Audio News for February 11th to February 17th, 2007.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 11th to February 17th, 2007.

Ancient theater unearthed outside Athens


Our first story is from Greece, where sections of an ancient theater were discovered during construction work in a suburb of Athens.  Thus far, fifteen rows of concentric stone seats have been located in the northwestern suburb of Menidi.  According to Vivi Vassilopoulou, Greece's general director of antiquities, another section appears to lie under a nearby road.  The structure has not yet been dated, but further details are expected after completion of the excavation.  Scholars believe that Menidi is built over the ancient village of Acharnae, the largest of a string of rural settlements outside ancient Athens.  Ancient writers mention a theater at Acharnae, but no traces of it had been found until now.  The village was linked with Dionysos, the ancient god of theater and wine, as the Athenians believed that ivy, his sacred plant, first grew there.  Built in semicircular levels on hillsides, ancient theaters were monumental, open-air structures that could seat an audience of thousands.  Theater first emerged as an art form in late 6th century B.C. Athens, where ancient playwrights competed for a prize during the annual festival of Dionysos.  Actors performed the works of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes in the theater of Dionysos under the Acropolis.  Until now, only two such buildings were known in the ancient city where western theater originated more than 2,500 years ago.

Red hot chili peppers add spice to the controversy of their domestication


A study by Canadian researchers asserts that the domestication of the wild chili pepper occurred in the tropical lowlands, and not by ancestors of the Inca or Maya civilizations.  Three University of Calgary researchers and a team of colleagues from the United States and Venezuela have traced the earliest known evidence of domestication of the spicy pepper to seven sites, the oldest dating back 6,100 years.  According to University of Calgary archaeologist Scott Raymond, until quite recently it's been assumed that the ancestors of the great highland civilizations, like the Inca and the Aztecs, were responsible for most of the cultural and agricultural advances of the region, but we now have evidence that the indigenous people from tropical lowland areas deserve credit for the domestication of the chili pepper.  Archaeologists tend to make more discoveries in dry, arid areas like the highlands of the Andes than in tropical regions because artifacts tend to be better preserved.  Foodstuffs in particular are hard to trace.  The researchers discovered that the chili pepper left starch microfossils on grinding stones and sediments of charred ceramic cookware.   The oldest domesticated chili starch grains were recovered from a village site in western Ecuador.   The plant, which belongs to the genus Capsicum, originally grew wild in what is now Bolivia.  Domesticated versions of it spread throughout the region, from the Bahamas to southern Peru.  With the subsequent European conquest of the Americas, the spice spread around the world.

Tomb dating to Akhenaton’s reign discovered in Egypt

In Egypt, Dutch archaeologists have discovered a tomb at Saqqara dating to the reign of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaton, who ruled 3,300 years ago.  The discovery shows that prominent contemporaries of Akhenaton continued to be buried in the necropolis and argues for the enduring importance of old religious tenets under "the heretic pharaoh."  According to Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, the tomb, which bears the royal cartouche naming the occupant as "Ptah Am Waya,” is covered with wall paintings done in the realistic style of the period when classic artistic conventions were abandoned.  The wall paintings include those of "Ptah" going to the afterlife as well scenes of daily life, such as monkeys eating dates.   Pharaoh Akhenaton of the 18th dynasty broke with ages of ancient Egyptian tradition by insisting on the worship of one god, Aton, the sun, rather than the traditional polytheistic pantheon.  He left Egypt's traditional capital to build a new city dedicated to solar worship at Tel Amarna.   The Dutch team has been working at Saqqara since the 1990s; their focus is on New Kingdom tombs, particularly those from the era of Akhenaton.  Previous discoveries include the tomb of the Akhenaton-era priest Meri Neet.

The Great Wall of China to be measured


Our final story is from China, where researchers plan to carry out the first detailed survey of the Great Wall in order to obtain an accurate measure of its length.   The four-year study will begin in May with the objectives of checking the dimensions and mapping the wall's exact route.  In addition, researchers will document the condition of the fortification, which was originally built to protect the northern border of the Chinese Empire.   The wall, the world's largest man-made structure, is estimated to be over 3,100 miles in length.  The State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping will conduct the study over 13 provinces, regions and municipalities.  Archaeologists have lobbied for a survey to be done to provide researchers with an accurate understanding of the construction.   Known to the Chinese as the "long Wall of 10,000 Li," the Great Wall is a series of walls and earthworks begun in the 5th Century BC and finished around 220 BC.  It was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!