...12437
7.Nebolsina, VerawgRUS237700....*.½.112499
8.Girya, OlgawgRUS2435½½.001.*....22413
9.Kosintseva, TatianagRUS2581.½0...½.*½½.22376
10.Bodnaruk, AnastasiamRUS24070..0½...½*.122394
11.Gunina, ValentinawgRUS2479.00...0.½.*12315
12.Matveeva, SvetlanamRUS2389..½..00..00*½2064

A Chess Goddess Teaches a Lesson

From The Week in Chess:

Ajedrez UNAM Quadrangular 2010
Mark Crowther - Saturday 20th November 2010

Judit Polgar, 2008 Sparkhassen.
The Ajedrez UNAM Quadrangular tournament takes place alongside the Ibero-American tournament. This is part of a huge chess festival which has Kasparov and Karpov giving simuls, a number of seminars and exhibitions. Vassily Ivanchuk lost to Judit Polgar on day one. Manuel Leon-Hoyos takes on Veselin Topalov in the second semi-final on day 2. I couldn't find a time control but it is safe to say it is some kind of rapid.

Here is the game in PGN. You can play through it here.

GM Polgar, Judit (2686) - GM Ivanchuk, Vassily (2764)
Ajedrez UNAM KO Mexico City MEX (1.1), 2010.11.19
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.h5 Bh7 8.Nf3 e6 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nf6 11.Bf4 Bd6 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.O-O-O Nbd7 14.Qe2 O-O 15.Ne5 Qc7 16.Rhe1 Rad8 17.f4 c5 18.dxc5 Nxc5 19.Qc4 Rc8 20.Kb1 Qb6 21.Qd4 Rfd8 22.Qf2 Nd5 23.Ne2 Qa5 24.a3 Ne4 25.Qh4 Nd2+ 26.Ka1 Ne3 27.Rc1 Nxc2+ 28.Rxc2 Rxc2 29.Qe7 Qc7 30.Qb4 a5 31.Qa4 b5 32.Ng3 Nf3 33.Nxf3 Ra8 34.Rh1 Qd6 35.Ne5 Qc7 36.Rd1 Rf8 37.Qc4 Qb6 38.Kb1 Rc8 39.Ne2 Rc1+ 40.Rxc1 Rd8 41.Ka1 Qc7 42.Re1 0-1

Ivanchuk is currently #7 in the world, at 2764.  It doesn't seem that long ago that Judit Polgar was also in the top 10 and also rated over 2700, but at that time there was only one player (Kasparov) rated over 2800!  Polgar, married and a mother of two, continues to reign as top female player in the world.  She is currently #49 on the top 100 list at 2686.  Nice to see her whomp some big butt :)  And I like Ivanchuk!  Go, Judit!

Final round of play in this elite Quad is November 21.  Current standings:

Ranking crosstable after Round 3

Rk.NameRtgFED1.Rd2.Rd3.Rd4.RdPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
1GMIVANCHUK Vassily2764UKR2s12w02s½2w01,54,51,52,25
2GMPOLGAR Judit2686HUN1w01s11w½1s11,54,51,52,25
3GMTOPALOV Veselin2786BUL4w4s4w4s0,00,00,00,00
4GMLEON HOYOS Manuel2570MEX3s3w3s3w0,00,00,00,00

Tie Break1: Buchholz Tie-Breaks (variabel with parameter)
Tie Break2: Buchholz Tie-Breaks (variabel with parameter)
Tie Break3: Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break variable

Not sure what's going on there - it seems that Topalov and Leon Hoyos did not play their games, and according to results listed at, Judit won a R4 game against Ivanchuk!

Pairings/ResultsRound 4
22GMIVANCHUK Vassily 0 - 1GMPOLGAR Judit 3

That would give Judit 2 wins over Ivanchuk (!!!).  What's more, she won against him both times playing the black pieces.

I checked at Susan Polgar's blog (she would have the latest information, it seems she is always on top of all the chess news) - she has this report.

2010 Asian Games

The Team Chess Championshiups continue and the Indian press continues to give good coverage to their home teams.  Indian women's team is in third place after holding powerhouse China to all draws! That is something - wow.  The following is excerpted from The Times of India:

Indian men strengthened top position in chess
PTI, Nov 20, 2010, 08.47pm IST
In the women's section also, India pulled off a creditable draw with China by denying their higher rated opponents any victory in the four games.

International Master Harika Dronavalli began the good show for the Indian women by denying Grandmaster Hou Yifan a victory.

Tania Sachdev then drew with higher-rated Ju Wenjun in the second game before Esha Karavade, an International Master, splitting points with Grandmaster Zhao Xue.

Nisha Mohota then completed the fine show by the Indians by drawing with higher-rated Huang Qian in the last game.

Indian women are on third spot with eight points after the third round.

The Real History of the Convent

From Barbara G, Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets - CONVENT.

Medieval institution evolved form the pagan "college" of priestesses or virgines - that is, unmarried women (not necessarily physical virgins) dedicated to divine service.

