Saturday, March 15, 2014

46th Belgrade WGM Tournament 2014

Took place March 3 - 11, 2014.  Final standings:

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgIBdldPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 nwwew-weKrtg+/-
14IMVega Gutierrez SabrinaESP23797.
25WGMSzczepkowska-Horowska KarinaPOL23966.
37WGMChelushkina IrinaSRB22616.
41WGMStojanovic AndjelijaSRB22955.
59WIMVega Gutierrez BelindaESP22035.
63WIMRakic MarijaSRB23044.
76WIMEric JovanaSRB22093.
810Velikic AdelaSRB20782.
92WFMZarkovic MilaSRB21072.
108IMPetrenko SvetlanaMDA22162.
Tie Break1: Koya Tie-Break
Tie Break2: Direct Encounter (The results of the players in the same point group)
Tie Break3: Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break variable

9,000 Year Old "Ritual Wand" Carved With Human Faces Found In Syria

Hmmmm....could this practice possibly be related to the carving of stone masks discovered in Israel dating to around the same time???  Both articles make a point of referring to these cultures as being primarily agricultural.

From Live Science Online

Ancient 'Ritual Wand' Etched with Human Faces Discovered in Syria

Source:  A 9,000-year-old wand with a face
carved into it was discovered in Syria.
Credit: Ibanez et al, Antiquity, 2014
Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient staff carved with two realistic human faces in southern Syria.

The roughly 9,000-year-old artifact was discovered near a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads — which were found in a nearby living space.

"The find is very unusual. It's unique," said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. [See Images of the Ancient Wand and Skeletons]

The wand, which was likely used in a long-lost funeral ritual, is one of the only naturalistic depictions of human faces from this time and place, Braemer said.

Ancient site
Researchers first uncovered the wand during excavations in 2007 and 2009 at a site in southern Syria called Tell Qarassa, where an artificial mound made from the debris of everyday human life gradually built up in layers over millennia. (Though many stunning archaeological sites have been looted or bombed since the onset of the Syrian Civil War, this site is in a fairly peaceful area and has so far escaped damage.)

Other archaeological evidence from the site suggests the ancient inhabitants were amongst the world's first farmers, consuming emmer (a type of wheat), barley, chickpeas and lentils, and herding or hunting goats, gazelles, pigs and deer, the authors write in the March issue of the journal Antiquity.

Mysterious wand
After the skeletons and wand were buried, someone seems to have dug up and removed the skulls, placing them in the inhabited portion of the settlement.

The bone wand was likely carved from the rib of an auroch, the wild ancestor of cows, and was about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) long. Two natural-looking faces, with eyes closed, were carved into the bone, though the wand was intentionally broken at both ends, with more faces likely originally adorning the staff.

The relic's purpose and symbolism remain a mystery. [Considering that Hathor, a cow-headed goddess, was worshipped in ancient Egypt, if I were an archaeologist or anthropologist I'd be looking for links between the areas through ancient migration and/or trading networks.  See also previous post on ancient stone masks discovered in Israel dating to about 9000 BCE.  See, for instance, this post from 2010 and following comments.]

"It's clearly linked to funerary rituals, but what kind of rituals, it's impossible to tell," Braemer told Live Science.

The find marks a transition in culture toward more interest in the human form. Older artifacts typically showed stylized or schematic representations of humans, but realistic depictions of animals. Art unearthed in what is now Jordan and Anatolia from the same time period also employs delicate, natural representations of the human form, suggesting this trend emerged simultaneously in regions throughout the Middle East, Braemer said.

The artistic innovation may have been tied to the emerging desire to create material representations of identity and personhood, the authors write in the paper.

Exactly why someone dug up the skulls and placed them within the living areas of the settlement is also unclear. But archaeologists unearthed similar finds in Jericho, Israel, dating to around 9,000 years ago, where the skulls of ancestors were covered with plaster and painted with facial features, then displayed in living spaces.

One possibility is that the practice was a form of ancestor worship, in which the human faces represented the living presence of supernatural beings in a humanized form.

It's also possible the heads on display were trophies from vanquished enemies, Braemer told Live Science. [Yeah, maybe, but seems more likely to me they were used as oracles.  The same practice is seen thousands of years later in lands settled by the Celts in England, as Robert Graves wrote about in "The White Goddess," for instance.]

Just for fun, check out this Goddesschess blog post from June 2013 about the "Super Moon." 

Fighting Over Richard III

Holy Hathor!

