Saturday, December 18, 2010

This and That -- From the Archaeologists Themselves

Cynical Boardgame About Archaeology
From Dr. Martin Rundkvist's blog.  He's intelligent, cogent, and succinct, and has a great sense of irony.  He's an archaeologist, too!  This post has a few choice things to say - you've got to read it for yourself :)

From archaeologist Judith Weingarten's always excellent blog Zenobia: Empress of the East, a two-part post on the extraordinary tomb portraits of Palmyra and the intriguing array of finger-pointings (no pun intended) in which the deceased held their hands and fingers in a variety of ways.  Was it a secret language?
The Secret Language of Palmyra (Part 1) November 14, 2010
The Secret Language of Palmyra (Part 2) December 15, 2010
The brief discussion about the nephesh and where it may have "resided" is also fascinating.  Despite the "accepted" orthodoxy of various religions today about what happens to one's soul when one dies, this is something I expect is very much on the minds of people under particular circumstances, because no one has yet come back from the dead to let us know what really is beyond "the veil"...  It is still very much a matter of faith, and faith these days in particular, seems in scarce supply.

One of the Lewis chess queens,
British Museum.
 Many years ago Ricardo Calvo wrote an article about the pointing finger portraits of the Knights Templar and other figures depicted in King Alphonso XII's "Book of Games" - I've got it stashed somewhere on the hard-drive of my old desktop - and how there was a "code" in the various hand/finger positions.  I never did work my way through the article or, if I did, I don't remember it.  I was trying to render it into comprehensible English from a bad Google Spanish-to-English translation for eventual publication at Goddesschess.  It was after that, in the early 2000's, that it seemed everywhere I looked I saw a portrait of someone or other pointing!  Kings and Queens most particularly, because they were the ones who were most-often painted in the earliest days whose portraits still survive, but also in such interesting pieces as the Lewis chessmen.  I have an entire gallery of various queens and goddesses from various civilizations and from all ages, all with pointing hands/fingers, saved in my images archive on that computer, intending to do something with them - someday.  I continue to add to the collection!

Could there possibly be a connection, or is it coincidence?  It seems astounding that there could be any connection between the ancient Palmyran hand/finger gestures and -- well, stranger things have happened.

From Heritage Key - don't know how I missed this interview, but I did:
archaeologist Sarah Milledge Nelson
The Shaman Queens of Ancient Korea
Submitted by owenjarus on Tue, 09/29/2009 - 11:19

...if you look at the genealogy, through the time period, the kings are all married to the daughter of queens, which sounds like female succession if you think of it the other way around.   ...The queen is queen and the daughter become queen and her daughter becomes queen, and they all have husbands from different places. It’s not going father to son, its going mother to daughter. ...
She's not an archaeologist, she's an historian:
The great-grandmother of Jesus was a woman named Ismeria, according to Florentine medieval manuscripts analyzed by a historian
(From Discovery Online, December 9, 2010)

Article published in Journal of Medieval History, by Catherine Lawless, a lecturer in history at the University of Limerick.

2010 Women's World Chess Championship - R5 Play-offs

From official website:

The second semi-final match was decided on tie-break today. Ruan Lufei joined Hou Yifan, who has promoted from the classical games, in the final. The first rapid game was drawn again but in the second one Ruan Lufei, playing with black pieces, defeated her compatriot Zhao Xue. "The result that I have now is just unbelievable! I had a back ticket on December, 13 because I thought I would be eliminated by Kosteniuk and go home”, said the second winner of the semi-final match. She also explained that she was not afraid to play tie-breaks, but it was not a strategy or intention to make draws in the main games on purpose.

After the rest day on 19 th of December the finalists Hou Yifan and Ruan Lufei will play four classical games from 20th till 23rd of December.

News coverage on the WWCC:

From The Times of India
Humpy leaves, paving way for a Chinese queen
Hari Hara Nandanan, TNN, Dec 19, 2010, 01.03am IST

CHENNAI: There will be a Chinese queen in the women's World Chess Championship at Hatay. As Indian Grandmaster Koneru Humpy left the stage in the semi, losing to 16-year-old Hou Yifan 0.5-1.5, the final will now be a Chinese affair.

Yifan, who is a step away from creating a record for becoming the youngest women's (or open) world champion, will meet either Zhao Xue or Lufei Ruan, in the four-game final from Monday.

For Humpy, it was a second successive defeat in the semifinals of the World Championship and what must hurt her is the fact that both of them were inflicted by Yifan. Humpy has a good record against all the women GMs but against Yifan, she seems to have problems.

From the Hindustan
Humpy out of World Championship
Press Trust Of India
Hatay, Turkey, December 18, 2010

Koneru Humpy crashed out of the World Women's chess championship after drawing the second game of the semifinal match against nemesis Yifan Hao of China. Having lost the first game of the semis, Humpy needed a victory in the return game to stay afloat in the championship but, missing out on her chances, the Indian could only manage a draw translating in to a 0.5-1.5 defeat for her.