Early convents were double: a community of male monks united with female priestesses under the rule of an abbess, usually a landowning noblewoman.(1)  "Priests and monks together with the nuns took vows of obedeience to the abbess in imitation of the obedience of Jesus to his mother."  A 10th-century Saxon chronicle speaks of double convents inhabited by "priests of both sexes," although in a translation it was revised to read "priests of both orders."(2)

As Christian laws encroached on women's property rights, many women of noble rank took vows to remain single, so as to protect their wealth from the claims of husbands.  Thus originated the so-called convent of noble ladies, an independent mini-queendom.  For example, the Saxon convent of Gandersheim in the 9th century held overlordship directly from the king.  The abbess conducted her own courts of law, kept her own seat in the imperial parliament, and maintained her own standing army.(3)  Culture and learning were pursued.  This convent trained the poetess Hrotswitha of Gandersheim, called "a Sappho, deserving to rank with the fabled Veleda and Aurinia, ancient German poet-priestesses."(4)

In the 7th century, a papal bull confirmed the rights of freedom from taxation and from episcopal jurisdiction of the Parthenon of Beatae Mariae et Sanctae Columbae et Agathae (Virgin-house of Blesed Marys and Holy Doves and Kindly Ones).  Abbesses of Las Huelgas ruled sixty towns, had the right to license bishops and priests within their dioceses, to confer benefices on clergy of their own choice, to nominate ecclesiastical judges, to hear criminal cases among their subjects, and to establish new parishes.  Bishops and apostolic delegates were forbidden to visit churches, parishes, clergy, or beneficiaries in the abbess's territory.  The nuns remained exempt from episcopal jurisdiction all the way up to 1874.(5)

Ancient goddess-queens were described as "abbesses" in Christian histories, to disguise the real nature of the pagan matriarchate that backed them.  Such a one was St. Odilia or Ottilia, called the abbess of Odilienberg (Hohenburg), a pilgrimage shrine of Alsace that was her own Holy Mountain.(6)  Her legend had no documentary basis.(7)  She was fraudulently canonized, only to attract her votaries to Christianity.

Many abbesses retained their pagan title of High Priestess - Sacredos Maxima - especially in the German convents.  At Quedlinburg the abbess was "in control of the whole town, its people, churches, hospitals, clergy, canons and canonesses, and all religious orders."  She was not only High Priestess, but also Superior Canoness of the Cathedral, Metropolitana (mayor), and Matricia (matriarch).  At St. Mary's Uberwasser in Munster, the abbess's title was Prima domna et matre nostra spirituale, "Mistress-Leader and Our Spiritual Mother."  Cistercian monks at Las Huelgas swore obedience to the abbess as "the Illustrious Lady ... my Prelate, and my Lady, Superior, Mother and legitimate administrator in spiritual and temporal affairs of the Roayl Monastery and its Hospital."(8)

Some centuries earlier, the Latin title of Sacredos Maxima meant a high priestess of the Great Mother of the Gods.  She was assisted by lesser priestesses known as ministra, "ministers."  The word "sodality" came from Latin sodales, a college of dancing priestesses trained in the Great Mother's temple.(9)

That women in convents long retained the sexual freedom of the ancient priestesses is shown by interchangeable use of the words "convent" and "brothel" in medieval times.  Nicholas Clemangis said the monasteries were not so much sancturies of God as they were "abodes of Venus."(1)

The word nun originally meant a nurse, that is, a priestess of a healing shrine, like the "nymphs" in colleges of Hygeia and Panacea in pagan Greece.  That the convents continued to function as hospitals is suggested by medieval romances: wounded, sick, or dying folk were usually cared for by "nuns."(11)  The word also meant a irgin mother in Germanic paganism.  A cognate was Nana, virgin mother of the god Balder.

Sometimes pagan queens established convents in order to have themselves canonized, just as Roman emperors were made gods by virtue of their religious leadership.  The canon of saints includes several pagan queens whose only claim to beatitude was wealth, which brought the jurisdiction of an abbey and its subject lands.  Some of the queen-saints were even distinctly hostile to church men, like Queen Bathild, foundress of a druidic convent at Chelles in the 7th century.  She was the real ruler of the western Franks, having placed her son Chlotar on the thorne.  Certain bishops who tried to interfere with her were assassinated.  In the end she was "unceremoniously" removed from power by Christian nobles, and apparently murdered as a heretic, though her subjects maintained her cult and called her Saint Bathild.(12)

In Bede's time, Queen Ethelreda was ordained High Priestess of Ely, and was succeeded by other supreme abbesses governing the monastery's beatarum regimine feminarum (holy order of women) up to the Danish invasion in 866.  The abbey of Wherwell was founded by Queen Elfrida in 986; it was exempt from earthly services, and held many territories and churches.(13)

Another pagan princess who founded a convent in the 7th century and was canonized, was St. Wereburg of the royal house of Mercia, ruler of the city of Chester.  Her establishment was specifically for "noble women" refusing to give up their property to husbands.  St. Wereburg was canonized centuries later, on the strength of a legend that her holy bones had extinguished the fires set in the city of Chester by maurding Danes.(14)

St. Hild, or Hilda, of the royal house of Northumberland, established one of the most famous double monasteries of Anglo-Saxon times at Hartlepool, the "Isle of Stags."  Her influence extended over all England.  She created bishops and abbots, favoring especially the poet-missionaries of Celtic background.  Bede said "all who knew her called her Mother."(15)  Since she bore the name of the pagan Great Mother Hild, or Hel, one might wonder about the real basis of her authority, in a century when a majority of people had not yet heard of Christianity.(16)

Even when convents became Christianized, abbesses were still ordained like bishops, and in some areas held more secular power than bishops, though church histories have tried to conceal this, sometimes through deliberate falsification of the records.  For instance, a papal bull said the abbess of the Cassian foundation in Marseilles was "ordained"; a later editor changed the word to "blessed."  At Jourarre, Quedlinburg, Conversano, and other places, an abbess held supreme jurisdiction over both clergy and laity in her territory.  According to the Rule of St. Donatus, abbesses functioning as Matris Spirituale (Spiritual Mother) regularly heard confessions.  French ecclesiastical records sayd abbesses gave absolution by imposition of their hands on the heads of men.(17)