Groups are fighting to claim the body of a reputed child murderer and throne usurper.  Egads, put him back under that damn parking lot - PULEEESE!  Just imagine the thousands of gallons of spit that will have to be removed each year from the final resting place of  this King, if whoever wins this battle wants to promote King Richard III as a tourist attraction (or even not!).  Euuuuuwwwww!

From The Daily Beast Online

The Royalist

Richard III Burial Battle Begins

High Court battle over where the remains of Richard III should be buried is to get under way on Thursday.
For a monarch who was so extraordinarily unpopular in life, it's ironic that now everyone wants a piece of Richard III.
A High Court battle over where the remains of Richard III should be buried is to get under way on Thursday, and will examine the British government's decision to authorise the exhumation and reinterment of the monarch’s remains in Leicester.
It has been brought by a group of Richard III’s distant relatives, the Plantagenet Alliance Limited, who are campaigning to see the former king reburied in his native city of York.
Matthew Howarth, partner and judicial review expert at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, representing the Plantagenet Alliance, told History Extra: “We are challenging the process by which the decision [to grant the University of Leicester the licence] was made.
“Richard III was a culturally significant person, and there should have been a broader consultation about the location of his reburial.
“We would like to see the licence quashed, and a panel of properly qualified experts set up to consider where he should be reburied. The Plantagenet Alliance will willingly stand by the decision reached by the panel.
“Our client, the Plantagenet Alliance, is a not-for-profit entity, and Gordons is working with them on a conditional fee [aka no win, no fee] basis. The University of Leicester and the Ministry of Justice are, of course, in a different position. So this is a real ‘David and Goliath’ battle.”

To be fair, here is an article presenting counter-argument against Richard III being the killer of his own nephews:

From The Daily Mail Online

Yes, he may have killed the princes in the Tower, but now we should give our last ENGLISH king a decent burial

By Simon Heffer

Ancient Stone Masks On Display At Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Very cool!


Ancient masks go on display in Jerusalem

Associated Press

2014 Chinese Chess Championships

The Championships (general and Women's) take place concurrently March 11 - 22, 2014.  GM Hou Yifan is playing in the general championship.  Here are the standings after R5:

Rank after Round 5

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
13GMYu YangyiCHN26643.51.08.002
21GMWei YiCHN26253.50.08.753
310GMDing LirenCHN27173.0-1.08.002
48GMZhao JunCHN26083.0-1.06.751
52Lin ChenCHN24753.0-1.05.502
67GMHou YifanCHN26292.51.06.252
75GMMa QunCHN26062.5-1.05.750
84GMZeng ChongshengCHN25202.5-1.03.502
6GMWen YangCHN25912.5-1.03.502
1012GMXiu DeshunCHN25712.00.05.751
119GMZhou JianchaoCHN25651.50.04.000
1211IMLiu QingnanCHN25010.50.01.250
Tie Break1: Direct Encounter (The results of the players in the same point group)
Tie Break2: Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break (with real points)
Tie Break3: The greater number of victories
Here is a cross-table from The Week in Chess showing standings after 5 rounds:
ch-CHN w 2014 Xinghua (CHN), 11-22 iii 2014cat. V (2360)
1.Lei, TingjieCHN2374*...½..11.112651
2.Ju, WenjunwgCHN2520.*..½1.½.1.142587
3.Tan, ZhongyiwgCHN2499..*..½1½1.1.42520
4.Ding, YixinwgCHN2429...*½..1.½1½2436
5.Shen, YangmCHN2435½½.½*½...1..32508
6.Guo, QiwgCHN2462.0½.½*..11..32519
7.Wang, DoudouwmCHN2217..0...*½0.½122226
8.Xiao, YiyiwfCHN21770½½0..½*....2258
9.Wang, JuewgCHN23840.0..01.*.½.2194
10.Zhang, XiaowenwgCHN2397.0.½00...*.12273
11.Gu, TianluCHN21640.00..½.½.*.12140
12.Zhai, MowmCHN226600.½..0..0.*½2021

15th European Individual Championship 2014

Final standings are in (257 players).  Winner shown plus the ladies:

