Saturday, March 5, 2011

700 Year Old Chinese Mummy Discovered - In Excellent Condition!

700 years old!  So say the Chinese.
 I imagine that already biotech firms, chemical firms, medical firms and cosmetic firms all around the globe are, as one, saying WHAT THE HELL WAS IN THAT BROWN LIQUID INSIDE THE COFFIN?'
Absolutely incredible find -- the degree of preservation on this lady's corpse is remarkable.  Story and lots of phots online at The Mail Online that you should check out now, because I don't know how long they'll be available and I've only saved one to publish here:

She's aged well: Face of incredibly preserved 700-year-old mummy found by chance by Chinese road workers
By Oliver Pickup
Last updated at 2:55 PM on 4th March 2011

[Excerpted] These incredible pictures show a 700-year-old mummy, which was discovered by chance - by road workers - in excellent condition in eastern China.

The corpse of the high-ranking woman believed to be from the Ming Dynasty - the ruling power in China between 1368 and 1644 - was stumbled across by a team who were looking to expand a street.

And the mummy, which was found in the city of Taizhou, in the Jiangsu Province, along with two other wooden tombs, offers a fascinating insight into life as it was back then.

Discovered two metres below the road surface, the woman's features - from her head to her shoes - have retained their original condition, and have hardly deteriorated.

When the discovery was made by the road workers, late last month, Chinese archaeologists, from the nearby Museum of Taizhou, were called into excavate the area, the state agency Xinhua News reported.

They were surprised by the remarkably good condition of the woman's skin, hair, eyelashes and face. It was as though she had only recently died.

Her body, which measures 1.5 metres high, was found at the construction site immersed in a brown liquid inside the coffin.

And the coffin was opened earlier this week, on March 1, much to the excitement of the local city - and further afield. And the right hand of the 700-year-old mummy showed her preserved skin, and a ring.

The mummy was wearing traditional Ming dynasty costume, and also in the coffin were bones, ceramics, ancient writings and other relics.

Director of the Museum of Taizhou, Wang Weiyin, told Xinhua that the mummy's clothes are made mostly of silk, with a little cotton.

He said usually silk and cotton are very hard to preserve and excavations found that this mummifying technology was used only at very high-profile funerals.

Updated March 7, 2011:

Well of all the cheats -- this mummy wasn't discovered recently by road workers - a series of excavations beginning in 1979 through 2008 uncovered this mummy and others from the Ming dynasty, and they are about 400 years old.  Also, the recovered burials were evidently ordinary people, not "high profile" - as this People's Daily Online article notes that there were little sacrificial items in the coffins.  Here is the report from People's Daily Online -- compare to the above report from The Mail Online.  Well, I should know better than to trust The Mail for accurate reporting!

FIDE Women's Grand Prix - Doha

It's over!  And the winner is ---- KONERU HUMPY of India.

WOOOO WOOOO!  I am very happy for Humpy.  Now she will  have to get over her yips when playing Hou Yifan and beat that girl's butt! (SEE earlier post below).

See Koneru ties for first with Danielian in Doha and qualifies for World Title Match , Mark Crowther - Saturday 5th March 2011, for further details (among many sites reporting).

Danielian went for the easy draw with Stefanova and (as Mark Crowthers had suggested yesterday), thereby guaranteed herself a share of first place. Sebag, who was at 7.0, battled hard for a win, but could not pull one out against Munguntuul Batkhuyag (a formidable player who has not had much exposure in chess press).  That left the door open for Humpy, who HAD to score a win against GM Zhu Chen, a former Women's World Chess Championship, who was in crappy form for this event, in order to top out on points over Nana Dzagnidze in the overall Women's GP standings.  If I understand this correctly (still not sure I do), if GM Sebag had won her game and therefore tied for first place with Danielian and Koneru (sorry, I keep calling her Humpy, her first name), Koneru would have lost out on overall Grand Prix points against Nana Dzagnidze.

Good news for Humpy - but not an easy game.  Nonetheless, Humpy proved her mettle over the last half of the tournament and I give her whoop-whoop arm pumps for doing so.  Goddess, how exhausting this must have been!

