Saturday, June 23, 2012

Auction Watch: Civil War Chess Board and Pieces

'sis sent this to me on June 20, just getting to posting it now.  Information from Live Auctioneers:

Lot 66
Civil War Chess Board and Accompanying Pieces

Rare Civil War-era, patriotic chess board bound in fine Moroccan leather with gilt edging and lettering, 14.75 x 15 in. Playing surface consists of a large albumen print featuring identified portraits of Civil War Generals and other military personalities, including a beardless Abraham Lincoln. Deeply imprinted in script at opposite ends: Hill's Nat'l Chess Board and Patented Sept. 23, 1862.

The chess board is accompanied by 32 chess men, with 16 white and 16 red, highly detailed pieces, hand crafted of bone, composed in screw-apart segments. Ranging in height from 1.25 to 3.5 in. Also included is a modern copy of a Civil War photograph, previously published in the Time Life Civil War Series, capturing officers of the 164th New York playing chess with pieces that are almost identical to those included in this lot. 

Condition report

With some wear to chess board, especially along edges; fold at center of board with some slight separation along each end; corner wear to board. Chess pieces with very light wear; a few scattered chips in pieces.


Click on thumbnails to see larger images:

Image 1Image 2Image 3Image 4

View Cowan's Auctions, Inc. next auction.

7:00 AM PT - Jun 21st, 2012
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Roman Glass Beads Found in Ancient Japanese Tomb

Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan, researchers said Friday, in a sign the empire's influence may have reached the edge of Asia.

Photo By Nara National Research Institute/AFP/NARA NATIONAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century "Utsukushi" burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said.

The government-backed institute has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diametre, with tiny fragments of gilt attached.  It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The beads, which have a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique -- a relatively sophisticated method in which craftsmen piled up layers of glass, often sandwiching gold leaf in between.

"They are one of the oldest multilayered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan," said Tomomi Tamura, a researcher at the institute.

The Roman Empire was concentrated around the Mediterranean Sea and stretched northwards to occupy present-day England. The finding in Japan, some 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from Italy, may shed some light on how far east its influence reached, Tamura said.

"It will also lead to further studies on how they could have got all the way to Japan," she said. [Oh come on, we know how they got to Japan.  Ancient trade networks!  Geez Louise!]

2012 FIDE Women's Grand Prix - Kazan

It's all over, darlings.  Here are the results of the final two rounds, and the final standings.  Can you guess from this photo who won (har!)

Photo of co-winners and FIDE President Who-Speaks-With-Aliens.
From official website.

Round 10 on 2012/06/21 at 15:00
12GMAnna Muzychuk 2598½-½GMHou Yifan 262311
1GMElina Danielian 24840-1IMAlisa Galliamova 248410
2GMHumpy Koneru 2589½-½GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 24579
3WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 2333½-½GMKeteryna Lahno 25468
4GMTatiana Kosintseva 2532½-½GMAntoaneta Stefanova 25187
5GMViktorija Cmilyte 25081-0GMNadezhda Kosintseva 25286
Round 11 on 2012/06/22 at 13:00
6GMNadezhda Kosintseva 25280-1GMAnna Muzychuk 259812
7GMAntoaneta Stefanova 2518½-½GMViktorija Cmilyte 25085
8GMKeteryna Lahno 25460-1GMTatiana Kosintseva 25324
9GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 24571-0WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 23333
10IMAlisa Galliamova 24840-1GMHumpy Koneru 25892
11GMHou Yifan 26231-0GMElina Danielian 24841

Ranking crosstable after Round 11
RankSNo.NameRtgFED123456789101112Pts. TB1TB2TB3
12GMHumpy Koneru 2589IND*½½½½½½11½117.50.536.753
212GMAnna Muzychuk 2598SLO½*½½½½½½11117.50.536.53
35GMViktorija Cmilyte 2508LTU½½*10½½½½11171353
411GMHou Yifan 2623CHN½½0*111½1½107037.254
59GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 2457RUS½½10*1½0½01161313.5
61GMElina Danielian 2484ARM½½½00*11½1016030.752.5
74GMTatiana Kosintseva 2532RUS½½½0½0*1½½½15.5027.52
88GMKeteryana Lahno 2546UKR0½½½100*½½1½5025.52.5
97GMAntoaneta Stefanova 2518BUL00½0½½½½*1½½4.51222
106GMNadezhda Kosintseva 2528RUS½00½10½½0*1½4.5022.752.5
1110IMAlisa Galliamova 2484RUS000001½0½0*13013.51.5
123WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 2333TUR0001000½½½0*2.50141

