Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chess Princess Tiffany Darling

Meet a princess of chess

Cape Town - Rows of black-and-white tables fill the sports hall at UCT. There is a low murmuring as children from across the country concentrate on their individual games at the South African Junior Chess Championships. They look up only to stare down their opponents.
Three-time winner of the SA Junior Chess
Championships Tiffany Darling.
Picture: Candice Mostert
Among the 2 052 chess players is 12-year-old Cape Town girl Tiffany Darling. Her opponent is a boy from the East Gauteng team.
They have been playing since 9.30am. Earlier in the day, they were relaxed. But by 1pm, they are the only players left and both are visibly tense. Eventually, an official calls the game a draw. Tiffany shakes her opponent’s hand at the table, before running off to discuss the tournament with her friends.
“I was a bit nervous, but it was only at the end that I started feeling the pressure,” says Tiffany.
Tiffany, who lives near Durbanville, has been playing chess for four years. Her older brothers, aged 14 and 16, also play chess and this spurred her own interest.
Her brothers have their South African colours in the sport and Tiffany has won the SA Junior Closed Championships for three consecutive years.
Tiffany may be only 12 years old, but she already has several accolades to prove her talent and success. They include being named the Most Promising Primary School Player of the Year in 2011 and achieving great results at the African Youth Championships.
But her greatest achievement, says Tiffany, was in 2010. “My highlight was winning at the Commonwealth Games in India,” she says.
Unlike many of the players in the hall, Tiffany does not have a chess coach. Her father, who is not a professional player, helps Tiffany and her brothers along. “It’s nice to have my dad (as my coach). He can help me with everything. He knows my weakness and how I can improve,” she says.
Her mother, René Darling, says the three have always been passionate and competitive, and that it is part of what drives them.
But Tiffany does not focus only on chess. René says part of her daughter’s success is that she takes things in her stride and makes time for other activities – whether it’s other sport and academics, watching television or playing with the dog.
Cape Town executive coach Reinhard Moors says self-judgement during a chess match could put a young player’s game into reverse, disconnect them from the game emotionally, and turn them into their own worst enemy. Instead they should remain totally neutral, calm and objective throughout the challenge and play their own game.
This is exactly what Tiffany did during her game that ended in a draw. Occasionally she would get up from the table, stretch her legs and observe other matches. On the surface, she managed to keep her composure.
“Often in sport people focus so much on the technique that they forget about the emotional side of the game, which is just as significant as the technique,” says Moors.
Tiffany, says her mother, has learned that if she’s had a bad match, she has to see where she went wrong, tell herself to do better next time, then shrug it off. Neither Tiffany nor her brothers wallow in losses, or put themselves down.
“When you put yourself down, you become your own worst enemy,” says Moors.
Marcelle Agulhas, director of Women’s Chess SA, says the sport is still male dominated. Her daughter, Tiffany, 16, and son Keagan, 12, are top players. Tiffany was picked as Best Junior Female Player at the championships at UCT.
Agulhas says few girls are involved in the sport to begin with, and while they do excel, by the time they reach matric, their academic work becomes the focus. But she hopes that both Tiffanys will continue to achieve in chess.
Hannes Pieterse, provincial co-ordinator for the chess organisation Moves for Life, says the sport is growing fast in the city, and across the country. Last year, 400 city candidates were eligible to participate in the tournament. This year, more than 900 city players qualified and 270 were chosen to compete. - Cape Argus

Carved Horse Head Discovered in 164 Year Old Collection

From Antiquity, Volume 085, Issue 330, December 2011 (yes, a year behind).  You can get internal links, emails and more photographs at the website. 

What is, I believe, unique about this is that the horse head carving is on a bone from a 15,000 years old or so horse's leg! 

Of course my imagination ran wild with this discovery.  Was the horse perhaps a much loved steed that sometimes allowed itself to be ridden (in the days long before bridles and such)?  Was the horse a wily adversary that deserved to be memorialized in death?  Was the carved bone a talisman? 