The church began to encroach on the rights of convents in the 12th and 13th centuries, devising ways to appropriate the nuns' property and make them subject to male clergy  At Fontevrault, canonesses preceded the monks in processions, carried the pastoral cross, preached, read the Gospel, and heard confessions.  Pope Innocent III deprived them of these privileges.  Disagreements arose between male and female clergy.  Monks insisted they would no longer genuflect every time they passed the abbess.  Nuns reacted by refusing to kneel in the confessional before their brothers.  Innocent III also commanded the abbess of Jouarre, her clergy, and her layfolk to subject themselves to the authority of the bishop of Meaux.  When the abbess asked for time to prove her right to independence, she and all her community were excommunicated.  Decrees of the Council of Trent changed church laws to say women's orders must be take over and supervised by men's orders.(18)

Considerable bitterness accompanied sexual segregation of the double convents, judging from the letter of Abbot Conrad of Marchtal, on barring women from his order:

We and our whole community of canons, recognizing that the wickedness of women is greater than all other wickedness of the world, and there is no anger like that of women, and that the poison of asps and dragons is more curable and less dangerous for men than the familiarity of women, have unanimously decreed for the safety of our souls, no less than for that of our bodies and goods, that we will on no account receive any more sisters to the increase of our perdition, but will avoid them like poisonous animals.(19) [Cf. Taliban; cf. Islam.]

Convents had been centers of higher learning for women in an age when women were forbidden access to schools and universities.  Earlier in the medieval period, girls as well as boys attended ecclesiastical schools in Ireland and learned to read and write; but this practice was later forbidden, the schools being kept only for males.(20) [Cf. Taliban; cf. Islam.]  Premonstratensian and Cistercian ordes were famed as educators of women, until the Council of Trent ruled that women's orders must be taken over by men's orders.(21)  Then Cistercian nuns were forbidden to establish any more teaching convents.(22)

Nuns were further commanded not to teach or discuss theological matters.  This was used as a device for outlawing their orders and confiscating their property.  It served as an excuse for the Council of Vienne to deprive the teaching nuns called Beguines of their lands and houses, in 1312 when monks of the Inquisition demanded them:

We have been told that certain women commonly called Beguines, afflicted by a kind of madness, discuss the Holy Trinity and the divine essence, and express opinions on matters of faith and sacraments...  Since these women promise no obedience to anyone and do not renounce their property or profess an aproved Rule ... [w]e have therefore decided and declared with the approval of the Council that their way of life is to be permanently forbidden and altogether excluded from the Church of God.(23)

 The Beguines were forced to integrate into orders approved by the pope, where they would receive no education.  Their properties were taken over by the Inquisition to provide dwellings and prisons for the inquisitors' use.(24)

From the 12th century on, there was increasing pressure on convents to adopt rules of close confinement, to keep nuns segregated from the outside world.  The canonesses of St. Mary's Uberwasser rebelled three times against the imposition of the Benedictine Rule, which would force them into seclusion.(25)  Many convents were threatened with excommunication, dissolution, or even prosecution by the Inquisition to force them to accept strict seclusion and to cease developing the sisters' minds.

Early in the 17th century, teacher Mary Ward tried to found a Catholic order of teaching nuns known as the English Ladies, to provide education for girls.  She and her sisters refused to submit to the cloister, so Mary was arrested and accused of heresy.  Her order was suppressed in 1629.  Pope Urban VIII rebuked them:  "Certain women, taking the name of Jesuitesses, assembled and living together, built colleges, and appointed superiors and a General, assumed a peculiar habit without the approbation of the Holy See...carried out works by no means suiting the weakness of their sex, womanly modesty, virginal purity."(26)  With typically patriarchal reasoning, the English Ladies were punished for doing what women were supposed to be unable to do.

A few convents managed to hold on to their pre-patriarchal independence.  The clergy failed to turn out the canonesses of St. Waudru, at Mons.  Monks of Fontevrault likewise failed to take over the main church or the nuns' house, and were obliged to continue to vow obedience to the abbesses, up to the French Revolution.(27)


1.  Encyc. Brit., "Women in Religious Orders."
2.  Morris, 45, 132.
3.  Bullough, 158.
4.  Borchardt, 107.
5.  Morris, 18, 85-86.
6.  Gifford, 133.
7.  Attwater, 257.
8.  Morris, 58-65, 89.
9.  Vermaeseren, 57, 109.
10.  Sadok, Kaplan & Freedman, 24.
11.  Funk, 281.
12.  Attwater, 60.
13.  Morris, 25-26.
14.  Brewster, 93.
15.  Attwater, 170.
16.  Brewster, 490; Encyc. Brit., "Holda."
17.  Morris, 19, 71, 142.
18.  Morris, 48, 76, 37, 149.
19.  Bullough, 160.
20.  Joyce I, 410.
21.  Morris, 157.
22.  Bullough, 191.
23.  Bullough, 163.
24.  Lea, 226.
25.  Morris, 157.
26.  Bullough, 208.
27.  Morris, 149.
Just wondering:

Could, 2000 plus years later, the roots of the minstrel shows (dancing and singing with lots of tamborines) be related to those dancing priestess ministra (see note 9) dedicated to the temple of the Mother Goddess?

Some interesting information on Hild or Hilda and the double monastery at Hartlepool, from Wikipedia:
Hartlepool Abbey
Hilda of Whitby

And this information on the origin of the "Island of Stags" and information on St. Hilda and the monastery at Harttlepool from a tourist site on the Tees Valley:


Surrounded on three sides by the sea, the Magnesian Limestone headland or peninsula called the Heugh at Hartlepool is more familiarly known as Old Hartlepool. Hartlepool may not always readliy accept association with Teesside, it has its own natural harbour to the north of the river, but in recent centuries its industrial history has been very closely tied up with the River Tees.