So, how did I do on my prognostication for R9? Not so good:

Muzychuk wins over Hou Yifan (it was a draw) FAIL
Koneru wins over Kosteniuk (prove me wrong, Alexandra!) (it was a draw) FAIL, and good for you, Alexandra!
Lahno wins (Lahno lost) FAIL
T. Kosintseva over Stefanova (it was a draw) FAIL

Hmmmm, four for four FAIL.  I think I'll retire. 

Congratulations to Humpy and Anna, who share the title as co-winners and split the prize money evenly.

What Does This Mean - Having It All?

I haven't been blogging much recently.  I am dealing with some inconvenient health issues and, frankly darlings, at nearly 61, although I feel internally as young as I always have (eternal youth), my body and energy level are not cooperating.

How much, then, I was touched and disturbed by this article I just finished reading at The New York Times.  I have started down the road of the last third of my life which will, I hope, last a good 30 years or so - but no one comes with a guarantee, do they.  What I see happening in this country is profoundly upsetting and discouraging.  As a product of that generation of women talked about in the article -- you know, the so-called pioneers -- I can only shake my head and ask myself "Why the hell did you even bother, Jan?" 

Elite Women Put a New Spin on an Old Debate
Pulished: June 21, 2012

If a woman has a sterling résumé, a supportive husband who speaks fluent car pool and a nurturing boss who just happens to be one of the most powerful women in the world herself, who or what is to blame if Ms. Supposed-to-Have-It-All still cannot balance work and family?

A magazine article by a former Obama administration official has blown up into an instant debate about a new conundrum of female success: women have greater status than ever before in human history, even outpacing men in education, yet the lineup at the top of most fields is still stubbornly male. Is that new gender gap caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers or just nature itself?

The article in The Atlantic, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who recently left a job at the State Department, added to a renewed feminist conversation that is bringing fresh twists to bear on longstanding concerns about status, opportunity and family. Unlike earlier iterations, it is being led not by agitators who are out of power, but by elite women at the top of their fields, like the comedian Tina Fey, the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and now Ms. Slaughter. In contrast to some earlier barrier-breakers from Gloria Steinem to Condoleezza Rice, these women have children, along with husbands who do as much child-rearing as they do, or more.

The conversation came to life in part because of a compelling face-off of issues and personalities: Ms. Slaughter, who urged workplaces to change and women to stop blaming themselves, took on Ms. Sandberg, who has somewhat unintentionally come to epitomize the higher-harder-faster school of female achievement.

Starting a year and a half ago, Ms. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, injected new energy into the often circular work-or-home debate with videotaped talks that became Internet sensations. After bemoaning the lack of women in top business positions, she instructed them to change their lot themselves by following three rules: require your partner to do half the work at home, don’t underestimate your own abilities, and don’t cut back on ambition out of fear that you won’t be able to balance work and children.

The talks transformed Ms. Sandberg from little-known executive to the new face of female achievement, earning her untold letters and speaking invitations, along with micro-inspection of her life for clues to career success. She hired a sociologist, Marianne Cooper, to help her get the research and data right. When Ms. Sandberg confessed in a recent interview that, contrary to her work-hound reputation, she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. to eat dinner with her children, and returns to a computer later, she earned yet another round of attention, and her words were taken as the working-mom equivalent of a papal ruling.

But her advice also spurred quiet skepticism: by putting even more pressure on women to succeed, was she, even unintentionally, blaming the victim if they did not?

Enter Ms. Slaughter’s article, posted Wednesday night, in which she described a life that looked like a feminist diorama from the outside (a mother and top policy adviser for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) but was accompanied by domestic meltdown (workweeks spent in a different state than her family, a rebellious teenage son to whom she had little time to attend). As she questioned whether her job in Washington was doable and at what cost, she began hearing from younger women who complained about advice like Ms. Sandberg’s.

“Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with ... because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation,” Ms. Slaughter wrote. “But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”

“Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach,” Ms. Slaughter continued, an insinuation of “ ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ”
Instead, Ms. Slaughter said, the workplace needs to adapt, and women who opt out have no need to apologize.

In an interview, Ms. Slaughter added that she was motivated to write in part by her concern about the number of women serving in high posts under President Obama — and now that the first round of female appointees is leaving, she said, they are mostly being replaced by men. “I don’t think there is sufficient appreciation across the administration as a whole of the different circumstances facing women and men,” she said.

Unlike in earlier eras, when Germaine Greer would publish one book and then Betty Friedan would weigh in months later, a new crop of feminist bloggers and writers now respond instantaneously. The women they were writing about followed along in real time on Thursday as well, reading the debate as they were living it, inhaling Ms. Slaughter’s article and the responses as they stole a few minutes from work or raced off to pick up their children. By Thursday afternoon, Ms. Slaughter’s confession-slash-manifesto was breaking readership records for The Atlantic’s Web site, according to a magazine representative.

Many responded with enthusiasm for Ms. Slaughter’s recommendations (more latitude to work at home, career breaks, matching work schedules to school schedules, even freezing eggs). Some defended Ms. Sandberg or expressed solidarity with their husbands, who they said feel just as much work-life agita as they do. More than a few said they were irritated by what they called outdated language (“having it all”) and a clichéd cover illustration (Baby, check. Briefcase, check).

“Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the ‘have it all’ formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism — as opposed to persistent gender inequity — that’s to blame,” Rebecca Traister wrote in an article on
For her part, Ms. Sandberg remained silent, declining a request to address the Atlantic article. But Ms. Slaughter said in an interview that the Silicon Valley executive was one of the many readers who e-mailed her as soon as the article came out. Her message: they had to talk more about this, and soon.         

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2012 FIDE Women's Grand Prix - Kazan

Play resumed today after a rest day, with R9.  Elina Danielian of Armenia had been rolling right along, winning or drawing her games, seeming to be in top form.  And then today, she ran into the buzz saw that GM Alexandra Kosteniuk can be:

Round 9 on 2012/06/20 at 15:00
5GMViktorija Cmilyte 2508½-½GMAnna Muzychuk 259812
6GMNadezhda Kosintseva 2528½-½GMTatiana Kosintseva 25324
7GMAntoaneta Stefanova 2518½-½WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 23333
8GMKeteryna Lahno 25460-1GMHumpy Koneru 25892
9GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 24571-0GMElina Danielian 24841
10IMAlisa Galliamova 24840-1GMHou Yifan 262311

As a result, the standings were shaken up a bit:
Ranking crosstable after Round 9
RankSNo.NameRtgFED123456789101112Pts. TB1TB2TB3
12GMHumpy Koneru 2589IND*½½½½1½½116125.752
21GMElina Danielian 2484ARM½*½½1101½16125.51.5
312GMAnna Muzychuk 2598SLO½½*½½½½1116122.751.5
45GMViktorija Cmilyte 2508LTU½½½*1½0½115.5122.752.5
511GMHou Yifan 2623CHN½0*½½111105.5021.50.5
68GMKeteryana Lahno 2546UKR00½½½*½1½14.51.5191.5
76GMNadezhda Kosintseva 2528RUS½0½½*1½01½4.51.517.51
89GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 2457RUS1½1000*½½14.5020.252.5
94GMTatiana Kosintseva 2532RUS½0½½0½½*½14016.251.5
107GMAntoaneta Stefanova 2518BUL0½00½1½*½½3.50140.5
1110IMAlisa Galliamova 2484RUS000000½½*1215.750
123WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 2333TUR00001½0½0*209.51

There are only two more rounds to go.  Frankly, I've no idea who is going to win this one!  Maybe the match-ups for tomorrow hold a clue:

Round 10 on 2012/06/21 at 15:00
12GMAnna Muzychuk 2598GMHou Yifan 262311
1GMElina Danielian 2484IMAlisa Galliamova 248410
2GMHumpy Koneru 2589GMAlexandra Kosteniuk 24579
3WGMBetul Cemre Yildiz 2333GMKeteryna Lahno 25468
4GMTatiana Kosintseva 2532GMAntoaneta Stefanova 25187
5GMViktorija Cmilyte 2508GMNadezhda Kosintseva 25286