In the last World Championship at Nalchik in Russia too, Humpy had suffered a similar defeat in the semis at the hands of the same opponent.

The ouster of Humpy means end of the road for the Indians in the Championship and it will now be an all Chinese affair for the first time in the history of World Championships.

The other semifinal between Chinese duo of Zhao Xue and Ruan Lufei, meanwhile, was stretched to the tiebreaker following another quick draw between the two.

Humpy had troubles negotiating the first phase of the match against Yifan who certainly appeared to be better prepared than Humpy. It was Berling defense by Humpy that cost her the full point in the first game and in the second, it was a Sicilian through transposition that the Indian has not quite been facing lately.

Yifan had to pause for quite sometime when Humpy went for the Torre attack with white pieces after opening with the queen pawn and in fact it worked out fine when the Chinese was able to transpose to a Sicilian defense in a few moves time. The set up chosen by Humpy was a mixture of Najdorf and Classical variation and Yifan felt the heat after she decided to part with a couple of pawns to initiate an attack against the king.

Humpy, and the chess pundits, believed that she had real chances with her extra material but as things unfolded, Yifan was able to muster just the right kind of counter-play to liquidate to a rook and pawns endgame where only white could be worse. Humpy made the right decision to take the draw in 45 moves.

Full article.

U.S. Chess Federation Website
All-Chinese Final at the Women's World Championships
December 17, 2010
(Includes Game 1 that can be played through)

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Thailand, An Ancient Tradition of Tribute to the Rice Goddess Endangered by Lack of Interest

Story from the Bangkok Post
Published: 18/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
(second story, scroll down)
Farmers' rites pay homage to guardian of paddy fields
Keeping the natural resources around the Nan River fertile means keeping alive the age-old tradition of worshipping the Goddess of Rice.

Officials who inspected progress in the Pid Thong Lang Phra projects in Nan recently were treated to a cultural feast with the performance of the ceremony paying homage to Phra Mae Phosop (Rice Goddess).

The locals believe a development initiative that is conducive to bountiful rice output will give Phra Mae Phosop something to continue guarding.

For about 800 years, Thai farmers have held the belief that Phra Mae Phosop is the guardian of their paddy fields and rice crops.

Various rites are performed to pay respect to the goddess and the rite itself is called Su Khwan Khao (Rice Blessing).

Farmers believe that the Buddhist faith will bring them prosperity and wealth in their cultivation. This belief has continued for generations.

The centre of the blessing rite, taking place sometime between January and April, is in Nam Pak village of Nan's Tha Wang Pha district.

Before rice cultivation, farmers choose an auspicious date for the Su Khwan Khao rite. Farmers believe the goddess will manifest herself through the medium Narn who is the senior spiritual leader of the village.

"Not everyone can be Narn," one of the villagers said.
Villagers place offerings for the guardian of the rice fields. RATTANAWAN POTHISOMBAT
"First Fruits" ceremonies from around the world look remarkably similar, don't they, whether ancient or modern.
 Narn chants and asks for the goddess's permission to plant paddy rice and to start the cultivating season. Then farmers place food offerings for Phra Mae Phosop which include alcoholic drinks, food, and fruits.

The rite takes place three times a year to ensure ample divine protection all year round, Narn Parn or Worapon Chaisalee, the master of ceremonies said.

"The folk believe Phra Mae Posop will only bring rain if she is in the right mood. The farmers must worship her or suffer the consequences such as hunger, sickness and poverty," he said.

"We also put up woven bamboo sticks to designate the boundaries of the paddy fields and invite local guardian spirits to come in and protect us."

Also, farmers have to ask for forgiveness from Phra Mae Phosop before reaping the rice. Rice is then threshed on the ground and transported to granaries. That is the last step in the production process.

To worship the rice goddess, farmers also perform dances for her throughout their ceremonies, but ceremonies to worship Phra Mae Phosop vary in different regions.

The ceremonies in Nan are different from those elsewhere but rice farmers share the same purpose, which is fostering the kindness of Phra Mae Phosop.

Thanakorn Ruchtanon, the office manager of the Pid Thong Lang Phra (Unsung Hero) project in Nan, said the sacredness of the rite is waning as the younger generation does not appreciate its importance.

"The ceremony unites people and family members," he said.

"We are supposed to promote this rite for children and youths so that they recognise its spiritual-fostering value."
Fascinating.  How is the Narn chosen?  Is the role restricted to males only, or can a female be a Narn, too?  Does the Narn have other duties within a village?  Does this tradition have its roots in shamanism and is it akin to any traditions in North or South America? 