Final Ranking after 11 Rounds

NamesexFEDRtgIPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 Rpnwwew-weKrtg+/-
GMMotylev AlexanderRUS26569.0263369.074.0728721196.122.881028.8
GMPolgar JuditwHUN26936.5258661.566.042636116.57.27-0.7710-7.7
GMDzagnidze NanawGEO25466.0256763.067.0525641165.620.38103.8
GMStefanova AntoanetawBUL24766.0254363.064.0325371164.941.061010.6
IMMelia SalomewGEO24536.0248160.064.0524861165.510.49104.9
GMDanielian ElinawARM24676.0240359.063.5524081166.69-0.6910-6.9
WGMArabidze MeriwGEO23885.5250459.562.542473115.54.301.201518.0
WGMCharochkina DariawRUS23745.0248957.061.0524191154.430.57105.7
WGMGoryachkina AleksandrawRUS24245.0248757.061.0424181155.09-0.0910-0.9
IMBulmaga IrinawROU23755.0244552.556.5323801154.970.03100.3
WGMKursova MariawARM23265.0242157.060.5423401154.680.32154.8
IMMkrtchian LilitwARM24655.0241555.559.0323471156.61-1.6110-16.1
IMGalojan LilitwARM23175.0231353.056.0522451155.86-0.8610-8.6
Sargsyan ShushannawARM20934.5235049.052.532240114.52.761.741526.1
WFMImnadze NatowGEO21004.5229645.547.542176114.53.640.861512.9
WIMPavlidou EkateriniwGRE21884.5226345.548.532167114.55.06-0.5615-8.4
WFMGevorgyan MariawARM21804.0235949.051.0322011143.910.09151.4
WIMHairapetian AnnawARM21884.0234249.552.5322051143.970.03150.4
WGMCherednichenko SvetlanawUKR22704.0229746.549.5321561145.71-1.7115-25.6
Bykova AnastasiawRUS21323.5227842.044.532095113.54.19-0.6915-10.4
Gaboyan SusannawARM20433.5223643.544.512056113.53.56-0.0615-0.9
Babayan ArminewARM20853.0228047.050.0220651133.45-0.4515-6.8
Karapetyan LusinewARM19853.0220844.545.5119841133.17-0.1715-2.5
Bejashvili IrmawISR17492.0199937.538.511677811.66-0.6615-9.9

GM Judit Polgar's R8 game was reported on at Chessbase on March 12th

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Mediterranean Flowers WGM Tournament

The final round was played, and here are the final standings!

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgIPts.TB1 TB2 TB3 Rpnwwew-weKrtg+/-
IMFoisor Cristina-AdelaROU23678.03.00.072468987.050.95109.5
WGMVidenova IvaBUL22517.02.50.562350975.821.181517.7
WGMNikolova AdrianaBUL23417.02.50.552340976.790.21153.2
WGMMedic MirjanaCRO22355.01.50.022175955.65-0.6515-9.8
WFMNovak KsenijaSLO20825.00.50.042192953.761.241518.6
Jacimovic SaraBIH20174.00.50.032113943.001.001515.0
WIMBerke AnaCRO20933.01.00.012022933.89-0.8915-13.4
Tonel GiuliaITA20363.00.00.022029933.22-0.2215-3.3
WFMPurgar IvonaCRO21112.01.50.001925924.12-2.1215-31.8
Ljikar TamaraCRO18871.00.00.011819911.70-0.7015-10.5
Tie Break1: Koya Tie-Break
Tie Break2: Direct Encounter (The results of the players in the same point group)
Tie Break3: The greater number of victories

Sunday, March 9, 2014

2014 European Individual Chess Championship - Update

Top Ten female players after R6 (with top player(s) included for comparison) -- 259 players through R6:

Rank after Round 6

NamesexFEDRtgIPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 Rpnwwew-weKrtg+/-
GMMotylev AlexanderRUS26565.5256817.519.55293865.53.911.591015.9
GMPolgar JuditwHUN26934.0259420.022.522691644.000.00100.0
GMStefanova AntoanetawBUL24763.5246217.518.52245563.53.440.06100.6
IMMelia SalomewGEO24533.5242916.518.53243763.53.55-0.0510-0.5
GMDzagnidze NanawGEO25463.0262618.019.522546632.870.13101.3
WGMCharochkina DariawRUS23743.0261919.020.032536631.811.191011.9
WGMArabidze MeriwGEO23883.0260018.520.022529631.931.071516.0
WGMKursova MariawARM23263.0253117.019.022431632.110.891513.4
GMDanielian ElinawARM24673.0242716.519.022379633.64-0.6410-6.4
IMBulmaga IrinawROU23752.5261819.022.01254762.51.291.211012.1
WGMGoryachkina AleksandrawRUS24242.5250716.018.52238762.52.86-0.3610-3.6

Five more rounds of action to come! It's not going to get any easier as the pairings in the second-half rounds get tougher and tougher.  Can Judit Polgar pull herself up into the top 10?  That's a BIG mountain to climb.  The next closest female player is GM Antoaneta Stefanova, in 98th place.  EEK!  Personal favorite IM Salome Melia, whom I got to "know" during her appearance at the Montreal Chess Championships back in 2009 (I think it was 2009), is hanging tough.  I would love to see her advance.