Whoa! Some match-ups! My career as a prognosticator stinks, darlings.  But that doesn't stop me from doing it anyway:

Muzychuk wins over Hou Yifan
Koneru wins over Kosteniuk (prove me wrong, Alexandra!)
Lahno wins
T. Kosintseva ove Stefanova

Those I haven't mentioned are too close to call in my book :)

2012 Milwaukee Summer Challenge

Hola darlings!
In honor of my adopted chess club's new endeavor in putting together a two-day event for the first time ever, Goddesschess is sponsoring some modest prizes for the ladies only:

Milwaukee Summer Challenge, July 14-15, 2012

5SS; G/120 with 5 second delay; 4 Sections: Master/Expert (closed), U2000, U1500, and U1000. Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel, 4747 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee, 414-481-8000 (mention Southwest Chess Club for $79 room rate). EF: $40 All Sections (except U1000); U1000 Entry Fee: $25; all $5 more after 7/11. Prizes based on 40 total entries. Master/Expert (closed section): 1st-$300, 2nd-$200, 3rd-$100; U2000: 1st-$150; U1500: 1st-$80; U1000: 1st-$50. Reg: 8:30-9:30; Rds: Saturday, July 14: 10:00am, 2:30pm, and 7:00pm, Sunday July 15: 10:00am and 2:30pm. ENT: Allen Becker, N112 W17033 Vista Court, Apt. D, Germantown, WI 53022; Questions: TD Tom Fogec, 414-405-4207 (cell) (Best Game Prizes: Master/Expert Section $50; U2000 Section $25; and U1500 Section $25.)
Goddess Chess Prizes for this event:
(1) in Master/Expert, $100 to top scoring female finisher provided at least 2 females play;
(2) in U2000, $75, to top scoring female finisher provided at least 2 females play;
(3) in U1500, $50, to top scoring female finisher provided at least 3 females play;
(4) in U1000, $25, to top scoring female finisher provided at least 3 females play;
There are no tie-breaks; if tie score the prize money is split; and
Must score a draw or win in any section to qualify for prize.

Registration form.

SWCC is hoping for a minimum of 40 players.  Please come out and support this new event.  If there is a good turn-out, I think there is a good possibility that for the next Milwaukee Summer Challenge Goddesschess will up the ante on the ladies' prizes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blatant Murder of Female Infant in India

From CNN

Indian father accused of killing baby 'for being a girl'

By Sara Sidner, CNN
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Thu June 14, 2012
Bangalore, India (CNN) -- Nineteen-year-old Reshma Banu sits on the stairs outside her parents' home, staring at the tiny screen on her cell phone.

The video on the screen has her mesmerized: a very short home video of her baby girl, Afreen. The moments captured are precious because they show Banu's only child alive and well.

Afreen died in the hospital. She was three months old. Authorities say the baby was admitted to the hospital with bite marks, cigarette burns and a dislocated neck. Police say she was killed by her father.

"After my delivery my husband had come to see me and the baby. He said, 'It is a girl, why did you give birth to a girl?'"

He wanted a boy, an heir. Girls were too expensive, he said. A couple of days after giving birth, Banu says her husband gave an ultimatum.

"For her wedding we will require a hundred thousand rupees (about US$1,800 dollars) for all the expense. If you can get that amount from your mother, then keep her, but if you can't, then kill her," Banu recalled her husband as saying.

She didn't believe he meant it and was sure he would change his mind once he held his soft, bright-eyed baby girl. Three months later, her baby is dead, and her husband is under arrest, accused of beating the baby to death. Police say he confessed to the killing.

This is by no means the first case of its kind in India. Attitudes, traditions, and economics have come together to make being a girl a dangerous prospect in the country, doctors say. Most of the time girls are disposed of long before they are born.

How? Sex-selective abortions.
India has a growing gender gap: The 2011 census showed that for every 1,000 boys six years or younger there were only 914 girls. It is the lowest child sex ratio since India's independence in 1947.
The United Nations has said India is the most dangerous place to be a girl. Dr. Anand Krishnan at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), who has studied the gender gap for years, agrees.