In prehistoric times Hartlepool's headland is thought to have been an isolated tidal island covered by thick forests. In the nineteenth century during excavation of the adjacent marshy area called the Slake, trunks of trees from the ancient forest were found embedded in the clay along with antlers and the teeth from deer that seem to have inhabited the area in large numbers many years ago. [Sounds like an ancient goddess sanctuary to me, perhaps dedicated to Diana/Artemis, goddess of the hunt]. 

Hartlepool forest is still recorded in existence in the thirteenth century. In fact the ancient Anglo Saxon name for Hartlepool was Heret eu meaning Stag Island which is a reference to either the stag's head shape of the headland or perhaps an indication that the area may have been well inhabited by forest deer.

Hereteu was later known as Hart or Hartness [hart = deer] and was in fact the name of a whole district which included the Heugh headland and the villages of Hart and Billingham to the west. At an early stage the coastal headland was distinguished from Hart by the addition of the word `pool', a reference to the sheltered coastal bay adjacent to the headland.


Hartlepool's headland is of course the site of the original Hartlepool and was to form the natural harbour for the old fishing town for many centuries. In earlier times this area had been the site of a monastery associated with St Hilda. The Anglo-Saxon monastery at Hartlepool was founded in 640 A.D by St Aidan for both men and women and its first abbess was an Irish princess by the name of Hieu. Some say that Hieu gave her name to Heugh, the name of the headland. In 649 A.D Hieu was succeeded by St Hilda who was here until 657 A.D when she founded the monastery at Whitby.

In its later days the monastery at Hartlepool seems to have declined in importance until it was finally destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century
Yeah, right - the monastery at Hartlepool was founded by a dude (St. Aidan), but he let a woman run it?  Oh please.  This is probably one of those later patriarchal gloss-overs that Walker talked about in her encyclopedia entry on "Convent", above. 

So - a mystery!  Who is the Princess (of) Hieu or Heugh???  Are she and St. Hilda (Hild or Hel) actually the same person?

What's with the close association of the monastery at Hartlepool and the ancient symbol of the goddess, deer?  Thar be pagans on the land back then...

Friday, November 19, 2010

First Americans were in Europe Well Before Columbus' Time

From the First Americans 'reached Europe five centuries before Columbus discoveries'Scientists claim first Americans arrived long before Columbus bumped into an island in the Bahamas in 1492
Giles Tremlett Madrid,
Tuesday 16 November 2010 17.43 GMT

When Christopher Columbus paraded his newly discovered American Indians through the streets of Spanish towns at the end of the 15th century, he was not in fact introducing the first native Americans to Europe, according to new research.

Scientists who have studied the genetic past of an Icelandic family now claim the first Americans reached Europe a full five centuries before Columbus bumped into an island in the Bahamas during his first voyage of discovery in 1492.

Researchers said today that a woman from the Americas probably arrived in Iceland 1,000 years ago, leaving behind genes that are reflected in about 80 Icelanders today.

The link was first detected among inhabitants of Iceland, home to one of the most thorough gene-mapping programs in the world, several years ago.

Initial suggestions that the genes may have arrived via Asia were ruled out after samples showed they had been in Iceland since the early 18th century, before Asian genes began appearing among Icelanders.

Investigators discovered the genes could be traced to common ancestors in the south of Iceland, near the VatnajĖ†kull glacier, in around 1710.

"As the island was practically isolated from the 10th century onwards, the most probable hypothesis is that these genes correspond to an Amerindian woman who was taken from America by the Vikings some time around the year 1000," Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Pompeu Fabra university in Spain, said.

Norse sagas suggest the Vikings discovered the Americas centuries before Columbus got there in 1492.

A Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, in the eastern Canadian region of Terranova, is thought to date to the 11th century.

Researchers said they would keep trying to determine when the Amerindian genes first arrived in Iceland.

"So far, we have got back to the early 18th century, but it would be interesting to find the same sequence further back in Icelandic history," Lalueza-Fox said.

The genetic research, made public by Spain's Centre for Scientific Research, was due to be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

And this:

Yahoo News
Vikings brought Amerindian to Iceland 1,000 years ago: study
– Wed Nov 17, 12:09 pm ET
MADRID (AFP) – The first Native American to arrive in Europe may have been a woman brought to Iceland by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, a study by Spanish and Icelandic researchers suggests.

The findings boost widely-accepted theories, based on Icelandic medieval texts and a reputed Viking settlement in Newfoundland in Canada, that the Vikings reached the American continent several centuries before Christopher Columbus travelled to the "New World."

Spain's CSIC scientific research institute said genetic analysis of around 80 people from a total of four families in Iceland showed they possess a type of DNA normally only found in Native Americans or East Asians.

"It was thought at first that (the DNA) came from recently established Asian families in Iceland," CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox was quoted as saying in a statement by the institute.

"But when family genealogy was studied, it was discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland."

The lineage found, named C1e, is also mitochondrial, which means that the genes were introduced into Iceland by a woman.

"As the island was virtually isolated from the 10th century, the most likely hypothesis is that these genes corresponded to an Amerindian woman who was brought from America by the Vikings around the year 1000," said Lalueza-Fox.

The researchers used data from the Rejkjavik-based genomics company deCODE Genetics.

He said the research team hopes to find more instances of the same Native American DNA in Iceland's population, starting in the same region in the south of the country near the massive Vatnajokull glacier.

The report, by scientists from the CSIC and the University of Iceland, was also published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The journal said 75 to 80 percent of contemporary Icelanders can trace their lineage to Scandinavia and the rest to Scotland and Ireland.

But the C1e lineage is "one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago.

"Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival (in Iceland), preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mitochondrial DNA pool at least 300 years ago.

"This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century," said the journal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Asian Games Team Chess Championships

I can rely on the Indian press to report chess news - and they haven't let me down today!