2011 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival

January 24 - February 3, 2010
Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar
10-Round Swiss, FIDE Rated
Official Website

When this event started some years ago, the organizers went out of their way to invite strong female players in an open format in the Masters Tournament where they could butt heads with higher and lower-rated male players.  A separate and generous prize structure for the women guaranteed that in short order this would prove to be a popular event with the best female players in the world. 

The 2011 version has a very strong line-up of female players in addition to (at present) top-level male GMs from all over the world.  Here are the women (confirmed as of December 4, 2010):

GM Koneru Humpy (IND 2600)
GM Hou Yifan (CHN 2591)
GM Tatiana Kosintseva (RUS 2581)
IM Nadezhda Kosintseva (RUS 2576)
GM Nana Dzagnidze (GEO 2551)
GM Antoaneta Stefanova (BUL 2548)
GM Pia Cramling (SWE 2526)
IM Harika Dronavalli (IND 2525)
GM Viktorija Cmilyte (LTH 2514)
IM Irina Krush (USA 2495)
IM Anna Zatonskih (USA 2478)
GM Zhu Chen (QAT 2477)
WGM Natalia Pogonina (RUS 2472)
IM Inna Gaponenko (UKR 2469)
WGM Shen Yang (CHN 2461)
GM Natalia Zhukova (UKR 2447)
IM Jovanka Houska (ENG 2421)
IM Eesha Karavade (IND 2369)
WGM Tatiana Fatianova (RUS 2289)
WGM Monica Calzetta Ruiz (ESP 2284)
WIM Fiona Sgteil-Antoni (LUX 2142)
WFM Alexandra Wilson (SUI 2042)

I wasn't able to scroll down any lower on the enrollment list to see if there were any chess femmes listed below Alexandra Wilson.  The "frames" used to construct this website just did not view correctly on my browser.

This is Hou Yifan's first appearance at Gibraltar.  Former Women's World Chess Champions Antoaneta Stefanova and Zhu Chen are playing.  USA's dueling chess femmes Krush and Zatonskih are playing.  India has a strong contingent of players this year.  Who will take the women's top prize in 2011? 

In 2010 GM Michael Adams won first place and is back again in 2011 to defend his title.  Natalia Zhukova earned a GM norm in 2010 and won the women's top prize.  She's back again in 2011 and will be fighting for a repeat.  In 2010, Zhukova finished in 10th place overall, an excellent result, with 7.0/10.  Adams took the title after a play-off and finished with 7.5/10.  The competition was fierce. Koneru Humpy finished in 12th place overall with 7.0/10. The Masters field in 2010 was 224 players strong.  Here are the 2010 Masters Tournament final standings

Here is the prize structure, of interest to all for its generous prizes in addition to excellent class ("Ratings Band") prizes.

These are the separate prizes offered for female players in addition to one prize they may qualify for from the prize structure noted above:
1st Prize
2nd Prize
3rd Prize
4th Prize
5th Prize
6th Prize
7th Prize
8th Prize
9th Prize
10th Prize

  • If there is a tie for the top women’s prize, the tie is resolved in favour of the woman with the highest performance rating, who will receive the prize of £10,000.
  • All other prizes will not be subject to a tie-break and prize money other than the first prize will be divided equally amongst the players.

   This is going to be a great event -- and Aeroflot and Moscow are coming too - and Tata Steel (formerly known as Corus) - oh my.  My head is spinning!  I will be well occupied during the long, dark, bone-chilling below-zero days of winter in Milwaukee following all the action, and dreaming I could play as well...

2010 Women's World Chess Championship - Koneru Humpy Knocked Out of Running

Koneru v. Hou, R5 G2.  From official website.
GM Koneru Humpy could manage only a draw against GM Hou Yifan today in their second game of R5, and Koneru is out of the tournament, falling to Hou Yifan 0.5 to 1.5.  The other two Chinese players who - slap me for saying so - just aren't very important - drew their second game and go into tie-breaks tomorrow.  So what?  The finale of this event will only be news if Hou Yifan somehow manages not to win it.  Do I think that's possible?  I just made a most unladylike snorting sound, similar to the sound I made last Sunday when the Packers managed to lose against the Detroit Lions. 

Here is a summary from the official website:

The first finalist was determined today after the second game in semifinal matches. Hou Yifan, playing black, drew the second game against Humpy Koneru and promoted to the final. A Chinese player sacrificed 2 pawns but received a good compensation. In order to protect her king Humpy Koneru had to give the extra material back. The Indian player had already lost her match to Chinese prodigy two years ago during the World Championship in Nalchik. At that time she also lost the first game of the semifinal match but succeeded to equalize the score and, unlike today, the match was decided only on tie-break. Zhao Xue and Ruan Lufei drew the second game today and decided to try their luck in tie-breaks tomorrow.