"Yes, largely this is from the point of view of mortality statistics for girls versus boys," Krishnan told CNN.

Sex-selective abortions are against the law in India but are still happening at an alarming rate, he said.
His study shows a surprising trend: Sex selective abortions among the educated and well-off seem to be more prevalent than among the desperately poor and uneducated. Despite greater prosperity, their mindsets have not changed and they have the money to pay for ultrasounds and abortions.

"A boy is seen as a better investment. They prefer boys," Krishnan said.
"Girls are mostly aborted here. The people want more boys. There is a shortage of girls," Chandravati said without hesitation.

The villager was taking care of her neighbor's newborn baby girl. She cooed at the baby while blowing cigarette smoke into its tiny little face, oblivious to the dangers second-hand smoke could pose.
She told us the poorest people don't have the money to abort, so they are forced to keep girls, but those who can afford an ultrasound and abortion get rid of female fetuses.

"So much money is required to get them married. Where will the money come from?" she said. "Everything is so expensive these days."

But India is a country filled with in-your-face contradictions. When it comes to women and girls it is a place where the discarding of girls is juxtaposed with the fact that India has a female president and speaker of the House -- and its most powerful politician is a woman, Sonia Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi, Sonia's mother-in-law, became India's first woman prime minister and one of the world's first female heads of government.

In 2011 the latest census data showed the literacy rate for girls is growing faster than for boys.
Banu, whose husband is accused of killing their baby, and her parents say they always believed a baby -- boy or girl -- was a blessing. Her mother, Maqbool Bi, had four girls and a boy. Though the family is poor, she raised her girls with great hope for their futures.

"With all that is there in my heart, my heart breaks every time I recall what happened [to my granddaughter]. Even when I was starving I raised my children, all four of them. I used to pray to God to save me from seeing any of my children die before my own eyes. My children should succeed in life. They should make us proud," she said.

Banu now lives with her parents in a tiny two-room home filled to a bursting point with family members.  She will spend her life struggling with the fact that she never got the chance to raise her first child because the baby was born a girl.

With tears welling in her eyes, Banu said, "She had just come into the world. She was like a flower bud, and he killed her. I lost my daughter. What can be worse than this?"

Oldest Pearl Yet Discovered

Hard to imagine a pearl 0.07 of an inch in size.  Tiny!  But this one is very special, because it has survived nearly 7600 years! 

From Discovery News

Oldest Natural Pearl Found in Arabia

Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Mon Jun 18, 2012 01:02 PM ET

French researchers have unearthed the oldest natural pearl ever found at a Neolithic site in Arabia, suggesting that pearl oyster fishing first occurred in this region of the world.

Discovered in the Emirate of Umm al Quwain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the pearl was believed to have originated between 5547 and 5235 BC.

"Gemmologists and jewellers have popularised the idea that the oldest pearl in the world is the 5000-year-old Jomon pearl from Japan. Discoveries made on the shores of south-eastern Arabia show this to be untrue," Vincent Charpentier, Sophie Méry and colleagues at the French Foreign Ministry's archeological mission in the UAE, wrote in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Some 7,500 years old and 0.07 inches in diameter, the newly discovered pearl is just the last of a series of findings at archeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula.

Over the years, researchers unearthed a total of 101 Neolithic pearls, coming from the large pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera and from Pinctada radiata, a much smaller, easier to collect species, which provides higher quality pearls.

"The discovery of archaeological pearls demonstrates an ancient fishing tradition that no longer exists today," wrote the researchers.

Although diving for pearls was difficult and dangerous, mother-of-pearl was an important resource in the economy of local Neolithic societies, said the researchers.

The large valves of P. margaritifera's were used to make fish hooks for the capture of fish as large as tuna and sharks, while spherically shaped pearls were collected for their esthetic value and for funeral rites.

Indeed, the Umm al Quwain pearl, which was not drilled, had been recovered from a grave.

According to the researchers, findings at local necropolis reveal that pearls were often placed on the deceased's face, often above the upper lip.

In the fifth millennium BC, half-drilled natural pearls were associated with men, and full-drilled pearls with women.

"In this region, pearls still hold an important place. Indeed, today they remain a central, identifying "element," the researchers wrote.