From the Times of India Online

Good start for Indian men and women in team chess competition
PTI, Nov 18, 2010, 11.13pm IST

GUANGZHOU: Despite K Sasikiran's stalemate with a player ranked far below him, Indian men managed to outsmart Kyrgistan 3.5-0, while their women counterparts defeated Turkmenistan by a similar scoreline, on the opening day of team chess competition in the Asian Games on Thursday.

Sasi, the tournament's second seed with a rating of 2688, was held by Nurdin Samakov (2380) after P Harikrishna gave India a 1-0 lead by beating Algis Shakuraliev.

G N Gopal and B Adhiban made sure that the early lead was converted into a winning one by getting the better of their respective rivals Nasyr Akylbekov and Semet Tologontegin.

Indian men stood tied in third place with Vietnam after the first-round win, with Iran and Qatar in joint lead with four points each.

Sasi said his opponent defended stoutly to earn a draw. "I could have won, but unfortunately, I didn't seize the chance. My opponent defended quite well," he said, adding the target was the team gold after a blank in the individual event.

"We hope we can get to the final. The best (expectation) of course would be to win the gold medal."

He rated hosts China as the biggest threat. "The biggest (threat) is the Chinese team," he said. The women, even in the absence of individual silver medallist Dronavalli Harika, were too good, with Tania Sachdev, Meenakshi Subbaraman and Nisha Mohota, winning their ties, while Eesha Karavade was held to a draw by her Turkmenistan rival Mekhri Geldiyeva.

The women were in fifth position with 3.5 points, behind joint leaders Bangladesh, China, Iran and Uzbekistan.

Sixteen teams are in fray for medals in the men's section, while a dozen women outfits are vying for honours.

60th Russian Women's Super Final 2010

The official site is in Russian and I'm tough out of luck there.  It takes me about 25 minutes just to deciper a single word because of the Cyrillic alphabet the Russians use.  I need a table of letters and then a translator in order to figure out what was written.  There are easier ways to live, trust me on that, darlings :)

The following information is from The Week in Chess:
60th ch-RUS w Moscow (RUS), 16-27 xi 2010cat. IX (2458)
1.Kosintseva, NadezhdamRUS2576*.....1.1..13
2.Galliamova, AlisamRUS2487.*.½1....1..2729
3.Paikidze, NaziwgGEO2401..*....1.½.12756
4.Pogonina, NatalijawgRUS2472.½.*.1....½.22568
5.Kosteniuk, AlexandragRUS2507.0..*...1.1.22560
6.Bodnaruk, AnastasiamRUS2407...0.*.½.1..2480
7.Nebolsina, VerawgRUS23770.....*½...12545
8.Kosintseva, TatianagRUS2581..0..½½*....12270
9.Shadrina, TatianawgRUS23840...0...*.1.12381
10.Matveeva, SvetlanamRUS2389.0½..0...*..½2158
11.Girya, OlgawgRUS2435...½0...0.*.½2181
12.Gunina, ValentinawgRUS24790.0...0....*0

A long way to go yet - 8 rounds.  I don't expect wonder WGM Valentina Gunina to stay on "0" for very long!  The question everyone wants to answer is what shape is GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in?  In December she will be defending her world chess champion title against a lot of hungry competitors.  I would say that over the past year or so, her tournament results have been good, but not outstanding.  She has had some great wins and also some not-so-good showings.  To be fair, she is balancing married life and motherhood with a chess career where she is playing all around the world. I can't imagine doing that, not on a sustained basis.  How wearing that must be - just the constant travel and adjustment to different time zones and climate changes, and then of course everyone is taking pot-shots at you because you are at the top and they all want that title and crown.  And then there is the constant worry and loneliness of being away from your spouse and children for long stretches of time.  Ach!  I'm glad I do what I do :)

You can also find games from Rounds 1 and 2 at GM Alexandra Kosteniuk's blog.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

IM Harika Dronavalli Wins Individual Bronze in Chess at the Asian Games

From The Times of IndiaHarika wins bronze in women's individual chess
IANS, Nov 16, 2010, 05.29pm IST
Harika wins bronze in women's individual chess - The Times of India

GUANGZHOU: India's Harika Dronavalli defeated Iran's [Sukandar plays for Indonesia, not Iran] Sukandar Irine Kharisma in the final and ninth round to win bronze in the women's individual chess at the Asian Games on Tuesday.

China's Hou Yifan and Zhao Xue, both grand masters, claimed the gold and silver.

Top seed Hou won eight rounds and drew one to score 8.5 points. Zhao won seven matches, drew one and lost one to finish with 7.5 points. International Master Harika, with five wins, one loss and three draws, scored 6.5 points to come third.

Harika, who was lying fourth on Monday, split points with compatriot Tania Sachdev and then playing with black pieces, she defeated Sukandar in the ninth round to move to the third place.

Harika had drawn with Nguyen Pham Le Thao of Vietnam Monday in the seventh round to take her score to five points.

Her medal chances were high after she held the strongest woman player in the world, Hou in the sixth round, after beating Atousa Pourkashiyan of Iran in the fifth.

Tania was also on five points overnight after seven rounds, following victories over Altanulzi Enkhtuul and Batchimeg Tuvshintugs of Mongolia in the last two rounds.

The two Indians after drawing their match Tuesday, were on 5.5 points.