The official site has an interview with IM Harika Dronavalli, who was eliminated in the last round by one of the Chinese players.  As always, she was very gracious.
Round 5
Round 5 Match 01
Ruan, LufeiCHNWGM2480½½1
Zhao, XueCHNGM2474½½1
Round 5 Match 02
Koneru, HumpyINDGM26000½½
Hou, YifanCHNGM25911½

I feel absolutely awful for Koneru Humpy.  She is, I believe, the better chess player.  But, let's face it, India doesn't exactly drown their star chessplayers in funds for training and seconds.  It's well known that the All India Chess Federation (which is being challenged by an "upstart" chess federation with some success, evidently) wants to direct Koneru's chess career, while Koneru wants to direct her own chess career.  This has led to clashes and a loss of crucial support as "punishment" for Koneru being an uppity woman.

On the bright side, perhaps now Hou Yifan will be able to afford to go to a decent hairdresser and get something - anything - done with that awful hairstyle she's been wearing since she game out of the womb.  Some new clothes would not be amiss either, with some much-needed advice from a stylist as to age-appropriate cool fashions for a 16 year old who is Women's World Chess Championship.  I will pray to the Goddess for this to happen, please!.  Perhaps Yifan could consult with the stylish Skripchenko and Cmilyte, or the more avant-garde Paetz.  But perhaps "Mother Hou" has a reason for wanting to keep Yifan looking like an overgrown 7-year old.  Aww shucks, now I'm being mean.

Koneru and Hou will perhaps face off against each other again at the 2011 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, scheduled for January 24 - February 3, 2011.  They are both on the accepted list of the top female players in the world.  BOTH Kosintseva sisters will be playing in Gibraltar, too.  In fact, the female line-up for that event is the most impressive - ever!  Wow.  That's going to be some event.  It merits its own post. 

Early coverage after Koneru's exit from the WWCC from around the net:

Susan Polgar - Despite Koneru's "valiant effort" there will be a new Chinese "Chess Queen"

And on yesterday's Koneru loss:

The Hindu:  Humpy Loses First Game
The Times of India: Humpy Slips with Black

Has Amelia Earhart At Long Last Been Found?

From Associated Press reported at Yahoo News
Bones found on island might be Amelia Earhart's
By SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press Sean Murphy, Associated Press – 1 hr 50 mins ago
NORMAN, Okla. – The three bone fragments turned up on a deserted South Pacific island that lay along the course Amelia Earhart was following when she vanished. Nearby were several tantalizing artifacts: some old makeup, some glass bottles and shells that had been cut open.

Earhart and one of her Electra aircraft c. 1937(I do not know if this is the Electra)
Now scientists at the University of Oklahoma hope to extract DNA from the tiny bone chips in tests that could prove Earhart died as a castaway after failing in her 1937 quest to become the first woman to fly around the world.

It could be months before scientists know for sure — and it could turn out the bones are from a turtle. The fragments were found near a hollowed-out turtle shell that might have been used to collect rain water, but there were no other turtle parts nearby.

Earhart's disappearance on July 2, 1937, remains one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries. Did she run out of fuel and crash at sea? Did her Lockheed Electra develop engine trouble? Did she spot the island from the sky and attempt to land on a nearby reef?

Last spring, volunteers working at what seemed to be an abandoned campsite found one piece of bone that appeared to be from a neck and another unknown fragment dissimilar to bird or fish bones. A third fragment might be from a finger. The largest of the pieces is just over an inch long.

The area was near a site where native work crews found skeletal remains in 1940. Bird and fish carcasses suggested Westerners had prepared meals there.

"This site tells the story of how someone or some people attempted to live as castaways," Gillespie said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "These fish weren't eaten like Pacific Islanders" eat fish.

Read full article.

Mexican Mother Killed for Demanding Justice in Daughter's Death

Hey, American companies doing business in Mexico - you know, you - the ones that created the great sucking sound of our manufacturing jobs going south of the border to get away from having to pay a living wage and support a decent standard of living for the average working person in the formerly good ol' USA, this is the country you deliberately chose to support when you turned your back on US. 

Report from Associated Press at Yahoo News
Mexico mom killed demanding justice for slain teen
By OLIVIA TORRES, Associated Press Olivia Torres, Associated Press – 1 hr 11 mins ago
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Gunmen killed a mother who had been protesting for three days in front of a governor's office in northern Mexico to demand justice for her slain daughter, authorities said Friday.

The brutal killing of activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz stunned people across Mexico, and a group of women angrily demanding justtice gathered outside the state prosecutors' office in this border city, where the victim's daughter was killed.

Escobedo's slaying "shows that in Mexico, it is the victim who suffers," anti-crime activist Alejandro Marti said.

The vicious nature of the killing — which was caught on a security camera and broadcast repeatedly on national television — added to the anger. The video shows masked men pull up in a car Thursday night in front of the governor's office in Chihuahua city, the capital of Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located.