Photos: The oldest pearl in the world. Credit: Ken Walton/CNRS.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Big Archeological Excavation in Tamil Nadu

Ancient factories and foreign trade
Buried treasure: what big business was like 2,300 years ago
T E Narasimhan / Jun 09, 2012, 00:04 IST

An archaeological dig at Kodumanal in Tamil Nadu reveals what big business was like 2,300 years ago. It is a long, tiring journey to Kodumanal, a tiny village in western Tamil Nadu — a place virtually unheard of until archaeologists recently unearthed a 2,500-year-old industrial estate there.

The trip from Chennai to this inland village happens in three stages: eight-hour bus ride to Erode (district headquarters), two-hour bus ride to Kangeyam (small town in the textile district of Tirupur), final bus ride to Kodumanal.

The last leg is the most interesting. At first the rickety bus passes farmland and pretty bungalows, but then the surroundings grow barren. There is only the occasional coconut tree. It is hard to believe that this area once held a thriving town. Modern Kodumanal has just around 1,000 people; to make a living they breed cattle and work in the nearby textile town of Tirupur.

The chatty bus conductor asks, “Sir, are you from the archaeological department?” When I shake my head, he says, “So many people from the archaeological department come here these days that I assumed you were one of them.”

At the archaeological site near Kodumanal, even at 8 am the sun is merciless. Approaching the arid excavation area, one hears the sounds of digging, and of instructions being yelled to the scores of archaeology students busy on the site.

K Rajan, professor and head of the Department of History at Pondicherry University, leads the team. Rajan is in his early 50s. He stands in the heat talking to the students gathered around. Today is the last day of this dig at Kodumanal.

Kodumanal, Rajan explains, was a manufacturing and trading centre in the 4th century BCE. It is mentioned as such in the Sangam literature of classical Tamil (circa 300 BCE-300 CE). The settlement, which would have accommodated several thousand people in its heyday, appears to have been abandoned after the 3rd century CE.

Archaeologists arrived in Kodumanal in 1961, when V N Srinivasa Desikan of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) led the first dig. In 1980 a second, trial excavation was carried out by the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department. More digs were executed in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1990 by the Departments of Epigraphy and Archaeology of Tamil University, with the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of Madras University, and the State Archaeology Department. However, not much was found. Between 1985 and 1990 the archaeologists laid 49 trenches but collected only 170 inscribed potsherds (pottery fragments).

In 2012 the pattern has broken, and Rajan’s team has struck gold. Between April 21 and this week, they laid four trenches and collected as many as 130 inscribed potsherds. Yathees Kumar V P, 32, a PhD student of archaeology from Pondicherry University, has worked at Kodumanal for two months.

“I have worked in four different sites since 2005,” he says. “In those areas, finding one script itself is a big thing, here in one site we found 130.” Kumar and another student have found two large pots, one of which bears a Tamil-Brahmi inscription in tall letters reading “Samban Sumanan” — a name. The pot is 4 ft tall, says Kumar, and was used to store water. Nearly all the newly unearthed inscriptions, in fact, are personal names; a few also refer to the trade performed by the named individual.

The words on the pots are in Prakrit, a north Indian language of the time. This tells us, says Rajan, that Kodumanal had cultural and trade contacts with the north.

Hard, slow work led up to these exciting discoveries. Rajan has been involved in excavating this site since 1984. The last excavation was in 1990. For this year’s dig, the professor managed to raise Rs 3.5 lakh from the ASI and the Central Institute of Classical Tamil.

From the trenches have emerged fascinating and beautiful artefacts. Among the more decorative items are semi-finished bangles and bracelets made from beryl, a crystalline mineral. Some of these stones are so pure that they are colourless. One find is a tiger-shaped object made of copper, about 15 cm long (see image above). It was studded with carnelians, sapphires and diamonds. Old quartz stones and broken beads — of sapphire, beryl, agate, carnelian, amethyst, lapis lazuli, jasper, garnet, soapstone and quartz — are strewn across the village. In one memorable case, the archaeologists found 2,220 carnelian beads in a single grave. This may be the first instance of its kind in India, Rajan says.