Here is a table showing the overall Women's GP points for this cycle with Doha's points added --? -- not sure what to call this table, since there is no guarantee another Women's Grand Prix cycle will ever take place:

2011 Women's World Chess Championship - Challenger GM Koneru Humpy

Check out this news from GM Susan Polgar's blog - as always, she's right on top of the current news, despite right now being involved in the Polgar National Open for Girls and Boys: 

[excerpt] On the 5th of March the Grand Prix of Qatar has ended. Humpy Koneru became a winner of Women Grand Prix in Qatar and also got the right to play the match against Hou Yifan.

GM Koneru Humpy of India
Soooo, I garner from this report that there will NOT be a sort of "candidates' match" to determine the final challenger (from among the top finishers in the Women's Grand Prix events) to current Women's World Chess Champion GM Hou Yifan, it is only GM Koneru Humpy of India, who finished with the most points overall!  (Does this mean there are no more Women's Grand Prix events or does a new "cycle" start???  This is so confusing, someone please explain it to me.)

Holy Cow!  No pun intended!  In ancient Egypt the Holy Cow was none other than the powerful and very ancient Goddess Hathor (Hat-hert); I know that cows are also considered sacred in India, but as far as I know, India does not have a cow goddess -- please enlighten me if it does!

My most sincere and heart-felt congratulations to GM Koneru Humpy.  I have been following her career for at least the past 10 years.  I have watched her grow up into a beautiful and accomplished young lady; I have followed her battles to increase her ELO rating and earn those IM and GM norms.  I am sentimentally attached to her.  I do hope this match takes place - it will be highly anticipated by chess fans the world over.

See also Koneru Came From Way Behind to Win Women's Grand Prix.  As GM Polgar points out - Humpy scored 5.5/6 points after the break to win! 

See also Mark Crowther's comments at The Week in Chess -- I think I finally understand (?) what was going on with the points thing in the Women's Grand Prix, but FIDE did NOT help by not having up-to-date information published at its website (at least that I could find -- you would think such important information would be readily obtainable, ha!) regarding the new format to determine the women's chess champion and who would qualify to challenge for the title.  Geez, guys. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

FIDE Women's Grand Prix - Doha

Another dramatic day of play, setting up the ultimate in pressure for the leading players and suspense for the fans tomorrow!

Wily veteran GM Pia Cramling defeated wily veteran GM Elina Danielian, who stayed therefore at 7.5.  However, Humpy won her game against Mkrtchian to gain a point, and GM Marie Sebag and GM Maia Chiburdanidze drew their game.  The top 3 could all lose their games tomorrow and the next closest player, Pia Cramling, can't touch them even if she wins her game.  Mark Crowther at The Week in Chess pointed out that Danielian could opt for a quick draw with Stefanova to guarantee herself a share of first place; if Humpy and Sebag win their respective games tomorrow, all three would then be tied with 8.0.  Danielian isn't under any pressure - she isn't playing for a spot in the matches that will ultimately yield up a challenger for the Women's World Chess Champion title currently held by GM Hou Yifan of China. 

That is - if such challenger matches and a new championship match actually take place!  One of the Women's Grand Prix events on the 2011 schedule is still blank and there was nothing on the FIDE calendar last night about a new Women's Championship! 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Format for Women's World Chess Championship

Was I asleep?  Must have been - this is news to me, but it's at Wikipedia, so it must be true, LOL! (See earlier post this evening reporting on the Doha Women's Grand Prix). 

Yearly tournaments (2011-)Beginning 2011, the Women's World Chess
Championship will be held annually in the classical match format. The 2011 edition will be contested between the 2010 champion Hou Yifan and the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2009/2010. The match will consist of 10 games.

In the event that Hou Yifan wins the Grand Prix, her challenger will be the runner-up.[1]

1.^; Regulations and Bidding Procedure for the Women's Grand-Prix 2009-2010 ; 30 July 2008; retrieved 24 December 2010

Well, it's no wonder. I usually don't read anything at the FIDE website, particularly not rules and regulations!

Oh my, so Hou Yifan gets short-changed and not able to hold her title for a regular two-year cycle.  What's the prize purse going to be?  Has any federation or country put out a bid to host this match?  Is this just another of FIDE's pipe-dreams?  I did not see a date set for this event on FIDE's calendar. 

FIDE Women's Grand Prix - Doha

What is this I just read at The Week in Chess about " the battle between Dzagnidze and Humpy Koneru for the right to play Hou Yifan later in the year for the Women's World Chess Championship."  What?  When did this happen?  Hou Yifan just won her title only a few months ago!  Now FIDE has dreamed up a NEW FORMAT for the Women's title after giving them dog-feed for years with a knock-out format?  And a "match" is going to happen this year?  Say what?  Goddess!  If I were Hou Yifan, I'd be mightily pissed off.