Discovery of a horse engraving from Bruniquel, France

Laura M. Kaagan, Paul G. Bahn & Adrian M. Lister

There are many examples of Palaeolithic portable engravings that have been discovered, long after their excavation, among the collections stored in museums. For example, a remarkable pair of bear figures was spotted in the mid-1980s on a rib fragment housed with the bone industry from the Magdalenian cave of Isturitz in the western Pyrenees; the rib came from a level excavated by the St Périers in 1931 (Esparza & Mujika 2003). It is far rarer, however, for a new engraving to be found among faunal material curated within a palaeontological collection. We report here the discovery by one of us (LMK) of a horse engraving in the collection of the Palaeontology Department of the Natural History Museum (NHM), London, some 140 years after the excavation and acquisition of the specimen. The new engraving was found among the horse remains from the Late Magdalenian site of Roc du Courbet, Bruniquel, France.
The site
The Roc du Courbet is one of a series of Upper Palaeolithic rockshelters near the village of Bruniquel, in France's Tarn region. Located within the face of a massif or cliff (now known as Courbet), it was first explored by Vicomte de Lastic Saint-Jal in 1863, and then by de Lastic, M. des Serres and R. Owen in 1864 (Owen1869a). It is believed that the majority of the remains recovered were derived from de Lastic's black layer or 'couche noire', which is thought to date to Magdalenian V or VI; however, the provenance of remains within this layer is not clear (Sieveking 1987).

Furthermore, Owen (1869a, 1869b) notes that both human and animal remains were found within not only a black layer ('limon noir'), but also a red layer ('limon rouge') and a breccia deposit. Owen took such an interest in the cave itself, as well as the faunal and artefactual remains which had been recovered from it, that he purchased de Lastic's first collection for the British Museum in 1864 (Cook and Welté 1995).
Faunal remains of horses
The faunal collection is now housed at the NHM, while most of the artefacts are housed at the British Museum (Franks House). According to Owen (1869b) the horse remains acquired by him in 1864 consisted of at least 30 individuals from the limon noir, limon rouge and breccia. LMK has recently examined all available horse specimens (teeth, cranials and postcranials) from Owen's 'de Lastic collection' at the NHM. Many retain the cut marks associated with butchery, especially on the teeth and maxillary/mandibular elements. It is also evident that the remains have been treated with an unknown preservative.

Owen (1869b) designated the Courbet horses taxonomically as Equus spelaeus, determining by detailed comparison that they were caballine horses rather than zebras or asses. He considered, based on the size of third molars, that two types or varieties were present. Nowadays the remains are referred to E. ferus and biometric analysis is consistent with the presence of a single species (Kaagan 2000).
Radiocarbon dating of artefactual remains in the British Museum collection was undertaken at the Gif laboratory—this yielded two dates for the 'limon rouge' and one for the 'limon noir', all of which are equivalent at 1s and lie within the range 13 380–13 490 BP (uncalibrated median values), within the early part of the Late Glacial (Cattelain 2005). Radiocarbon dating of purified collagen from a lower P3 of horse (NHM Palaeontology Department no. 39325) from the faunal collection yielded a date of 13 230±90 BP (OxA-6667), consistent with the dates obtained previously.

The new figure

Many art objects (engravings or drawings) have been found at Courbet, utilising bones of deer, birds and other animals. These include a bird bone and deer rib, both with engraved reindeer, figured by Owen (1869a), and a bone fragment bearing three horse heads on one side and two on the other (Sieveking 1987: pl. 68; here Figure 1).

Owen (1869b) had taken a particular interest in the horse remains from Courbet, and expended considerable effort on cataloguing and interpreting the collection. However, the fresh study of this material by LMK (Kaagan 2000) led to the discovery of a previously unnoticed engraving on a horse's right fourth metatarsal (no. 38475). This unusual choice of material is the delicate 'splint bone' that in life lies lateral to the cannon bone (third metatarsal) of the hind leg; the bone is complete and is 15.9cm long.

The engraving (Figures 2–4) depicts a horse's head in left profile located on the bone's dorsal surface at the proximal end. The image was partly obscured by the specimen identification sticker, confirming that it had not been noticed by previous workers. It is a good example of a 'naturalistic' depiction, in typical Magdalenian style, of a Late Pleistocene wild horse. Engraved lines above the ear suggest that these animals had a forelock. This is a common trait in domestic horses, but many wild Przewalski's horses also grow a forelock before their mid-summer moult, especially in old age or due to lack of fitness (Mohr 1971). Compared to other Palaeolithic depictions of horses, the muzzle in the Courbet engraving is unusually square in shape; other horse-heads from the site seem to share this trait, albeit to a lesser degree.

The horse is the most important animal in Ice Age iconography, and past studies expended a great deal of effort in the attempt to establish which 'races' were depicted—some scholars even claiming up to 37 varieties (see Bahn & Vertut 1997: 141). However, all such exercises were eventually abandoned, being based primarily on the shape and size of the figures, their manes, and the colour and pattern of their coats, all of which could have been subject to artistic whim. All that can be stated with confidence is that most depictions of Late Pleistocene horses strongly indicate that the wild (Przewalski's) horse is their closest modern analogue (Mohr 1971), although even the latter has been under human selection for 'primitive' appearance (M. Bower, pers. comm. 2010). Genetic data have indicated that Przewalski's horse is closely related to, but was not the direct ancestor of, modern breeds; they derived from a common ancestor which is no longer living (Lau et al. 2009).