But Tania lost to Hou in the last round Tuesday, to finish at sixth place with 5.5 points.
Here is the final cross-table for the Women's Rapid Championship at the Asian Games (from

Rk. NameRtgFED1.Rd2.Rd3.Rd4.Rd5.Rd6.Rd7.Rd8.Rd9.RdPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
1CHNGMHou Yifan2591CHN19s15w112s14w12s13w½8s17w16s18,50,0235447,5
2CHNGMZhao Xue2474CHN23w110s17w16s11w08s½12w14w19s17,50,0233246,5
3INDIMHarika Dronavalli2525IND24w17s09s118w117w11s½4s½6w½12s16,50,0232844,5
4VIEWIMPham Le Thao Nguyen2337VIE22s116w18w11s06w19s13w½2s05w½6,00,5234850,0
5MGLWGMBathimeg Tuvshintugs2327MGL25w11s024w111s½20w16s-18s18w14s½6,00,5217744,5
6INDIMTania Sachdev2385IND31s118w115s12w04s05w+13w13s½1w05,50,0230548,5
7VIEWGMHoang Thi Bao Tram2271VIE28s13w12s019w18w015s117w11s010w½5,50,0230147,5
8QATGMZhu Chen2477QAT29s114w14s015w17s12w½1w05s013w15,50,0228549,5
9UZBWIMMuminova Nafisa2360UZB26w113s½3w023s110w14w011s117s12w05,50,0222845,0
10IRIWGMParidar Shadi2253IRI33s12w031s112w½9s020w114s½15w17s½5,50,0218341,0
11TKMWFMHallaeva Bahar2184TKM35s022w136s15w½12s019w19w029s120w15,50,0193836,0
12INAWGMSukandar Irine Kharisma2382INA30w120s11w010s½11w113s½2s014w13w05,00,0227548,0
13MGLWCMEnkhtuul Altanulzii2121MGL36s-9w½37s129w114s112w½6s018w18s05,00,0213139,5
14TKMWGMGeldyeva Mekhri2279TKM21w18s023w120s½13w030s110w½12s019s15,00,0211738,5
15KAZWIMNakhbayeva Guliskhan2209KAZ34w117s16w08s021w17w024s110s022w15,00,0208738,5
16UZBNodirjano A Nodira2149UZB27w14s026w117s025w118w022s030s124w15,00,0188435,0
17IRIWGMPourkashiyan Atousa2367IRI37s115w029s116w13s022w17s09w018s½4,50,0216139,5
18KAZWIMDauletova Gulmira2263KAZ32w16s030w13s026w116s15w013s017w½4,50,0215440,5
19SYRMir Mahmoud Afamia2010SYR1w021s125w17s030w½11s032w126s114w04,50,0198540,5
20BANWFMShamima Akter Liza2161BAN38s+12w035s114w½5s010s023w122w111s04,50,0195539,5
21JPNWFMUchida Narumi1834JPN14s019w033s131w115s029w½26s034w132s14,50,0188332,5
22MASWCMNur Nabila Azman Hisham1845MAS4w011s034w132s124w117s016w120s015s04,00,0205837,5
23IRQWIMIbrahim Delbak Ismael1929IRQ2s028w114s09w035s125w½20s031w½29w14,00,0192637,0
24BANSultana Sharmin Shirin1998BAN3s035w15s028w122s026w115w025s116s04,00,0190339,0
25SYRAl-Jeldah Fatemah0SYR5s037w119s033w116s023s½30w½24w038s14,00,0188732,0
26UAEWFMAl-Zarouni Kholoud Essa1864UAE9s027w116s036w118s024s021w119w037s14,00,0187734,5
27JORNuimat Rayah0JOR16s026s032w034s137w131w½29s038w128s½4,00,0176328,0
28JORBoshra Alshaeby1807JOR7w023s038w124s029s036w131s½33w127w½4,00,0169630,5
29MASWFMBakri Alia Anin Azwa1953MAS8w032s117w013s028w121s½27w111w023s03,50,0196437,5
30UAEWIMSaleh Nora Mohd1884UAE12s033w118s035w119s½14w025s½16w031s½3,50,0188835,0
31IRQWFMMohammed Qane jannar Worya1901IRQ6w034s110w021s032w½27s½28w½23s½30w½3,50,0182334,0
32QATWFMAl-Khelaifi Salama1761QAT18s029w027s122w031s½35w119s036w121w03,50,0171231,5
33KORWCMByun Sungwon1612KOR10w030s021w025s038w137s134w½28s036s13,50,0162328,5
34KORKim Hyoyoung1355KOR15s031w022s027w036s138w133s½21s035w13,50,0157830,0
35NEPAdhikari Asmita0NEP11w124s020w030s023w032s038s137w134s03,00,0181729,0
36MDVNusra Abdul Rahman0MDV13w-38s111w026s034w028s037w132s033w02,00,0175327,5
37NEPKhamboo Monalisa1877NEP17w025s013w038s127s033w036s035s026w01,00,0155231,0
38MDVMoomina Mohamed0MDV20w-36w028s037w033s034s035w027s025w00,00,0151225,5

Tie Break1: The results of the players in the same point group#results against
Tie Break2: rating average of the opponents (variabel with parameters)
Tie Break3: Buchholz Tie-Breaks (variabel with parameter)

Temple of Diana Discovered


Italy: Temple of goddess of virgins, wild animals, unearthed
Rome, 16 Nov. (AKI) - An almost 2,000 year-old Roman temple dedicated to Diana, the goddess of virgins and wild animals, has been unearthed in a protected park in the Italian region of Tuscany.

The ancient religious sanctuary, found in the Maremma national park is 350 square metres large, and was discovered in perfect condition by a team of Italian and other European archaeologists following a two-year dig.

Traditionally, Diana is known as the 'virgin' goddess charged with protecting women. According to mythology, Diana, along with goddesses Minerva and Vesta, swore to never marry, but the goddess is also associated with wild animals and nature, and so bears a second title of 'Diana, goddess of the hunt.'

The temple, which has some seven internal rooms, also contained several items that were unearthed during the dig including 35 oil lamps, 10 coins, a bronze dog-shaped votive, two glass vials and mosaic decorations. Three statues of Diana and her twin brother, Apollo, were also uncovered.