I don't claim to be the best informed chess fan in the world but this - I don't recall reading a single word about anything like this being in the works!  I'm going to have to scout around and see if I can find out anything about how and when this happened.  It's shocking news to me, that's for sure.

Anyway, the Doha version of the Grand Prix (FIDE calls it the 6th Women's Grand Prix) will wrap up play on March 5th.  Here are the current standings:

There are two more rounds to go! This is getting very exciting! Here are the match-ups for tomorrow and Saturday:

Can anyone catch Danielian?  Good for her, by the way.  I'm happy to see a veteran of many years on the chess circuit doing so well in Doha!  Viva la mature femmes! 

Ancient Navigators: California islands give up evidence of early seafaring

From a press release at by the University of Oregon

Oregon, Smithsonian-led team uncovers numerous artifacts at late Pleistocene sites on the Channel Islands
Public release date: 3-Mar-2011

Evidence for a diversified sea-based economy among North American inhabitants dating from 12,200 to 11,400 years ago is emerging from three sites on California's Channel Islands.

Reporting in the March 4 issue of Science, a 15-member team led by University of Oregon and Smithsonian Institution scholars describes the discovery of scores of stemmed projectile points and crescents dating to that time period. The artifacts are associated with the remains of shellfish, seals, geese, cormorants and fish.

Funded primarily by grants from the National Science Foundation, the team also found thousands of artifacts made from chert, a flint-like rock used to make projectile points and other stone tools.

Some of the intact projectiles are so delicate that their only practical use would have been for hunting on the water, said Jon Erlandson, professor of anthropology and director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. He has been conducting research on the islands for more than 30 years.

"This is among the earliest evidence of seafaring and maritime adaptations in the Americas, and another extension of the diversity of Paleoindian economies," Erlandson said. "The points we are finding are extraordinary, the workmanship amazing. They are ultra thin, serrated and have incredible barbs on them. It's a very sophisticated chipped-stone technology." He also noted that the stemmed points are much different than the iconic fluted points left throughout North America by Clovis and Folsom peoples who hunted big game on land.

The artifacts were recovered from three sites that date to the end of the Pleistocene epoch on Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands, which in those days were connected as one island off the California coast. Sea levels then were 50 to 60 meters (about 160-200 feet) below modern levels. Rising seas have since flooded the shorelines and coastal lowlands where early populations would have spent most of their time.

Erlandson and his colleagues have focused their search on upland features such as springs, caves, and chert outcrops that would have drawn early maritime peoples into the interior. Rising seas also may have submerged evidence of even older human habitation of the islands.

The newly released study focuses on the artifacts and animal remains recovered, but the implications for understanding the peopling of the Americas may run deeper.

The technologies involved suggest that these early islanders were not members of the land-based Clovis culture, Erlandson said. No fluted points have been found on the islands. Instead, the points and crescents are similar to artifacts found in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau areas, including pre-Clovis levels at Paisley Caves in eastern Oregon that are being studied by another UO archaeologist, Dennis Jenkins.

Last year, Charlotte Beck and Tom Jones, archaeologists at New York's Hamilton College who study sites in the Great Basin, argued that stemmed and Clovis point technologies were separate, with the stemmed points originating from Pacific Coast populations and not, as conventional wisdom holds, from the Clovis people who moved westward from the Great Plains. Erlandson and colleagues noted that the Channel Island points are also broadly similar to stemmed points found early sites around the Pacific Rim, from Japan to South America.

Six years ago, Erlandson proposed that Late Pleistocene sea-going people may have followed a "kelp highway" stretching from Japan to Kamchatka, along the south coast of Beringia and Alaska, then southward down the Northwest Coast to California. Kelp forests are rich in seals, sea otters, fish, seabirds, and shellfish such as abalones and sea urchins.

"The technology and seafaring implications of what we've found on the Channel Islands are magnificent," said study co-author Torben C. Rick, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution. "Some of the paleo-ecological and subsistence implications are also very important. These sites indicate very early and distinct coastal and island subsistence strategies, including harvest of red abalones and other shellfish and fish dependent on kelp forests, but also the exploitation of larger pinnipeds and waterfowl, including an extinct flightless duck.