One man appeared to exchange words with and Escobedo Ortiz, who tried to flee by running across the street. The gunman chased her down and shot her in the head, said Jorge Gonzalez, special state prosecutor for crime prevention.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, Carlos Gonzalez, said investigators believe one of the gunmen was Sergio Barraza, who had been the main suspect in the killing of Escobedo's 17-year-old daughter. He was absolved by a court in April for lack of evidence.

Escobedo was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died within minutes.

She had been campaigning for a conviction in the killing of her daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo, whose burned and dismembered remains were found in a trash bin in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on June 18, 2009. She had been missing for nearly a year.

Escobedo had staged numerous marches, once wearing no clothes, wrapped only in a banner with her daughter's photograph.

"This struggle is not only for my daughter," Escobedo said then through a megaphone, her voice breaking. "Let's not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city."

Three days ago, Escobedo planted herself in front of the offices of Gov. Cesar Duarte and vowed not to move until investigators showed progress in the case. In an interview with the newspaper El Diario on Sunday, Escobedo said she had received death threats from Barraza's family.

Duarte said state security officials had been assigned to protect Escobedo, although from a distance. He said their failure to protect Escobedo on Thursday would be investigated. [Oh yeah, right.]

Prosecutors said Barraza, Frayre's live-in boyfriend, admitted murdering her and led police to the body. But during the trial, he proclaimed his innocence and claimed he had been tortured into confessing. A judge ruled in April that prosecutors failed to present material evidence against him.

The case exemplifies the problems of the judicial system in Chihuahua state, one of the first in Mexico to adopt oral trials instead of the system of closed-door interrogations and filings of documents used for most Mexican trials.

Despite training, Chihuahua police and prosecutors have struggled to adapt to a system that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors. Many homicide cases have been thrown out for lack of evidence or never make it to trial. Often, police rely solely on confessions that suspects later claim were made under duress. Newly captured suspects in much of Mexico are often displayed to the press with bruised faces.

Duarte, however, accused the court of wrongly releasing Barraza. He said he has requested that the Chihuahua judiciary fire the three judges who presided over the case and that the state legislature strip the judges of their immunity from prosecution so they can be charged with abuse of power.

In Ciudad Juarez, where Frayre was killed, police have [been] overwhelmed by drug gang battles that have made city one of the world's deadliest. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the city of 1.3 million this year alone.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show that last year, when 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors filed 93 homicide cases and got 19 convictions.

Chihuahua's judicial deficiencies go back years before the new system was implemented, or before drug-gang violence soared to unprecedented levels.

In the 1990s, hundreds of women were killed around Ciudad Juarez, with about 100 sexually assaulted and dumped in the desert.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New World Bones Suggest Wolf/Dog Cross-Breeding

Evidence Suggests Ancient Wolf-Dog Crossbreeding
Posted on: Thursday, 16 December 2010, 08:50 CST
Captive Mexican wolf, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2007.
Jaw bones discovered in pre-Hispanic ruins are the first evidence that wolves and dogs were intentionally cross-bred by ancient Mexicans, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Thursday.

The remains, which were discovered by archaeologists at a Teotihuacan pyramid burial chamber, are the first physical proof that wolf-dogs were intentionally crossbred "as a symbol of the city's warriors," the AP reported. The bones were found by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in 2004 and analyzed that the National Autonomous University (UNAM).

"In oral traditions and old chronicles, dog-like animals appear with symbols of power or divinity," INAH spokesman Francisco De Anda told the AP. "But we did not have skeletal evidence ... this is the first time we have proof."

"Several jaw bones were made into a sort of decorative garment found on the warrior's skeleton at the 2,000-year-old site north of Mexico City," the news agency reported. "The wolf-dog apparently served as a symbol of strength and power."

Eight of the bones discovered by the researchers were from wolf-dogs, three were from dogs, and two were said to be a mix of wolf-dog and coyote.

According to the INAH's official website, the organization "investigates, conserves and divulgates the national archaeological, anthropological, historical and paleontological heritage, to strengthen the identity and memory of the society that holds it."

"INAH is an institution with plenty regulating and ruling faculties in regards to protection and conservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, at the forefront thanks to the level of excellence of research in anthropology, archaeology, history, restoration, museology and paleontology, as well as in professional training within the sphere of its competence," the groups homepage also says. "Its activities have great social impact since the Institute cooperates with the different levels of government and society in the… the design and execution of strategies for conservation and knowledge of the national heritage and memory."
Keep in mind, the dogs that the settlers to North and South America brought with them were already domesticated from wolves, domesticated beginning some 17,000 to 16,000 years ago, in the Old World. 

All-Girls Doncaster Gardens Primary School Team Wins Honors

From the Manningham Leader
Doncaster Gardens girls take out chess championships
17 Dec 10 @ 07:00am by Shaun Turton

THE girls’ chess team from Doncaster Gardens Primary School has been crowned junior Australian and New Zealand champions.

