17th-century Dutch shipwreck found near Brazil

Gold ducat recovered from the VoetboogThe Voetboog left what is now Jakarta loaded with treasure destined for The Netherlands. It sank with all hands off the coast of Pernambuco, Brazil on May 29, 1700.

Now a team of Hungarian divers have found what little is left of the ship and what lot is left of its cargo.

Owned by the Dutch East India Company, the Fluyt ship carried silk, spices, tea, Japanese and Chinese porcelain as well as nearly 180,000 pieces of Dutch golden ducats.

“The estimated value of the wreckage is about 1 billion dollars,” said [expedition leader Attila K.] Szaloky.

They actually found it in October of 2008, but only announced it now that the first phase of examination and recovery is complete.

The ship has almost entirely disintegrated over the 309 years of its burial at sea, but those ducats are still in fine fettle, hence the enormous price tag on this find. In fact, the cargo remains are how the archaeologists were able to identify the wreckage. Most of the wreck is still untouched until meters of sediment.

The finds will eventually all be brought to the surface and conserved in keeping with Brazilian law.

There are some underwater pictures of the wreckage on this Russian site. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I likes me some pretty pictures.

Staffordshire hoard even more valuable than thought

The Staffordshire hoard was thought at first glance to be worth at least a million pounds. Now that experts have had a chance to examine the treasure closely, the valuation has skyrocketed to an astonishing 3.3 million pounds ($5.5 million).

The reward will be shared evenly between Terry Herbert, the luckiest metal detectorist of all time, and Fred Johnson, the farmer who owns the land on which the hoard was discovered.

Johnson was magnificently underwhelmed by his good fortune this morning. “Right now I’m just trying to get over the flu, and money is the last thing on my mind. I hope it’ll not make any difference to me. I won’t be putting in a swimming pool anyway, this country is wet enough already.

“I’ve been a millionaire for years anyway,” he chuckled wheezily, “isn’t that what they always say about farmers?”

Friends have told him that if it were sold privately it would be worth tens of millions, but he doesn’t care. He wouldn’t even want that kind of responsibility, he says. He’s just awed by the beauty and workmanship of the pieces. He bought his first suit and went on his first trip to the British Museum to see them on display there.

The panel of experts were just as dazzled by the wonders before them.

Professor Norman Palmer, chair of the treasure valuation committee, whose members pored over 1,800 gold, silver and jewelled objects in a day-long session at the British Museum, said: “It was breathtaking – we all agreed that it was not only a challenge but a privilege to be dealing with material of such quantity, quality and beauty. It was hard to stop our imaginations running away with us.”

Now Staffordshire museums are scrambling to find the money to ensure the hoard stays in the county where it was found. If they can’t raise the full sum, another big money museum certainly will.

"The Staffordshire Hoard", just £4.99!The British Museum has quickly published a book about the hoard, written by written by Kevin Leahy, the archaeologist who cataloged the pieces as they came in to the Birmingham museum, and Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. One pound from every sale goes to defray the cost of purchase to keep the hoard where it was found.

It would make a great Christmas present for the history lover in your life.

The history of the world in 100 objects

Beginning in January 2010, BBC’s Radio Four in conjunction with the British Museum will air 100 15-minute episodes each detailing the history of one object from the British Museum collection. The aim is to cover a vast stretch of history from 1.4 million years ago to modern times, and all over the globe, not just European history.

[Radio 4 controller, Mark] Damazer said each episode would feature a description of the object but most of it would focus on “areas where radio excels as a medium – on how the object was made, its political, economic and cultural significance, how the object came to be in the collection, and so on. I have heard those that have been made so far and they are wonderful.”

[British Museum director Neil ] MacGregor said he would look at each object in roughly chronological order, “spinning the globe so we can see what’s going on in the world at various moments”.

Each week will be focused around a particular theme, such as “after the Ice Age” and “meeting the gods”, with contributors including Bob Geldof, Wole Soyinka, Grayson Perry, Madhur Jaffrey and Seamus Heaney.