"This combination of unique hunting technologies found with marine mammal and migratory waterfowl bones provides a very different picture of the Channel Islands than what we know today, and indicates very early and diverse maritime life ways and foraging practices," Rick said. "What is so interesting is that not only do the data we have document some of the earliest marine mammal and bird exploitation in North America, but they show that very early on New World coastal peoples were hunting such animals and birds with sophisticated technologies that appear to have been refined for life in coastal and aquatic habitats."

The stemmed points found on the Channel Islands range from tiny to large, probably indicating that they were used for hunting a variety of animals.

"We think the crescents were used as transverse projectile points, probably for hunting birds. Their broad stone tips, when attached to a dart shaft provided a stone age shotgun-approach to hunting birds in flight," Erlandson said. "These are very distinctive artifacts, hundreds of which have been found on the Channel Islands over the years, but rarely in a stratified context, he added. Often considered to be between 8,000 and 10,000 years old in California, "we now have crescents between 11,000 and 12,000 years old, some of them associated with thousands of bird bones."

The next challenge, Erlandson and Rick noted, is to find even older archaeological sites on the Channel Islands, which might prove that a coastal migration contributed to the initial peopling of the Americas, now thought to have occurred two to three millennia earlier.

Fascinating! Some serious consideration is evidently being given to this "kelp highway" leading to the peopling of at least part(s) of America by seafarers from as far away as Japan. I know similar theories have been suggested off and on for several years but appear not to have garnered much overall support. I'm sure I've posted about the "out of Japan" hypotheses before -- but don't remember when or what I may have filed it under -- you might try a site search under "peopling of America" or perhaps under "Jomon"!  I seem to recall posting some parts of an article that discuss Jomon art/artifacts and compared them with those of some New World cultures. 

Wikipedia has a fairly intelligent summary of some of the "coastal migration" hypotheses and work thereon that has been done over the years, and includes a summary of some of Erlandson's work on the Channel Islands.
Panamerican Dreams has a brief discussion in layperson's terms of the competing migration/peopling of Americas theories.

Prehistoric Dog Lived, Died Among Humans - Very Interesting Wolf Burial

From Discovery
Remains of the Husky-like dog, buried 7,000 years ago in Siberia, suggest people saw it as a thinking, social being.

By Jennifer Viegas
Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:10 AM ET
Burial remains of a dog that lived over 7,000 years ago in Siberia suggest the male Husky-like animal probably lived and died similar to how humans did at that time and place, eating the same food, sustaining work injuries, and getting a human-like burial.

"Based on how northern indigenous people understand animals in historic times, I think the people burying this particular dog saw it as a thinking, social being, perhaps on par with humans in many ways," said Robert Losey, lead author of a study about the dog burial, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

"I think the act of treating it as a human upon its death indicates that people knew it had a soul, and that the mortuary rites it received were meant to ensure that this soul was properly cared for," added Losey, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta.

For the study, Losey collaborated with excavation director Vladimir Bazaliiskii and researchers Sandra Garvie-Lok, Mietje Germonpre, Jennifer Leonard, Andrew Allen, Anne Katzenberg, and Mikhail Sablin. Bazaliiskii found the buried dog at the Shamanka cemetery near Lake Baikal, Siberia.

"Just like the humans in the cemetery, the dog was buried with other items, (such as) a long spoon made of antler," Losey said.

The dog was carefully laid to rest lying on his right side in a grave pit that, at other levels, also contained five partial human skeletons.

DNA and stable isotope analysis determined the animal was indeed a dog and that he ate exactly what humans at the site consumed: fish, freshwater seal meat, deer, small mammals, and some plant foods.

The canine's life, as well as that of the people, wasn't easy, though.

"The dog's skeleton, particularly its vertebrate spines, suggests that it was repeatedly used to transport loads," Losey explained. "This could have included carrying gear on its back that was used in daily activities like hunting, fishing, and gathering plant foods and firewood. The dog also could have been used to transport gear for the purposes of relocating settlements on a seasonal basis."

Additional fractures suggest the dog suffered numerous blows during its lifetime, possibly from the feet of red deer during hunting outings. The researchers cannot rule out that humans hit the dog, but its older age at burial, food provisions, and more suggest otherwise.