The team won first prize at the Chess Kids National Interschool Chess Championship held last month at Monash University in Clayton.

The invitation-only, seven-game tournament included 278 of the best Australian and New Zealand primary and high school chess players.

Team member Zhi Lin was also awarded a silver medal for being the second highest scoring player at the two-day contest.

The school’s open team finished sixth.

Teacher Sue McLelland said the school’s success was a reflection of the popularity of chess among students.

There were 160 students in eight lunch time chess clubs at the 540-student school so competition to be part of the teams was tough, Mrs McLelland said.

“The students that play chess strive to be a part of that team,” she said.

Mrs McLelland said teachers were thrilled about the surge in students learning chess.

“It’s a great game to pass time but it also contributes fantastically to the students’ maths and problem-solving skills,” she said. “Teachers really value it.”

2010 Women's World Chess Championship - Semi-Finals G1

Humpy lost today behind the black pieces to Hou Yifan.  The other two Chinese players drew their game (of course they did).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Game Board Mystery

Medieval Mystery From The UK
By Stephen 13/12/2010 04:02:00

Archaeologists working through the Victorian spoil heaps at Creswell Crags in 2006 uncovered a stone with a familiar carved geometric pattern, it opened yet another aspect of the ever-developing story of the important prehistoric caves.

Creswell Crags located in Worsop, UK, represents one site among a significant cluster of cave sites inhabited during the last Ice Age in Britain. Archaeological and environmental evidence excavated from the caves show how the area witnessed dramatic changes in climate at the edge of the northern ice sheets and was populated by Ice Age animals such as hyenas, mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, and migrating herds of reindeer, horse and bison.

Archaeology investigations at the caves have uncovered stone, bone and ivory tools which date occupation to the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic era. In, addition archaeology have discovered 13000 year old engraved rock art figures of deer, birds, bison, and horse.

What makes this recent discovery at the caves so important is the piece of rock art discovered dates from the medieval period.

Experts from Sheffield University have identified the piece as an medieval example of the strategy board game Nine Men’s Morris, which had been popular since Roman times.

Each player has nine pieces, or "men", which move along the board's twenty-four spots. The object of the game is to leave the opposing player with fewer than three pieces or, as in draughts, with no legal moves left.

This discovery provided a glimpse into medieval activity at the Crags. But it also opened up a medieval mystery; how did the game get there and who had made it?

8000 Year Old Sun Temple Found in Bulgaria

Wed, Dec 15 2010 13:35 CET
The oldest temple of the Sun has been discovered in northwest Bulgaria, near the town of Vratsa, aged at more then 8000 years, the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported on December 15 2010.

The Bulgarian 'Stonehenge' is hence about 3000 years older than its illustrious English counterpart. But unlike its more renowned English cousin, the Bulgarian sun temple was not on the surface, rather it was dug out from under tons of earth and is shaped in the form of a horse shoe, the report said.

The temple was found near the village of Ohoden. According to archaeologists, the prehistoric people used the celestial facility to calculate the seasons and to determine the best times for sowing and harvest. The site was also used for rituals, offering gifts to the Sun for fertility as BNT reported.

This area of Bulgaria was previously made famous because remnants of the oldest people who lived in this part of Europe were found.

Archaeologists also found dozens of clay and stone disks in the area of the temple.

"The semantics of the disks symbolise the disk of the Sun itself, which means that this is the earliest ever temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun God, discovered on our lands," archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski told the BNT

Chess Femme News!

Women's World Chess Championship
Chessbase R3 Report (always worthwhile for the photos and they do sometimes provide valid analysis, too)
December 12, 2010

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who was not successful in defending her Women's World Chess Champion title in the 2010 knock-out event, will once again be conducting a Christmas charity goodwill simul - somewhere.  We don't know where yet!  She is considering requests.  Her first simul, last year, was conducted in Tucson, Arizona, for 9 Queens. 

From the official website for the 2010 Women's World Chess Championship, some interviews:

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk
IM Yelena Dembo (may have already posted this)

Coverage of the 2010 Women's World Chess Championship at (in French):
1/4 de finale
Rounds 2 - 3

From The Times of India
Humpy faces Chinese hurdle
Hari Hara Nandanan, TNN, Dec 16, 2010, 01.41am IST

From The Hindustan Times
Koneru Humpy of India reaches semifinals of the World Women's Chess Championship
Press Trust Of India
Hatay, December 15, 2010

2010 Women's World Chess Championship - R4 Playoff Results

Dronavalli is out.  It's three Chinese players and Koneru Humpy of India.  Koneru will play against the highest rated of the Chinese players, Hou Yifan, tomorrow.