We are grateful to Marion Duffin for drawing Figure 4, Kevin Webb for photography (Figures 2 & 3), and Jill Cook for discussion.


  • BAHN, P.G. & J. VERTUT. 1997. Journey through the Ice Age. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.
  • CATTELAIN, P. 2005. Propulseurs magdaléniens: marqueurs culturels régionaux? in V. Dujardin (ed.) Industrie osseuse et parures du Solutréen au Magdalénien en Europe (Mémoire 39 de la société préhistorique française): 301–317. Paris: Société préhistorique française.
  • COOK, J. & A.-C. WELTÉ. 1995. La Grotte du Courbet (Tarn): sa contribution dans l'histoire de l'homme fossile et de l'art paléolithique. Bulletin de la Société. Préhistorique Ariège-Pyrénées 50: 85–96.
  • ESPARZA SAN JUAN, X. & J.A. MUJIKA ALUSTIZA. 2003. Aportación a las representaciones de úrsidos en el arte mobiliar magdaleniense. Veleia 20: 151–56.
  • KAAGAN, L.M. 2000. The horse in Late Pleistocene and Holocene Britain. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University College London.
  • LAU, A.N., L. PENG, H. GOTO, L. CHEMNICK, O.A. RYDER & K.D. MAKOVA. 2009. Horse domestication and conservation genetics of Przewalski's Horse inferred from sex chromosomal and autosomal sequences. Molecular Biology and Evolution 26: 199–208.
  • MOHR, E. 1971. The Asiatic Wild Horse. London: J.A. Allen and Co. Ltd.
  • OWEN, R. 1869a. Description of the Cavern of Bruniquel, and its organic contents. Part I. Human remains. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 159: 517–33.
    - 1869b. Description of the Cavern of Bruniquel, and its organic contents. Part II. Equine remains. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 15: 535–57.
  • SIEVEKING, A. 1987. A catalogue of Palaeolithic art in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.


*Author for correspondence
  • Laura M. Kaagan
    Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  • Paul G. Bahn
    428 Anlaby Road, Hull HU3 6QP, UK
      Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
  • Adrian M. Lister* Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

More on Engraved Stone from Shuidonggou Paleolithic Site

More on this significant find.  It's been languishing in a box somewhere or other since 1980!  Holy Goddess!

Prior post on December 2, 2012.

Engraved stone artifact found at the Shuidonggou Paleolithic Site, Northwest China
December 24, 2012
[You can find photographs and internal links at Phys Org's full article]

 Engraved objects are usually seen as a hallmark of cognition and symbolism, which are viewed as important features of modern human behavior. In recent years, engraved ochre, bones and ostrich eggs unearthed from various Paleolithic sites in Africa, the Near East and Europe have attracted great attentions. However, such items are rarely encountered at Paleolithic sites in East Asia. According to article published in the journal of Chinese Science Bulletin (vol.57, No.26), Dr. GAO Xing, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team reported an engraved stone artifact in a stone tool assemblage at the Shuidonggou Paleolithic site, Ningxia, Northwest China.
The Shuidonggou Paleolithic site includes 12 localities, ranging in date from Early Late Paleolithic to Late Paleolithic. The engraved stone artifact was found at Locality 1, which is about 30000 years ago. As the first Paleolithic site discovered in China, Shuidonggou Locality 1 is distinctive in Late Paleolithic industry of north China, because of its components of elongated tool blank production and Levallois-like technology. When analyzing the materials unearthed from the site during excavations in the 1920s, French archaeologist Henry Breuil observed parallel incisions on the surface of siliceous pebbles, but he did not provide details on those incised pebbles.

This engraved stone artifact was found in a recent technological analysis of the stone tool assemblage unearthed at the Shuidonggou site in 1980. It is the first engraved non-organic artifact from the entire Paleolithic of China.

Archaeologists used a digital microscope to observe all the incisions and obtain 3D images. After excluding the possibility of natural cracking, trampling and animal-induced damage, and unintentional human by-products, they believed that the incisions were made by intentional behavior.

The straight shape of each line shows that it was incised once over a short time interval without repeated cutting, implying the possibility of counting or recording at that time. Furthermore, creation of such an engraved object may indicate the possible existence of complex communicative systems such as language.