From the same general time period, the scientists also found a wolf burial at a site called Lokomotiv near the Irkut and Angara rivers in Siberia.

The wolf, which did not consume human-provided foods, appears to have died of old age. Its remains were found wrapped around a human skull. There is no evidence the wolf interacted with the person when alive.

"Perhaps the burial of the wolf with the human head placed between its feet was done to send the spirit or soul of the wolf with this particular human to the afterlife, perhaps as its protector," Losey said.

Susan Crockford, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria and author of the book "A Practical Guide to In Situ Dog Remains for the Field Archaeologist" (2009), told Discovery News that she was "surprised to see the description of the wolf/human internment," she added. "That is definitely unusual."

Crockford isn't supporting any particular interpretation of the burials just yet, however, since she said, "There can be many reasons for the ritual treatment of dogs, including ones we might never imagine."

Zahi Hawass Resigns as Egypt's Antiquities Minister

I never thought I'd see the day!  I thought he would go on forever, like the Curse of the Mummy.  Here's the news from The New York Times:

March 3, 2011, 1:25 pm
Egyptian Antiquities Chief Says He’s Out
After Egypt’s prime minister resigned on Thursday and the army asked his replacement to form a caretaker cabinet, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s powerful and controversial antiquities chief, said he would not be part of the new government. His comments came after he posted on his Web site for the first time a list of dozens of sites that have been looted since the beginning of the uprising that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. [I knew that reassurances from the government that wholesale looting was not taking place were white-wash.  Will we ever know the true extent of what has been stolen from the heritage of all Egyptian people?]

Reached by telephone Mr. Hawass, a member of the previous cabinet, said he was happy that he had made the “right decision” and lashed out at colleagues who have criticized him, including one who has accused him of smuggling antiquities.

Among the places Mr. Hawass named as having been looted were the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s storerooms at its excavation site in Dahshur, south of Cairo. In a statement the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, described that incident as having taken place several weeks ago.

Mr. Campbell expressed alarm about continuing looting, calling it “a grave and tragic emergency.” In a statement, which was issued before Mr. Hawass’s resignation was confirmed, he said:

“The world cannot sit by and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest, greatest and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egypt’s new government authorities, in building the nation’s future, to protect its precious past. Action needs to be taken immediately.”

Well, Mr. Campbell, what do you want the "world" to do? Invade Egypt and put all antiquities under UN guard??? Have the "world" mount an invasion and "rescue" mission??? Should be airlift the Great Pyramid block by block and rebuild it in Moscow? Put Pepi's tomb in Omaha? No - I've got it - near Fort Knox!

As could be expected, this article generated lots of comments at the NYT. I have never been a fan of Zahi Hawass but I think it's outrageous that some people are suggesting he is guilty of looting antiquities. If Hawass is one thing, it is totally dedicated to preserving the ancient history of Egypt. I think he's made a mistake stepping down when he is needed most but, let's see what happens. I assume a new Minister will be appointed - soon, let's hope, and that he (doubt it will be a she) will be given the tools he needs to guard the vast ancient resources of Egypt.

Meanwhile, you can read the man's words at his blog.  Will his blog disappear soon?  Will Dr. Hawass go riding into the sunset, never to be seen nor heard from again?

The 6th Annual All Girls Chess Tournament

A report from the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation's March, 2011 newsletter:

154 young lady chess players from Waukesha, Muskego, Beaver Dam to Green Bay and places in between gathered at Acuity Insurance corporate headquarters in Sheboygan for the 6th annual Wisconsin State All Girls Championships.  Every player received a pink t-shirt that complimented the grey and silver trophies.  A total of $1000 in scholarships were given to  six players in three divisons.  In the K12 division winners were Alena Huang, Sabrina Huang, and Naisha Bepar.  In the K5 division and K3 Divisions the scholarship winners were Mallory Veeser,  Anna Brink and Delia Alexander.  You can see the results table here  A special thanks to Acuity Insurance for sponsoring this event. 

Alena Huang and Sabrina Huang play at my adopted chess club, Southwest Chess Club, and have won Goddesschess sponsored prizes playing in some of the Hales Corners Chess Challenges. Isabella Ilchenko (12th place) has also played in many of the Challenges.  In fact, Challenge XIII (the number of the Goddess) is coming up on April 16, 2011! 

Here are the top K12 finishers:

Congratulations to all of the winners and scholarship recipients! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Upcoming China Institute Programs - Lecture Series

Oh, these programs sound so good!