Stay tuned for reports as the action advances.

As Earth's Climate Changes, Ancient Viruses Are Resurfacing - Alive! Oh oh...

This could mean one massive extinction event for humankind, I hope you realize...  What the hell is going to happen in the next 30 years?  All I can do is shake my head and wonder whether any of the various branches and twigs of the Newton/Villeneuve-Jablonski family will survive.

From Science Daily Online

30,000 year-old giant virus found in Siberia
Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)
March 4, 2014

A new type of giant virus called "Pithovirus" has been discovered in the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia. Buried underground, this giant virus, which is harmless to humans and animals, has survived being frozen for more than 30,000 years. Although its size and amphora shape are reminiscent of Pandoravirus, analysis of its genome and replication mechanism proves that Pithovirus is very different. This work brings to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses.

A new type of giant virus called "Pithovirus" has been discovered in the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia by researchers from the Information Génomique et Structurale laboratory (CNRS/AMU), in association with teams from the Biologie à Grande Echelle laboratory (CEA/INSERM/Université Joseph Fourier), Génoscope (CEA/CNRS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Buried underground, this giant virus, which is harmless to humans and animals, has survived being frozen for more than 30,000 years. Although its size and amphora shape are reminiscent of Pandoravirus, analysis of its genome and replication mechanism proves that Pithovirus is very different. This work brings to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses.

It is published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the week of March 3, 2014.

In the families Megaviridae (represented in particular by Mimivirus, discovered in 2003) and Pandoraviridae, researchers thought they had classified the diversity of giant viruses (the only viruses visible under optical microscopy, since their diameter exceeds 0.5 microns). These viruses, which infect amoebae such as Acanthamoeba, contain a very large number of genes compared to common viruses (like influenza or AIDS, which only contain about ten genes). Their genome is about the same size or even larger than that of many bacteria.

By studying a sample from the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia, in the Chukotka autonomous region, researchers were surprised to discover a new giant virus more than 30,000 years old (contemporaneous with the extinction of Neanderthal man), which they have named Pithovirus sibericum. Because of its amphora shape, similar to Pandoravirus, the scientists initially thought that this was a new member -- albeit certainly ancient -- of this family. Yet genome analysis on Pithovirus showed that this is not the case: there is no genetic relationship between Pithovirus and Pandoravirus. Though it is large for a virus, the Pithovirus genome contains much fewer genes (about 500) than the Pandoravirus genome (up to 2,500). Researchers also analyzed the protein composition (proteome) of the Pithovirus particle (1..5 microns long and 0.5 microns wide) and found that out of the hundreds of proteins that make it up, only one or two are common to the Pandoravirus particle.

Another primordial difference between the two viruses is how they replicate inside amoeba cells. While Pandoravirus requires the participation of many functions in the amoeba cell nucleus to replicate, the Pithovirus multiplication process mostly occurs in the cytoplasm (outside the nucleus) of the infected cell, in a similar fashion to the behavior of large DNA viruses, such as those of the Megaviridae family. Paradoxically, in spite of having a smaller genome than Pandoravirus, Pithovirus seems to be less reliant on the amoeba's cellular machinery to propagate. The degree of autonomy from the host cell of giant viruses does not therefore appear to correlate with the size of their genome -- itself not related to the size of the particle that transports them.

In-depth analysis of Pithovirus showed that it has almost nothing in common with the giant viruses that have previously been characterized. This makes it the first member of a new virus family, bringing to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses known to date. This discovery, coming soon after that of Pandoravirus, suggests that amphora-shaped viruses are perhaps as diverse as icosahedral viruses, which are among the most widespread today. This shows how incomplete our understanding of microscopic biodiversity is when it comes to exploring new environments. [Well, duh!  Of course!]