"Comparison studies indicate that the blade technology was probably introduced from the Altai region of Russian Siberia, and the flake technology is typical of the Late Paleolithic in north China. So, who created the incisions, the migrants from the west or the aborigines in north China? At this time, we cannot provide a clear scenario. More archaeological and anthropological evidences are needed to solve the puzzle", said Dr. PENG Fei, first author of the study at the IVPP.

 "This discovery provides important material for the study of symbolic and cognitive capability of humans in the Late Paleolithic of East Asia. As we know, so-called 'behavioral modernity' is often defined as changes of technology and subsistence strategies, expansion of activity areas, revolution in cognition, and other features. Most of these features have been identified at Paleolithic sites in Europe, the Near East and Africa. But in East Asia, the issue is more complex", said project lead GAO Xing, corresponding author of the study.

This work was mainly supported by the National Basic Research Program of China, the Key Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Zafar, Sanaa and Mecca -- Some Light Shed on Early Islam and Christianity

Fascinating!  From Spiegel Online.

12/21/2012 21.12.2012

Fortress in the Sky Buried Christian Empire Casts New Light on Early Islam

But now a narcissistic work of human self-portrayal has turned up in Yemen. It is a figure, chiseled in stone, which apparently stems from the era of the Prophet.

Paul Yule, an archeologist from the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, has studied the relief, which is 1.70 meters (5'7") tall, in Zafar, some 930 kilometers (581 miles) south of Mecca. It depicts a man with chains of jewelry, curls and spherical eyes. Yule dates the image to the time around 530 AD.

The "crowned man" relief found in Zafar, Yemen is seen as evidence that there was a Christian
empire in the  region before Islam took hold.

The German archeologist excavated sites in the rocky highlands of Yemen, an occupation that turned quite dangerous recently because of political circumstances in the country. On his last mission, Yule lost 8 kilograms (18 lbs.) and his equipment was confiscated.

Nevertheless, he is pleased, because he was able to bring notes, bits of debris and bones back to Heidelberg. Yule has concluded that Zafar was the center of an Arab tribal confederation, a realm that was two million square kilometers (about 772,000 square miles) large and exerted its influence all the way to Mecca.

Even more astonishing is his conclusion that kings who invoked the Bible lived in the highland settlement. The "crowned man" depicted on the relief was also a Christian.

Conquerers from Ancient Ethiopia
Yule has analyzed the mysterious, robed figure in a report for the academic journal Antiquity. He is barefoot, which is typical of Coptic saints. He is holding a bundle of twigs, a symbol of peace, in his left hand. There is a crossbar on his staff, giving it the appearance of a cross. In addition, he is wearing a crown on his head like the ones worn by the Christian rulers of ancient Ethiopia.

All of this suggests that the man with a strange, round face is a descendant of the conquerors from Africa who succeeded in making one of the boldest landing operations in ancient times.

In 525 AD, the Negus, or king, of Aksum dispatched a fleet across the Red Sea. Soldiers and fighting elephants were ferried across the water to the East on un-tarred, raft-like ships to spread the gospel. In the ensuing decades, his army captured large parts of Arabia.

The first spearhead was targeted at the capital Zafar. Like a fortress in the sky, the town was perched on an extinct volcano, at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,184 feet) above sea level. Its walls, riddled with towers and alarm bells, were four-and-a-half kilometers long. About 25,000 people lived in Zafar.

According to Yule, between the 3rd and the 5th century the confederation managed to complete a "meteoric rise" and become a superpower. Its merchants traded in sandalwood from Ceylon and valerian from Persia. The state controlled the port of Aden, where the ships of spice traders from India docked. Frankincense, which was made in Arabia, was also traded. It was a place of luxury. Yule found wine amphorae, the remains of precious fish condiments and palaces decorated with sphinxes and lions.

A Peaceful Multi-Cultural Community
The social structure in Zafar also appeared to be unique. The city had a large Jewish community, as evidenced by a seal with a Torah niche. Hebrew inscriptions were discovered. Zafar's residents also included Christians, who built a church there in 354 AD. Arabs who worshipped old idols lived in the alleys.

But this peaceful, multicultural community soon came to an end, as tensions began to mount in the 5th century, and Arabia was transformed into a front.

The Byzantine Empire, bristling with weapons, operated in the west, and its vassals kept making inroads toward the desert. They were accompanied by Christian missionaries, who brought the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the shepherds on the edge of the Rub' al Khali, the sand desert that makes up much of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.

