Audio News for August 3rd to August 9th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 3rd to August 9th, 2008.


Thracian tomb yields complete ancient chariot


Our first story is from Bulgaria, where a team of archaeologists has discovered a unique, fully preserved four-wheeled ancient Thracian chariot.  More than 1,900 years old, the chariot was found at an ancient Thracian tomb near the village of Borisovo in southeastern Bulgaria, around 180 miles east of the capital, Sofia.  According to Daniela Agre, a senior archaeologist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, this is the first time a completely preserved chariot has been found in Bulgaria.  Previous excavations had unearthed only various parts of chariots.  The funerary mound also contained pottery dishes, glass vessels, and other gifts that honored the wealthy Thracian aristocrat buried there.   A separate pit nearby yielded skeletons of two riding horses apparently sacrificed during this Thracian nobleman’s funeral, along with well-preserved bronze and leather objects, believed to be parts of horse harnesses.  The Bulgarian Culture Ministry confirmed the find and announced additional financial assistance for the excavation.  Funds will also be allocated by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences for an initial restoration and conservation of the chariot and the other finds.  The Thracians inhabited present-day Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Turkey, Macedonia and Romania between 4,000 BC and the 6th century AD.  Some 10,000 Thracian mounds, some of them covering monumental stone tombs, are scattered across Bulgaria.

Skull suggests shipwrecked woman reached New Zealand before Captain Cook


In New Zealand, scientists are baffled after carbon dating showed that the skull found near the country's capital, Wellington, is that of a European woman who apparently was in New Zealand before its recorded discovery by Europeans.  The skull dates to 1742, several decades before Cook's Pacific expedition arrived in 1769.  A boy discovered the skull while walking his dog on the bank of a river in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, in an area settled by Europeans only after the establishment of a colony by the New Zealand Company in 1840.  According to Dr. Robin Watt, a forensic anthropologist called in by police who investigated the discovery, it remains unclear how the woman get to the island, as well as who she was.   The mystery was reviewed last week at an inquest in Masterton, the provincial capital.  John Kershaw, the local coroner, at first thought they had a murder inquiry on their hands, as the skull had a number of puncture wounds.  He concluded that the cause of death remains indefinite, although drowning was a reasonable guess.  The cranial characteristics are not those of the Maori, the only race known to have inhabited New Zealand in the 18th century, but was instead almost unquestionably European.  The first European discovery of the shoreline of New Zealand was made by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.  However, Tasman had no women aboard his expedition.  The Maori are believed to have settled around 1200. The first white women known to have arrived in New Zealand were two convicts who escaped from a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia, in 1806.  It is also known, however, that Captain Cook recorded another tale of early castaways in the log of his second journey to New Zealand.  The tale was told to him by a Maori chief and concerned a shipwreck many years before his 1762 landing.  Missionaries who arrived after Cook also wrote down the same story, noting that the Maori who told them about it said those who survived the shipwreck were killed and eaten when they came ashore.  The missionaries wrote that many Maori had subsequently died in an epidemic, possibly as a result of exposure to a European infection that they caught from these survivors.  Historians believed that the most likely site of such a shipwreck was Cape Palliser, the windswept southern-most point of North Island.  Stories that the wrecked ship had crockery on board, and that Maori wore pieces of it as pendants around their necks, convinced the missionaries that the vessel had indeed been European.

Site of first Shakespeare performances found


In London, archaeologists have found the remains of a theatre where William Shakespeare's early plays were first performed.  History records that Shakespeare appeared as an actor at The Theatre in Shoreditch, east London, as part of a troupe called The Lord Chamberlain's Men.  The troupe also performed his first efforts as a playwright there.  According to the Museum of London, whose team made the discovery, "Romeo and Juliet," “Richard III," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "The Merchant of Venice" are among the early plays likely to have premiered at the theater.  The polygon-shaped theater was built in 1576, but after a tenancy dispute in 1599, the owners dismantled it during the night and its timbers were used to construct the Globe Theatre, which became the well-known home for many more of Shakespeare's plays.  By the time the Globe opened on the South Bank of the River Thames, Shakespeare was a celebrity and a shareholder in the new enterprise.  Ironically, the Museum of London archaeologists rediscovered the original Tudor brick footings of the Shoreditch venue on a site being prepared for the construction of a new theater.  Museum spokesman Tim Morley explained that while the Shoreditch theater has been known about for a long time, no remains have ever been found.  Archaeologists will now start trying to find out more detail about how the venue looked to increase their knowledge of London theaters during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  The angular partial outline in red brick that was found is believed to be the northeast corner of the building, an important discovery that will help calculate the exact shape and dimensions of the theater.  Archaeologists will be working with architects to see if any of the remains can be preserved on display in the new building.

Eastern Germany yields Stonehenge-like site


Our final story is from Germany, where archaeologists have discovered traces of a Bronze Age place of worship strangely similar to Stonehenge.  Scientists from a university in Halle are excavating a roughly 4,000 year-old circular site in the eastern region of the country containing circles of graves and the remnants of upright pillars, which strongly resemble Stonehenge, the prehistoric stone circle of megaliths in southern Britain.  However, unlike Stonehenge, the German monument was made of wood, rather than stone.  According to Andre Spatzier, head of the excavation team, it is the first excavated finding of this kind on the European mainland that shows a structure previously seen only seen in Britain.  The German monument’s layout includes concentric rings of graves, walls, palisades, and pillars that are all very similar to Stonehenge.  Spatzier believes rituals and ceremonies took place at the site.  Aerial photos showing the formation of the graves in a ring with a diameter of about 80 yards led to the discovery of the site.  So far, the scientists have found few artifacts such as bones or pieces of glass, but they expect to find more as the dig continues.  The excavation work and analysis are expected to take up to three years.  Stonehenge dates back to 3,100 BC when native Neolithic people started its construction.  Scholars do not agree on whether it was a temple, burial ground or an astronomical site.

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