Finally, this study demonstrates that viruses can survive in permafrost (the permanently frozen layer of soil found in the Arctic regions) almost over geological time periods, i.e. for more than 30,000 years (corresponding to the Late Pleistocene). These findings have important implications in terms of public health risks related to the exploitation of mining and energy resources in circumpolar regions, which may arise as a result of global warming. The re-emergence of viruses considered to be eradicated, such as smallpox, whose replication process is similar to Pithovirus, is no longer the domain of science fiction. The probability of this type of scenario needs to be estimated realistically. With the support of the France-Génomique infrastructure, set up as part of the national Investments for the Future program, the "Information Génomique et Structurale" laboratory is already working on the issue via a metagenomic study of the permafrost.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. M. Legendre, J. Bartoli, L. Shmakova, S. Jeudy, K. Labadie, A. Adrait, M. Lescot, O. Poirot, L. Bertaux, C. Bruley, Y. Coute, E. Rivkina, C. Abergel, J.-M. Claverie. Thirty-thousand-year-old distant relative of giant icosahedral DNA viruses with a pandoravirus morphology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320670111

Yeast From Ancient South American Tomb -- Alive and Well in Taiwan!

An interesting case for microbiology archaeology!  When I started to read this article, I was immediately reminded of "Jurassic Park" and the unintended consequences that sprang from the fictional bringing ancient species back to life.  Check out the second half of the article, where a similar sentiment is examined.

I have to say, based upon the description of how this fermented drink is often made even today, I don't think I'd ever drink it.  Eeeeeuuuuuuwwwww!  The only "someone else's spit" I want in my mouth (other than my own) is when I'm kissing a hunky man. 

From Scientific American Online

Raising the Dead: New Species of Life Resurrected from Ancient Andean Tomb
Ecuadorian scientists have revived a new species of yeast from pre-Incan tomb, illuminating prehistoric life
Chicha Morada.  Source.  The same as
Chicha Morocho? 
1.    Boil two liters of water
2.    Mix the morocho corn flour in one half liter of water and mix with the two liters of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes.
3.    Boil two liters of water and add the herbs, orange tree leaves, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Cook for 10 minutes and strain out liquid.
4.    Combine the water–corn mix with the water–herb mix. Strain and add the pineapple skin.
5.    Ferment for one day.
6.    Check the consistency of the drink and add more water as needed. Add the brown sugar and white sugar until sweetened to taste. Add ice and serve.
(Translated by Claudia Alderman)

Voynich Manuscript Being Decoded (Maybe)

From the University of Bedfordshire

Note:  There is a 47 minute long You Tube video included in the article that provides EXCELLENT resource websites, including one that provides page by page images of the Manuscript.  In the video Dr. Bax goes through the evidence he examined to arrive at his conclusions and a partial decoding of several proper names of plants used in the Manuscript.  In short, he is building an "alphabet," but much yet needs to be done.  Absolutely fascinating!  I'm convinced Dr. Bax is on the right track.  I suggest you read the article (below, which is a brief summary of some of the highlights from the video) and then view the video for more in-depth information:

600 year old mystery manuscript decoded by University of Bedfordshire professor
Fri 14th February, 2014
AN award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world.
Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach.

The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text.

Up until now the 15th century cryptic work has baffled scholars, cryptographers and codebreakers who have failed to read a single letter of the script or any word of the text.

Over time it has attained an infamous reputation, even featuring in the latest hit computer game Assassin’s Creed, as well as in the Indiana Jones novels, when Indiana decoded the Voynich and used it to find the ‘Philosopher's Stone’.

However in reality no one has come close to revealing the Voynich’s true messages.

Many grand theories have been proposed. Some suggest it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci as a boy, or secret Cathars, or the lost tribe of Israel, or most recently Aztecs … some have even proclaimed it was done by aliens!

Professor Bax however has begun to unlock the mystery meanings of the Voynich manuscript using his wide knowledge of mediaeval manuscripts and his familiarity with Semitic languages such as Arabic. Using careful linguistic analysis he is working on the script letter by letter.

“I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script,” explained Professor Bax.

“The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”

Among the words he has identified is the term for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades, and also the word KANTAIRON alongside a picture of the plant Centaury, a known mediaeval herb, as well as a number of other plants.

Although Professor Bax’s decoding is still only partial, it has generated a lot of excitement in the world of codebreaking and linguistics because it could prove a crucial breakthrough for an eventual full decipherment.

“My aim in reporting on my findings at this stage is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decode the whole script using the same approach, though it still won’t be easy. That way we can finally understand what the mysterious authors were trying to tell us,” he added.

“But already my research shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language.” 
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