These Sacred Heart imperialists confronted the Persian realm of the Sassanids, with its archers and armies of bearded soldiers clad in heavy metal armor. The Jews, who lived by the tens of thousands in the oases, were to some extent aligned with this power.

It was a confrontation between east and west, and everyone was forced to choose a side.

This also applied to Zafar. To stop the advance of Christianity, individual Arab kings initially converted to Judaism. The entire ruling class of the realm eventually followed suit. From then on, people were given names like Yehuda and Yussuf.

Then they took up arms. In approximately 520 AD, they attacked the Christian colony of Najran, where there were churches and monasteries. Countless Christians were slaughtered. The shocking news traveled all the way to Europe.

A 'Puppet King'
Now the spiral of violence began turning more rapidly. The furious Byzantines and their allies from Africa were out for revenge. Kaleb, the Aksumite king of Ethiopia (who wore gold jewelry in his hair and had himself driven around in an elephant carriage) went on the counter-offensive.

If the sources are correct, his first naval maneuver was a miserable failure. In 525 AD, with the help of additional warships provided by the Byzantines, he successfully completed the crossing to the other side of the Red Sea.

The relief of the "crowned man" from Zafar was apparently created during this period of invasion. Yule interprets it as a representation of the Christian "puppet king" of the Ethiopians.

The invaders continued their attacks. Southern Arabia's holy warrior, Abraha, had taken control of large areas before long. He even attempted to free bishops being held prisoner by the Persian enemy in Nisibis (in modern-day Turkey), some 2,500 kilometers away.

The man embarked on a religious crusade at the same time. He rebuilt the churches that had been destroyed in Najran, and he had new ones built in Marib and Aden.

His most beautiful church was in Sanaa. It had gilded doors and a throne made of ebony and ivory. In the morning, the rays of the sun shone through an alabaster panel in the dome. The Byzantines supported the project, sending craftsmen, marble and mosaics.

The result was an architectural miracle, the likes of which all of Arabia had never seen before.

Year of the Elephant
After the triumph of Islam in the 7th century, the church was torn down and stripped of its treasures, and a mosque was built on the site. As Barbara Finster, an archeologist from the Bavarian city of Bamberg, discovered, some of the columns in the mosque came from the wrecked church, while some of the church's magnificent mosaics were sent to Mecca, essentially as booty.

The enmity between Sanaa and Mecca apparently smoldered from the start. Medieval Koran scholars report that Abraha built his magnificent church to lure the pilgrims away from the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site.

Another Islamic source describes how the dispute eventually escalated: An angry native of Mecca relieved himself in the Sanaa church, prompting the furious Abraha to dispatch his warriors, mounted on elephants, to destroy the Kaaba. In the interpretation of Sura 105 of the Koran, the only reason he was unsuccessful was that Allah had armed a flock of birds with clay balls that rained down on the Christian army like bullets.

Are these nothing but religious myths? There is historical evidence, in the form of a rock inscription, that Abraha conducted large-scale raids against defiant Arab tribes near Mecca in 552 AD. A few Western historians consider this to be the true year of Muhammad's birth. The scholar Ibn Ishak, who wrote the first biography of the Prophet, states that the proclaimer of the Koran was born "in the year of the elephant."

Oddly enough, the scrawled rock inscription could be interpreted to mean that the tribe of the Kuraish, to which the Prophet belonged, sometimes fought for the Christians. Were they allies? Was Muhammad born in a city that stood under the banner of the cross?

Hard Times
There are indications that this could be true. For instance, a Christian cemetery is mentioned in the oldest history of Mecca, written by the Arab historian Asraki.

What a mess. In ancient Arabia, the three Abrahamic world religions intersected in confusing ways. But the Koran prevailed in the end.

But many things are still unclear. Our perspective is complicated by the fact that the birth of Islam occurred at a time of severe hardship. Climate data obtained from limestone caves in Oman prove that there was a terrible drought in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula in the middle of the 6th century. There was also a plague epidemic that began in 541 and afflicted the entire Orient. Other, smaller epidemics followed, causing thousands upon thousands of deaths.
It was these horrors that probably triggered the demise of Zafar. Yule suspects that the drought devastated the "fragile ecology of the highlands." Cattle died of thirst and barns remained empty.

Are the archeologist's suspicions correct? Even Muhammad, as a young child, was threatened by disease and hunger. According to Ibn Ishak, his wet nurse was deeply concerned when she was told to bring the little boy back to his native city.

The reason, he writes, was the "plague in Mecca."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...