There are sources of sapphire, beryl and quartz near Kodumanal, but carnelian, agate and lapis lazuli came from distant sources — as far away as Gujarat, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The ancient economy, too, was global.

The finds show that workshops for cutting and shaping precious gems, for making semi-precious stone beads, and also, incidentally, for shell-cutting, were present in Kodumanal more than 2,300 years ago. But the workers’ technical skills did not begin and end with gem-making. They also worked with iron and steel. In fact, ancient sources of iron ore have been found in and around Chennimalai hill, 15 km to the east. There was, the archaeologists say, “constant movement of foreign traders between Chennimalai, where there are iron ore deposits, and Kodumanal where the ore was processed” and from where finished items were exported. And in Kodumanal itself, Rajan’s team has found pieces of a crucible furnace. Such furnaces can withstand heat up to 1,300 C, well over the melting point of cast iron. This find has been confirmed, Rajan says, by Sharada Srinivasan of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, who has examined the crucible.

Kodumanal was one of the earliest wootz steel centres of the world. Wootz steel, a form of carbon steel, was a prized, highly durable speciality of ancient India, and much sought-after in the West. In Roman literature there are references to the import of steel from the Chera country, or south India. References to wootz steel in Sangam literature indicate that Roman Egypt imported its finest steel from here. The rust-free ancient iron pillar still standing near the Qut’b Minar in Delhi is said to be made of iron from this region.

Kodumanal is not far from Tirupur, the textile hub of modern India. Ancient Kodumanal also manufactured textiles. A number of terracotta cotton spindles pierced through the centre with an iron rod have been unearthed here. Incredibly, a well-preserved piece of actual cotton has been found. It is believed to be 2,200 years old.

More proof of Kodumanal’s trade links comes in the form of Roman coins, dug up in hoards as well as single pieces. The town lay on a trade route frequented by Roman merchants, who came to buy beryl, quartz and other stones. Goods to be exported to the West were carried by road to the Chera port of Muziris (Pattinam) on the west coast near Thrissur, and then went by ship. Goods for South-east Asia were carried east to Karur, capital of the Chera kingdom, then to Poompuhar near the mouth of the Kaveri, and then overseas. Judging by the trade pattern, and as is suggested by finds of beryl jewellery in eastern Europe and elsewhere, Kodumanal’s exports went a long way.

Although Kodumanal is on the Noyyal, a tributary of the Kaveri, the river was not used by shipping. The Noyyal is shallow, rocky and has strong currents, so the trade route followed its banks.

Rajan’s findings suggest that only about half of the Kodumanal site, which is about 100 acres in all, was inhabited in ancient times. The other half is a huge burial ground. In the last three months, the archaeologists have opened some 180 graves.

The number of graves is not so unusual, says Rajan, as the kinds of graves. There are three types: pot, urn and chamber stone burials. The last is for people of high status, and in these graves the archaeologists have found gold and other items. A few of the big tombs are surmounted by stone megaliths (though some 300 megalithic tombs in all, of different grades, have been found in the region). The archaeologists have also recovered three skeletons, two female and one male.

One that may be typical is of a person buried with legs crossed, a large stone under one knee and a gold ring in the hand. As Rajan explains, this tells us about the dead person’s profession. It was jewellery workers who sat in this position with a stone under a knee, to work the precious stones.
The cists, or chamber burials, come in three varieties depending on orientation, the number of connected chambers and layout. The cists are covered by individual capstones.

The number and variety of the tombs and graves tell us what the rest of the site already makes clear: at its peak this was a prosperous place, with many residents, whose pride in their work, which was organised on an industrial scale, reflected the strong worldwide demand for it.

This is the last day of the dig at Kodumanal. Work has been on for three months, since April, performed by six PhD scholars, numerous students and 40 local labourers. And yet it is as if the archaeologists have merely scratched the surface. There is still a large historical treasure trove, of material and insight not bullion, waiting to be unearthed. According to Rajan it will take another 10 years to complete the excavation.

Not only does this excavation bring to light the rich industrial and cultural past of this region, and reveal to us an important chapter in India’s economic history, it also offers the people of Kodumanal a better future. Roads are being laid, drinking water and electricity being provided. Youngsters from Kodumanal have started going to school and college — and some will have been inspired to learn history.
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