The temple dates between the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century AD.

Monday, November 15, 2010

1st Metropolitan Chess FIDE Invitational

Half-time report.  Er, sorry - football on the brain.  Did you HEAR the game the Badgers put on - oh, never mind.  We scored over 80 fricking points, har!  Oh - back to chess--

Check out the half-way there report at  There are a couple of games to play through, some photographs, and of course, a cross-table, along with a description of some of the action through the mid-way point.  The tournament concludes this coming weekend.

Tatev Abrahamyan has 2.0/5 and has a real uphill battle to score a norm.  Here's the cross-table:

Treasure! Secret Code! Undeciphered Writing!

A new novel?  No - real life, darlings!  Nothing is more amazing.  Read on...

From the
Mystery treasure could be in forgotten medieval code
8:35am Monday 15th November 2010
By Mark Tallentire

Recovered seal, about 1 inch tall.
 AN amateur enthusiast has unearthed a mysterious treasure said to bear inscriptions from a forgotten medieval code.

Ivor Miller’s find is thought to be a medieval silver seal containing a Roman-era jewel and engraved with as-yet undeciphered lettering.

Some have speculated a medieval farm labourer may have found the Roman jewel, a semi-precious stone, and handed it to their noble or lord, who placed it into their correspondence seal.

Although it has not yet been valued, it could be worth about £2,000.

Mr Miller discovered the piece 5 in[ches] under the surface of a crop field, near Catterick, in North Yorkshire, two weeks ago.

The 43-year-old, from Ludworth, near Durham City, was searching with fellow members of the Northumberland Search Society when his metal detector picked up a strong signal.

He said: “I had found nothing all morning but then I got the signal about 1.30 p.m. I had a feeling it was something nice.

“At first I thought it was a medieval horse pendant, but when I took it back and showed it to the others, they said straight away that it was a medieval seal and it was very rare.”

Mr Miller is planning to hand over the treasure to Durham County Council officials for analysis today.

He said: “Sometimes I can go out for months and find nothing but shotgun cartridges and ringpulls.”

Although he has had an interest in history since an early age, Mr Miller only began using a metal detector about four years ago.

He goes out searching with the society once or twice every weekend, with up to 70 others.

His haul to date includes medieval and Roman coins, but he had never found anything valuable until now.
There are probably amateur code-breakers all over the world already at work on figuring out what the mystery writing says! This is as good as a Dan Brown story...

Amazing Discovery in "Old Europe"

A new Random Round-Up is at Goddesschess (for one week only, then it goes into the archives) - please check it out, particularly the information about the symbols from Vinca.  It's all a part of the continuing discoveries coming out of what Gimbutas called "Old Europe" and they are very very old, indeed.  This one is extremely significant.  The copper tools were discovered at a level dated to 7,000 years ago - c. 5,000 BCE!  An incredible find.

Reported at the Hindustan Times Online
World's oldest Copper Age settlement found
Indo-Asian News Service
Belgrade, November 15, 2010

A "sensational" discovery of 75-century-old copper tools in Serbia is compelling scientists to reconsider existing theories about where and when man began using metal. Belgrade - axes, hammers, hooks and needles - were found interspersed with other artefacts from a settlement that burned down some 7,000 years ago at Plocnik, near Prokuplje and 200 km south of Belgrade.

The village had been there for some eight centuries before its demise. After the big fire, its unknown inhabitants moved away. But what they left behind points to man's earliest known extraction and shaping of metal.

"It really is sensational," said Ernst Pernicka, a renowned archaeology professor at Germany's Tuebingen University who recently visited the Ploce locality.

Scientists had previously believed that the mining, extraction and manipulation of copper began in Asia Minor, spreading from there. With the find in Plocnik, parallel and simultaneous developments of those skills in several places now seem more likely, Pernicka said. [Or - heresy! - it spread from Plocnik elsewhere via "diffusion."]

Indeed, the tools discovered in southern Serbia were made some 75 centuries ago - up to eight centuries older than what has been found to date.

The site at Plocnik, believed to cover some 120 hectares in all, is buried under several metres of soil. Serbian archaeologists have so far exposed three homes - the largest of them, measuring eight by five metres, discovered this year.

The layer of earth it stood on is still blackened from the scorching heat that destroyed the village. It is unclear what caused the fire, but no damage that would indicate an outside attack has been found.

The huts collapsed on their contents, with mud bricks and ashes burying all that was inside - pottery, statues, tools and a worktable. After dusting the still embedded artefacts off, archaeologists began extracting them, most of all hoping to find more precious copper tools.

Scientists are debating whether the Plocnik village led the world to the Copper Age in the 6th millennium BC, particularly as remains of primitive copper smelters were recently found not far away, near today's mines and smelters in Majdanpek and Bor.

The find, which stems from "certainly very, very early in the Copper Age", was a very lucky one, said another expert from Tuebingen, Raiko Kraus.

The Ploce locality was discovered by railroad builders in 1927, but was largely disregarded until 1996, when serious excavations began, eventually yielding the sensational finds.

According to Krause, old settlements may similarly surface in eastern Anatolia when Turkey launches some massive earth-moving project, such as building a dam.

It remains unclear why a comparatively large quantity of copper tools were found at Plocnik. The head archaeologist on site, Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic, said that the village may have been a tool-making or trading centre.

There is also much more to be learned about the ancient inhabitants, apart from the key question of how man developed his tools.

"These people were not wild," Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic stressed, pointing to fine pieces such as statuettes. "They had finely combed hair and adorned themselves with necklaces."

One statue of a woman shows her wearing some sort of a mini skirt. Others wore long and broad scarves. Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic actually helped a Serbian fashion designer set up a show inspired by the clothes of the people who lived there millennia earlier.