World Chess Championship Women 2010 (Antakya) TUR Thur 2nd Dec 2010 - Sun 24th Dec 2010
Round 4 Results:
Name FED T Rtg G1 G2 Rp1 Rp2 Bz1 Bz2 SD Total
Round 4 Match 01
Ruan, Lufei CHN WGM 2480 ½ ½ 1 ½
Harika, Dronavalli IND IM 2525 ½ ½ 0 ½

Summary from official website.

There is no day off until this coming Sunday, before the final four games start between the last two women standing.

Mig Greengard at the Daily Dirt Chessblog has a valid take on what happens to promising female players who end up in the female ratings ghetto by playing in women-only events.  ELO suffers, and development suffers too.  I don't necessarily agree, though, that talented players like Lahno and others who are in their late teens/early 20's are over the hill and can no longer develop.  But they have to stay away from women's only events and that is difficult when competing in those events promises a paycheck whereas playing in Opens against 2600-plus ELO GMs promises probably a lot of empty pocketbooks for their efforts.  Women are very rational creatures when it comes down to it.  They will play in events that promise a pay-off.  And I can't say they are wrong for doing so.  And, keep in mind that even Judit Polgar competed on female teams for Hungary in the Chess Olympiad.

I like reading the comments.  Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of them.  Dudes just are not interested in some women playing what they consider second-rate chess (unless it's to bitch about women earning money for playing that chess).  They pretend, instead, to understand the chess of Carlsen, et al.  Yeah, right, LOL! The macho man mystique lives on :)

More coverage and more comments at Chessvibes

Chessbase as per usual has a report on the first part of R4 with lots of photos of the pretty ladies. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

British Museum Brings Together Newark and Sedgeford Torcs

This is tres cool, darlings!  One example is intact and gorgeous. The other example, of the same era, was smushed and torn-apart, but is still gorgeous.  Now the workmanship of both can be compared, side-to-side, and archaeologists (and jewelers too, no doubt), have learned very much from this.

Blog entry at Past Horizons
December 13, 2010
Newark and Sherwood District Council have agreed to loan the Newark Torc to the British Museum, where it is now on display

The Department of Prehistory & Europe has arranged a case in the Britain and Europe (800BC – AD43) gallery to display the Newark Torc alongside the British Museum’s own ‘Sedgeford Torc’, found in 1965. Both torcs date to the pre-Roman Iron Age and are composed of twisted gold wire strands attached to hollow terminals, embellished with ‘La Tene’ decoration. This design allowed for a natural flex in the band to accommodate the twisting action necessary to slip the decoration around the wearer’s neck. [more...]

She Lost Her Head, EEK!

Gales unearth Roman-era statue on Israel's coast

Tue Dec 14, 2010 5:56pm GMT
(Reuters) - A Roman statue that had been buried for centuries has been unearthed by the winter gales that have raked Israel's coast.

A Roman statue stands on the shore of the
Mediterranean sea in the southern city of
Ashkelon,  December 14, 2010.

Credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

 The white-marble figure of a woman in toga and sandals was found in the remains of a cliff that crumbled under the force of winds, waves and rain at the ancient port of Ashkelon, the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Tuesday.

"The sea gave us this amazing statue," said Yigal Israeli, a researcher with the authority.

He said the statue, which lacks a head and arms, is about 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall, weighs 200 kg (440 pounds) and dates back to the Roman occupation of what was western Judea, between 1,800 and 2,000 years ago. It will be put on display in museums.

Also recovered at the site were fragments of a Roman bath-house and mosaics.

But long-established Israeli archaeological sites such as the ruins of coastal Caesarea suffered serious damage in the storm, so the statue's find brought the Authority little joy.

"We don't see this discovery as such good news," said another Authority official, who declined to be named. "Better that relics remain hidden and protected, than that they be exposed and damaged."

(Writing by Dan Williams)

Oh, those gales of November. I didn't know they roared in the Mediterranean the way they roar on the Great Lakes, particularly on Superior and Michigan.  Nice to see some good has come of them, the recovery of this interesting sculpture.

Chess Femme News!

From The New York Times, Dylan Loeb McClain's chess blog:
December 14, 2010, 5:50 pm
Asian Players Fill Semifinal Slots at Women’s World Chess Championship
Three of the four semifinalists for the Women’s World Championship tournament are set. Humpy Koneru of India and Hou Yifan and Zhao Xue of China won their quarterfinal matches on Tuesday.

The other quarterfinal match between Dronavalli Harika of India and Ruan Lufei, another Chinese player, will be decided by tie-breaker games on Wednesday.

Koneru will play Hou in one semifinal, regardless of the outcome of the undecided match. That will be a reprise of their 2008 semifinal, which Hou won. It is an unfortunate pairing as Koneru is the highest-ranked player in the field and Hou is the second highest. If the tournament’s seedings had not been skewed to make Alexandra Kosteniuk, the defending champion, the No. 1 seed, then Koneru and Hou might have met in the final, which would have been an ideal match-up. Now the winner of their semifinal match will be a clear favorite as the winner of the other semifinal will be a much lower ranked opponent.  [ More...]