Ancient Bronzes in Hunan: A Survey
The middle bank of the Yangzi River is one of the most significant cradles of Chinese civilization and a historical area for the study of China’s Bronze Age. Several important excavations in the past few decades have enabled us to examine the little known aspects of this culture through exquisite bronze vessels. Guest co-curator, Dr. Jay Xu, will speak about the fascinating story of this regional culture in three ways: the development and characteristics of Hunan bronzes, their function and patronage, and their cultural connection to central China.
Along the Yangzi River: Regional Culture of the Bronze Age from Hunan is an original exhibition organized by China Institute Gallery in collaboration with the Hunan Provincial Museum.
Dr. Jay Xu is a widely published scholar, particularly on ancient Chinese bronzes and archaeology—his area of expertise. His prolific writings or translations cover diverse areas, including ancient Chinese jades, Chinese ceramics, Chinese calligraphy, and museum practice. The book Art of the Houma Foundry (Princeton University Press, 1996), to which he contributed, was awarded the prestigious Shimada Prize of 1997 for the Outstanding Publication on the History of Eastern Asian art. His publications have appeared in books and in such journals as Orientations, Natural History, Artibus Asiae, and Journal of East Asian Archaeology. He is much in demand as a speaker on topics related to Chinese art or museum practice, circumnavigating the globe from numerous cities across the United States to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea.
Monday, February 28 ~ 6:30–8 PM
$10 member / $15 non-member

To register, please click here

The Axial Age — How Philosophy and Medicine Began
Dr. Geoffrey Redmond, M.D., Center for Health Research, will introduce the ancient text Yijing (Book of Changes) and manuscripts from the Yangzi River region that formed the basis of Chiense thought and medicine. The audience is invited to participate in an educational demo of the Yijing.
Tuesday, March 8 ~ 6:30-8 PM
$10 member / $15 non-member

To register, please click here

There are two more lectures devoted to ancient bronzes in North and South China, as well as other topics.  More information.  I wish I lived in Manhattan.  Should have married that rich guy 40 years ago.  Oh well. 

Board Games 2011 Symposium in Brugge

There is still time!  You can register until the end of March.  More information - including the great feature that if you don't want to stay for the entire 4 days, you can buy a 1-day pass! 

Online registration form.

There is a great line-up of presenters and topics this year, including a one-two punch from David Parlette, noted author of many books and articles on games and the history of games/boardgames, and Dr. Irving Finkel, assistant curator at the British Museum, on Day 1:

David Parlett

Back to Square One - a question of of origins
Irving Finkel

On to Square Two – the question of dissemination

Full program

I saw the names of several female presenters - goody!  The early symposia were nearly all male presenters, but over the years more females have submitted papers and signed up to present as the programming has grown in scope.  The Board Games Studies symposia have grown into fine events with presenters from all around the world.  Maybe someday I'll actually be able to attend one!

9 Queens Fourth Annual Chess Fest!

The 4th Annual Chess Fest is scheduled for April 2 from 2-5 pm at the Hotel Congress. This year's theme is "Through the Looking Glass" and will feature two-time American Women's Chess Champion Jennifer Shahade as the Red Queen. In addition to a free speed chess tournament, chess lessons, face-painting, and a human chess match with characters from the book, Jen will also be signing copies of our new book, Play Like A Girl. Buy your copy in advance on our website and get her to sign it at the event.

Chess Fest is a completely, free, family friendly activity. Help support this event by making a safe, tax-deductible donation here.

If you missed the announcement a few weeks ago:

9 Queens co-founder Jen Shahade's latest book, Play Like a Girl!: Tactics by 9Queens was just released from Mongoose Press. The book is filled with chess puzzles and combinations, all executed by female chess champions. The book is available at and all author royalties go to 9 Queens initiatives to bring chess to those most in need of its benefits.

The Silk Road Exhibit is ON in Philadelphia!