Some of the artifacts covered are a 1.4 million year-old hand axe from the Olduvai Gorge, a Chinese Zhou ritual bowl from 1000 B.C., the Croesus Coin (550 B.C.0 from what is today Turkey, thought the be the first modern form of currency, a bust of Roman Emperor Augustus (27-25 B.C.) and the Nef Galleon, a beautiful mechanical toy ship from 1500AD.

This project has been in the works for 3 years. It took MacGregor and a team of curators 2 years just to pick 99 artifacts from the 8 million pieces in the British Museum collection. The last object has yet to be chosen. They’ll wait until later next year to select it since it might not even exist yet.

There will be a companion website which is set to go live in January (it’s just a placeholder now). More information about all of the artifacts will be on the site, as will listeners’ submissions.

For those of us across the pond, every episode will be available on the site in podcast format. In an unprecedented move for the BBC, the podcasts will remain online for 2 years, so no need to rush over to the site to make sure you don’t miss one.

Birthplace of theater to be restored

Theatre of Dionysus, Acropolis, AthensThe Theatre of Dionysos, known as the birthplace theater because it’s where plays by Sophocles, Euripedes and Aeschylus premiered over 2500 years ago, is to be partially restored.

The project is scheduled to take six years or so, but that could easily turn into a decade.

Standing on the southern slopes of the Acropolis Hill, the theatre is “of immense historic significance,” said Mr Boletis.

Originally a terrace where spectators sat on the ground above the circular stage, the theatre was rebuilt in limestone and marble during the 4th Century BC and could seat up to 15,000 spectators.

It’s the 4th c. marble building that is getting restored. The original wooden theater is long gone. All archaeologists can tell from the original remains is that there was an orchestra (the performance area where the chorus stood at all times, not a musical pit), but they can’t even tell the exact shape it was.

The marble benches that seat 15,000 remain in particular will see extensive conservation. The extant tiers will be reinforced and several new tiers added from a combination of new stone and recovered ancient fragments. There will also be some structural work in other parts of the building.

The restoration budget is 6 million euros ($9 million) and the projected completion date is some time in 2015. There won’t be any performances held again, sadly. Those lofty notions were abandoned in the 70s. The remains are just not sturdy enough to support a theatrical production and an extensive audience.

Revolutionary War skull to get military funeral

Revolutionary War skull in its burial casketWe can’t know for sure the living possessor of the skull was a Revolutionary War soldier, but given its date, age and location, it seems likely the skull belonged to a Continental Army soldier captured by the British during the Battle of New York in in late 1776.

It was found in Milford, Connecticut, in 1840, when they were laying railroad tracks. The skull was given to the local historical society in 1907 and is now in the hands of State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni. He’s bringing it back to Milford for reburial with full honors on Saturday.

Bellantoni, who examined the skull Tuesday, said it was clearly a male’s between age 25 to 35, and his ancestors were from Europe. The skull still had two teeth left.[…]

[Local historical reenactor] William Macmullen said Saturday’s funeral will resemble a military funeral from the Colonial era. Three historic militias will be represented, including the state’s 2nd Company Governor’s Foot Guard. A fife and drum corps will lead the procession from the church to the cemetery, where a canon will be fired. The skull will be placed in a custom-made casket and buried near the Revolutionary War monument.

This may be the first Revolutionary War reburial with full military honors. It’s the first Bellantoni knows of, anyway.

The British dumped 200 prisoners of war in Milford on New Year’s Day 1777 when they were found to have contracted smallpox aboard a prison ship. Forty-six of them died near what is now Milford Cemetery, where the skull was found.

The British kept many prisoners in ships in Wallabout Bay on the Brooklyn shore of the East River. Conditions were opprobrious, needless to say. Over 10,000 people died in the rotting hulks, more than on every Revolutionary War battlefield combined.

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park, New York, was erected in memory of the soldiers and sailors who died in misery and squalor on those infamous ships.