[And this is exactly what I have been bitching about -- how knock-out events skew outcomes, so that the best players don't necessarily make it to the games they should be playing.  Not a single Russian or Georgian player made it to the semi-finals, and yet they are among the best players in the world.  There is something not right here.  Was a fix in? Is this a resounding arivedecchi from Kirsan to the Russians, who kicked him out of the much more lucrative post of President of Kalmykia but fixed the election so he'd get the FIDE Presidency as a consolation prize?  Heh heh heh.  The final will be China v. India or if you want to be more politically correct about it, India v. China, the two rising future "super-powers."  How fortuitous.]

Susan Polgar and SPICE In the News
Texas Tech, LISD look to add chess to UIL
December 14, 2010 Last Update: 9:12 am
Texas Tech and the Lubbock Independent School District are plotting to pilot a new statewide UIL competition.

The program was proposed by Texas Tech's Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, known as "SPICE." Now it's a UIL competition.

Next year , Lubbock elementary and middle school students will be given 30 minutes to solve 20 chess puzzles designed by Grandmaster Polgar.

Vice President for Institutional Diversity at Texas Tech, Juan Munoz, said, "It teaches critical thinking, planning, strategizing. It teaches patience, focus, mathematical computation. One has to estimate the number of moves to achieve a certain objective. So there are a number of academically transferable skills in chess."

Munoz says Chess has such wide appeal because anyone can play anywhere, adding that he hopes the UIL level competition will spark students' interest in Texas Tech.

Yearning for Spring

Photos taken April 17, 2010, views of my back yard.  The Newport plums were coming into blossom.  The daylilies around the house were already up a foot high, but so early in the season, most of the other trees had barely begun to leaf-out and the grass was rough and showing signs of a long, hard winter.  Hadn't been through it's first cut yet.  In the lower photo, two squirrels' nests are clearly discernible in the tree to the left.

I'm trying to hang on for December 21st, Solstice.  It was sunny out today and since I was home (new furnace installation) I was able to open the front door when the sun rose up high enough in the far east/southeast to hit the front porch and spill some warmth into the front room through the glass storm door.  It felt so good.

I don't like this new furnace.  The house is cold.  The thermostat says it's 65 in here, but I don't believe it.  I'm cold, cold, cold.  Sitting here typing with a doubled-up afghan wrapped around me, and my hands are like ice-cubes, but I can't wear gloves and type at the same time.  It's like zero degrees F outside.  For those of you on the Celsius scale, that's about 32 degrees below your zero. 

The good news is that I've got my new-fangled wireless printer/fax/copier/scanner set up and actually got it to work after entering my WEP code about 12 times (not kidding).  I couldn't type it in on my keyboard - NNOOOOOOOOO.  I had to punch it in on a 2 by 2 inch screen on the printer by clicking on an arrow to move a "pointer", one letter (or number) at a time until I hit upon the correct one, and then punch OK.  LOL!  I'm laughing now, but it wasn't frigging funny when I was doing it, let me tell you. 

Wondering what the house would feel like with the thermostat turned up to 80.  Would it be warm enough, finally?  Would my hands work again?

2010 Women's World Chess Championship - R4, G2

Three of the four players going into the semi-final have been decided!  Oh no. Oh yes!  Summary from the official website:

After the second game 3 participants of semi-final matches were determined. Hou Yifan and Humpy Koneru will meet at the board in semi-final as it happened in Nalchik in 2008. Both of them confidently drew their games today and thus won their matches against Katerina Lahno and Ju Wenjun accordingly. Almira Skripchenko was eliminated today by Zhao Xue. The French player simply blundered a piece in a good position. She was playing for 11 days without any pause and won three previous matches on tie-breaks. Her opponent Chinese Zhao Xue will meet with the winner of the match Harika – Ruan which will be determined on tie-breaks tomorrow. The classic part of Indian-Chinese encounter ended with two draws. Both participants proved to be good rapid players and it`s not easy to give prognoses.

GM Kateryna Lahno: wife, mother, World Blitz Chess Champion (Women's).
Against GM Hou Yifan, couldn't pull out a win today to force a play-off.

Round 4
Round 4 Match 01
Ruan, LufeiCHNWGM2480½½1
Harika, DronavalliINDIM2525½½1
Round 4 Match 02
Koneru, HumpyINDGM26001½Semi Final
Ju, WenjunCHNWGM25240½½
Round 4 Match 03
Hou, YifanCHNGM25911½Semi Final
Lahno, KaterynaUKRGM25220½½
Round 4 Match 04
Zhao, XueCHNGM2474½1Semi Final
Skripchenko, AlmiraFRAIM2460½0½
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