Sorry for not having reported on this sooner.  The article is from February 20th.  I am pleased and happy to report that the Chinese government decided, at the last moment, to allow the mummies from Urumchi and elsewhere to go on exhibit, after all, in Philadelphia.  You will recall that the exhibit of the mummies and many other artifacts was cancelled/prohibited by the Chinese government after months of preparation went into the event and after having been exhibited elsewhere in the United States!  No explanation was every given for this unbelievable act.  Perhaps they expected no one would notice or complain?  But unlike in China, where there is censorship and Big Brother spies everywhere, people in this country and our press are still free (although at times it doesn't seem like it, heh?)  Perhaps all the outrage poured forth on hundreds of blogs and in newspaper articles in all of the major papers changed someone's mind?  Who knows.  The artifacts are on view through March 28 at the Penn Museum, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia; (215) 898-4000,

Exhibition Review
Another Stop on a Long, Improbable Journey
Published: February 20, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — There are times, at the Penn Museum here, when you are almost hesitant to breathe. And it has nothing to do with the recent flurry of events in which Chinese officials suddenly forbid the display of the remarkable objects in the exhibition “Secrets of the Silk Road,” ultimately relenting and allowing them to be shown for just a short time. These doings (about which more later) are scarcely blinks in the history of these objects.

Most of these astonishing artifacts should have ceased to exist long ago. Exposed to breath and light, you can imagine them disintegrating into powdery mist: silk pillows and robes, thin brocades of cloth with floral patterns and rich colors, woven baskets, felt hats, a braided fried dough twist, feathers from caps and arrows. Ephemera, surely: these are not lasting things of stone, bone and gold, and the newest are at least 1,000 years old.

And speaking of ephemera, what of the bundled infant, whose light-brown hair can be seen peeking out of a blue cashmere cap? It is wrapped in a wool cloth tied with thick cords of red and blue. Two rectangular blue stones rest over its eyes, and at its side is a prehistoric nursing bottle made from a goat’s bladder. The baby’s age? Less than 10 months, or, reckoning from its death, 28 centuries.

In another part of this 6,000-square-foot exhibition lies the body of a woman wrapped in a wool cloak, her lavish brown hair draped to the side of her face, long lashes still framing her sunken eyes. Her skin, tinged with a white coating is eerily sensuous. That must have been a cold winter: she is still wearing fur-lined leather boots. She is in her early 40s, we are told, though that was at least 3,500 years ago. The Beauty of Xiaohe she’s called, and we forgive the poetic liberty, because in her death, against all the cautionary chastisements of later centuries, even that ephemeral aesthetic property remains intact.

These artifacts and bodies have all been uncovered from under the inhospitable sands of the Tarim Basin in the far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, where the seasonal temperatures range from 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit to 104 degrees above. Bodies seem to have been preserved not by design — the way the ancient Egyptians prepared for the afterlife — but accidentally. When buried during the winters, in tightly sealed coffins, many corpses were preserved from the indignities of decay by mineral salts and dry weather. The harshness of that environment is in sharp contrast to the almost genteel delicacy of the objects discovered there in recent decades in ancient cemeteries.

But the extremes may be in keeping with the political environment that led to recent controversies. The two mummies (on view until March 15) and the artifacts on loan from China (on view until March 28), are part of an exhibition organized by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., that opened there a year ago; it also traveled to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Victor Mair, a leading scholar of these artifacts and a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, is editor of the informative exhibition catalog and has served as a consultant, shaping the show for the Penn Museum (formally known as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology).

This, the show’s final stop, was to last from Feb. 5 through June 5. Special timed tickets were sold, events and lectures planned. The exhibition was expected to elevate the income and stature of this already distinguished museum.

Just days before the opening, though, the Chinese government announced that no objects could be shown at all, even though they had already been displayed in Santa Ana and Houston. No explanations were offered, and no museum official would comment. Photographs were substituted for the missing items and admission prices eliminated. One museum spokesman attributed the problem to a “miscommunication” and would not elaborate. Then, last week, negotiations led to the abbreviated schedule.

Look around and you can begin to see why these artifacts might have more than a purely anthropological or aesthetic importance. It would be foolhardy to think that they reflect a single culture. The Tarim Basin is a sixth the size of China and nearly the size of Western Europe; artifacts here range over thousands of years from multiple sites.

Moreover the exhibition’s title is too narrow. The Silk Road, a network of trading routes that crossed the Basin region, was in its prime during the first millennium. These artifacts reach back to the Bronze Age. Sometime between 1800 B.C. and 1500 B.C., the Beauty of Xiahoe was buried. Would she have had any familiarity with the uncannily well-preserved pastries shown here that have a freshness date of sometime in the ninth century? A lot happens in 2,500 years.