Whatever remains to be found at Ploce and elsewhere, "mankind took a major step toward the modern era" during that time, Pernicka said.

A Different Avenue of Sphinxes Grows by Twelve

I love this photograph of the excavation site - I think it says it all about working in a country as old as Egypt.  Check out the background - ancient temple on the left, what looks like "modern" construction in the center and I have no idea what that is on the right, sort of looks like a quasi-castle with crenellated walls.

[Excerpted] Mansour Boraik, Supervisor of Luxor Antiquities, indicated this is the first time a new road that runs from east to west – towards the Nile – has been found.

The total length of the road to the Nile is estimated to be about 600 metres, with 20 metres excavated so far.

These 20 metres were built from sandstone, brought in from the quarries at Gebel Silsila, north of Aswan.

“The discovery is not located within the known road of the Avenue of the Sphinxes between Karnak and Luxor Temples, but instead at the end of the newly discovered road of Nectanebo I,” explained Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA.

Dr. Hawass added that along this way the sacred boat of Amun, king of the gods, traveled on the god’s annual trip to visit his wife, Mut, at Luxor temple.

The Avenue of Sphinxes is about 2,700 meters long and 76 meters wide. Although the path was already in use during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, it was the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectenabo I (380 to 362 BC) who constructed the avenue itself. He lined it with 1350 sphinxes, all inscribed with his name.

Full article at Heritage Key.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Those Barbarians at the Gate (see a few posts below) Are Very Very Rich

This could fall under "are you kidding me?" except it really happened.  So, ask yourself, who in China can bid over $69 million for a single vase and pay an additional 20% buyer's premium - total price over $89 million.

Report from The New York Times
Qing Dynasty Relic Yields Record Price at Auction
Published: November 12, 2010

LONDON — As treasure-in-the-attic stories go, the 18th-century Chinese vase sold at a suburban auction house in outer London on Thursday night will be hard to beat.

The delicate, decorative 16-inch vase started at a not-inconsequential $800,000, but after a half-hour of unexpectedly spirited bidding, the gavel fell at $69.5 million. It was the highest price ever paid at auction for a Chinese antiquity.

Adding in the 20 percent buyer’s premium levied by the auction house and Britain’s value-added tax, the total came to $85.9 million. Auction insiders said the buyer was from mainland China and bid by telephone.

Of the sellers, the auction house, Bainbridge’s, said only that they were a brother and sister who had found the vase “in a dusty attic” when they were clearing out the family home in west London, near Heathrow Airport, after their parents died. The other Chinese knickknacks they found sold for as little as $65.

“They had no idea what they had,” said Helen Porter, a spokeswoman for Bainbridge’s. “They were hopeful, but they didn’t dare believe until the hammer went down. When it did, the sister had to go out of the room and have a breath of fresh air.”

The vase dated from the period of the emperor Qianlong, who reigned from 1735 to 1796, at the height of the Qing dynasty. He vastly expanded China’s western territories and left a legacy as a great patron of Chinese arts, including ceramics. Experts who have examined the vase, which bore an imperial seal, have said it was likely to have been made for one of the imperial palaces.

Ovoid in shape and predominantly pastel yellow and sky-blue in color, the vase has a narrow neck, four enameled circular motifs known as cartouches that show colorful fish and flowers, and elaborate perforations in the outer vase that give onto a smaller vase inside. It was believed to have been fired in the imperial potteries in Jingdezhen, in Jiangxi Province, west of modern-day Shanghai, which functioned for 1,000 years as the porcelain capital of China.

Ms. Porter said the sellers had no knowledge of how the vase came to be in their parents’ possession, although they believed it had been in the family since the 1930s. One theory, according to Ivan Macquisten, the editor of Antiques Trade Gazette, a British magazine, was that it could have been among the treasures looted by British troops when they sacked the imperial palaces in Beijing during the second Opium War, from 1856 to 1860.

It was one of Mr. Macquisten’s reporters who found out what little was known about the buyer.

With China’s wealth rapidly rising, mainland Chinese buyers have been a major force in pushing up the prices of Chinese antiquities, reversing, at least in small measure, the flow of Chinese artworks to the West during the centuries before the Communist revolution in 1949 — and the loss of imperial treasures when the Chinese nationalists fled the Communist victory for Taiwan, taking huge quantities of antiquities with them.

The vase’s price exceeded the record for Chinese antiquities set just last month in Hong Kong, when another Qianlong vase sold for $34.2 million.

For Bainbridge’s, the sale price of the vase represented a huge leap, putting the auction house, at least momentarily, in a league with the blue-ribbon art houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, where sales running into the tens of millions of dollars have become almost routine in recent decades. Bainbridge’s biggest sale before Thursday was $160,000 for a Ming enamel piece it sold two years ago.

The sale was held in the London suburb of Ruislip, neighboring Pinner, where the vase was found. Pinner is best known in modern times as the place where the singers Elton John and Simon Le Bon went to school.

As the auction house was trying to establish a selling price, Ms. Porter said, the vase had been taken for viewing at the Arts Club in London, where it was deposited for some time on a “metal table next to the kitchen.”

The auction house itself began to realize its rarity only when a consultant on Chinese ceramics, Luan Grocholski, was called in to evaluate it. “Luan took a long, hard look at it and could hardly believe his eyes,” Ms. Porter said.

Still, Bainbridge’s had set its presale estimate between $1.3 million and $2 million.

“We are absolutely stunned,” Ms. Porter said after the auction. “This must be one of the most important Chinese vases to be offered for sale this century. How it reached Ruislip is something we will never know, and that it is in such fine condition is amazing.

“We’re just a very typical local auction house, so as you can imagine it was something of a surprise.”
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