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Archaeologists Discover Tomb of 'Chinese Shakespeare' Tang Xianzu

As William Shakespeare gained fame in 16th century England, playwright Tang Xianzu was making his own mark in China. Billed by some as the “Shakespeare of the East,” Tang—who, just like the Bard, died in 1616—penned operas like The Peony Pavilion, The Legend of the Purple Hairpin, The Story of Handan, and The Dream of Nanke, collectively called The Four Dreams of Yuming Tangi. To this day, Tang's works—particularly The Peony Pavilion, a dramatic romance—are still performed around the world. Now, according to Archaeology, researchers have located Tang's tomb in east China’s Jiangxi Province.

In late 2016, workers in the city of Fuzhou discovered a group of 42 tombs underneath a leveled building. The majority of the graves dated back to the Ming Dynasty, a period that spanned 1368 CE to 1644 CE. According to the Xinhua News Agency, experts think that one of the tombs is the final resting place of both Tang and his third wife, Fu.

Archaeologists also discovered epitaphs that may have been written by the playwright. They included personal details about Tang's life and family, which helped researchers locate the playwright’s individual tomb, according to the Global Times

China's official news agency, Xinhua, tweeted images of the tomb. 

"The epitaphs can help us learn more about the calligraphy, art, and literature in Tang's time," said Xu Changqing, head of the Jiangxi Provincial Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute, according to Xinhua. As for the tombs themselves, experts say they could teach them more about Tang’s life, his family, and various cultural aspects of the Ming Dynasty.

Thanks to their respective geographies, Tang and Shakespeare never met in person—or for that matter, even knew of the other’s existence. Still, that hasn’t stopped China from drawing parallels between Tang and Shakespeare, using the Bard to promote their own master playwright. Exhibitions examine similarities between the two men, Chinese opera companies create mash-ups of Tang's and Shakespeare’s works, and Fuzhou’s government even donated statues of Tang and Shakespeare to Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, depicting the two standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

But despite Tang's fame, his gravesite's location remained a mystery for years. Nineteenth-century writings confirmed that the playwright was buried in Fuzhou, and an empty tomb constructed in the city’s People’s Park in the 1980s commemorated this legacy. Now that the real thing has been found, Fuzhou’s city government plans to turn the site into a tourist attraction for fans and academics.

[h/t Archaeology]

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
13-Year-Old Amateur Archaeologist Discovers the Buried Treasure of a Danish King
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

In January, amateur archaeologist René Schön and his 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnitschenko were scouring a field on an island in the Baltic Sea when something small and silver triggered their metal detector. What they initially thought was aluminum trash turned out to be a coin from a 10th-century treasure hoard that once belonged to a Danish king, AP reports.

Schön and Malaschnitschenko discovered the site on the eastern German island of Ruegen, but it wasn't until mid-April that state archaeologists uncovered the hoard in its entirety. Both of the amateur archaeologists were invited back to take part in the final dig, which spanned 4300 square feet.

The treasure trove includes pearls, jewelry, a Thor's hammer, and about 100 silver coins, with the oldest dating back to 714 CE and the most recent to 983 CE. Experts believe the collection once belonged to the Viking-born Danish king Harald "Harry" Bluetooth, who abandoned his Norse faith and brought Christianity to Denmark.

Pile of silver coins.
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

Threatened by a rebellion led by his son, the king fled Denmark in the late 980s—around the same time the silver hoard was buried—and took refuge in Pomerania, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. He died there in 987.

Harry Bluetooth derived his nickname from his bluish dead tooth. Today his legacy lives on in the Swedish Bluetooth technology that bears his name. The symbol for the tech also uses the runic characters for his initials: HB.

According to the archaeologists who worked there, the dig site represents the largest trove of Bluetooth coins ever discovered in the southern Baltic region.

[h/t AP]

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