In addition the exhibition text points out that even before the height of the Silk Road the basin was a multicultural area. Records of 28 different languages have been found there, including Tocharian, unique to the region. Buddhism was practiced (as several artifacts show); so were Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity and Judaism. Conquests by Islam and by Genghis Khan’s armies led to still other transformations.

Exhibition Review
Another Stop on a Long, Improbable JourneyPublished: February 20, 2011
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In addition the exhibition text points out that even before the height of the Silk Road the basin was a multicultural area. Records of 28 different languages have been found there, including Tocharian, unique to the region. Buddhism was practiced (as several artifacts show); so were Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity and Judaism. Conquests by Islam and by Genghis Khan’s armies led to still other transformations.

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.One of the most remarkable sets of artifacts are the trappings of a man found at Yingpan, dating from the third to the fifth century. His mummy was too fragile to travel, but his clothes are arrayed in a coffinlike space and reflected in a tilted mirror. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall and buried with a Roman glass bowl that might have come from Syria. The pillow he rests on, we are told, shows the influence of Han Chinese culture, but his elaborately decorated clothes include images from Greek and Roman mythology. The hypothesis is that he was a Sogdian trader from the eastern region of Iran. His features do not have any affinity to those of Eastern Asia.

This is the crux of the matter, for most bodies found in this region have what are called Caucasoid features. And though many objects here are clearly associated with later Chinese traditions — like the delicate figurines of women making pottery (from the seventh to ninth centuries) — others come from cultural worlds that can still not be clearly identified.

A felt hat from the fifth to third centuries B.C. could easily be imagined atop the head of a Tarim leprechaun. (The exhibition notes that some textile patterns seem related to Celtic styles.)

The Beauty of Xiaohe mummy not only has features that seem alien to the region, but she was also buried in a style that has little connection with local traditions of later millenniums. The wooden coffins in her cemetery are shaped like overturned boats and sealed with clay and mud; women seem to have been buried with icons representing the phallus, men with icons of the vulva. (That cemetery is near a dried up riverbed, which may help account for the boatlike coffins and the ready use of wood in burial artifacts.)

As Mr. Mair points out, the basin, because of its geographic isolation and brutal climate, was one of the last areas on the planet settled by humans. It also proved, he says in the catalog, to be an “unparalleled storehouse of genetic, anthropological and cultural material of peoples who entered it from all directions at different times during the last four millenniums.” Recent genetic research on DNA samples also suggests that there was far more migration of populations than was once thought in the era before the Silk Road.

The problem is that right now this is the worst possible news, given the political climate. There are hints in the catalog of problems Western scholars have confronted: incomplete skeletal remains, unreleased photographs, difficulty in conducting genetic analysis. The unexpected appearance of non-Chinese-seeming cultures and bodies in this region is being treated a bit like the way some American Indian tribes treated the 1996 discovery of Kennewick Man in Washington State, his prehistoric remains showing Caucasoid or Asian features; the tribes asserted ownership over the remains and wanted to prevent scientific analysis.

In this case the issues have ramifications in territorial claims on this oil-rich region. One museum in Xinjiang insists that the territory “has been an inalienable part of the territory of China.” But in 1993 the Chinese government was concerned enough to prevent Mr. Mair from leaving China with 52 tissue samples after having authorized him to go to Xinjiang and collect them. And the region’s Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people, have hailed the discovery of these non-East Asian mummies as proof of their own historical claims. There is a separatist movement of Uighurs; there are also Chinese attempts to rein in Islam in the region.

But the DNA and cultural analysis support neither opposing claim. (Nor would it matter if they did.) In a helpful essay in the current issue of the Penn Museum’s magazine Mr. Mair points out that xinjiang means “new borders.” That’s what were established in the region when it was conquered by the Chinese in the 19th century and what were created again, when, after an era of independence, Chinese control was reasserted in the 20th century, turning it into an “autonomous region.”

In the catalog Lothar von Falkenhausen, an art historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, suggests, “The present exhibition, for reasons connected with the historical situation of Xinjiang today, particularly emphasizes the Chinese cultural impact on the ‘Western Regions.’ ” Maybe Mr. Mair’s particular emphasis on cosmopolitan themes made the Chinese particularly nervous, but other visitors, can only react with something like awe at how much there is still to learn from what is buried in the sands, and what an enduring impact ephemera can have.
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