Just in time for Shakespeare in the Park, archaeologists have discovered the remains of the bard's old stomping grounds - ruins of a famous 16th century theatre hidden below the streets of modern London. Known in its heyday as the Curtain Theatre, it's often been eclipsed by its more famous younger sibling, the Globe Theatre. But The Curtain is a big deal in its own right: some of Shakespeare's most famous works debuted there - "Romeo and Juliet" and "Henry the Fifth," just to name a couple. Joining us from London is the archaeologist who dug up the theatre, Chris Thomas of the Museum of London. He joins us from the BBC studios. Chris, welcome to the program.


MARTIN: So, first off, can you just describe what these ruins look like? I mean, are we talking about broken bricks, a few wooden beams on a roof? What does it look like?

THOMAS: Well, what we've done so far is we've just done some exploratory trenches to see whether the Curtain Theatre was actually on the site. So, we've only seen parts of it so far, but what remains are the foundations, the brick walls of the Curtain Theatre, floors inside the galleries and the yard. And the yard is the bit in the middle where people used to stand.

MARTIN: What do we know about The Curtain's life? How long was it standing? And what happened to it? Why was it destroyed?

THOMAS: Well, we think it's built in 1577, so that's a year after the first theatre. But it's just possible that it continued all the way up to 1642. And we know all the theatres would have been shut then because the Puritans didn't like theatres. It didn't like people having a lot of fun, so they closed them all down.

MARTIN: As an archaeologist, what is the part of the discovery that makes you realize the significance of what you found?

THOMAS: Well, it's one of those things that you find bits of, say, brick floor or brick walls and you think, ah, I wonder if that's part of the Curtain Theatre. And once we found the gravel yard and the wall and the doorway that leads into the gallery, we were fairly sure. But I think one of the nicest things is buried in the floor was a ceramic pot, just buried in the floor as a mousetrap. And I think those were the little things that are quite nice, give you a bit more of a feel for the people and the place.

MARTIN: And the time. When you find something like that, are there a lot of high-fives around the site or do you just say, oh, you know, let's just move on?

THOMAS: Well, I think high-fives may be a bit too far but I think we did all get very, very excited about it. And now we have to move on, in that we've just located it, found it and covered it up for the time being. If the new development gets commissioned to be built, then we'll be uncovering most of it and we'll be putting it on display so that people can come and visit it. And that's when it'll get really exciting.

MARTIN: So, the work is not yet done?

THOMAS: No. There's still plenty of work still to be done.

MARTIN: Chris Thomas is an archaeologist with the Museum of London. He joined us from the BBC studios in London. Chris, thanks so much.

THOMAS: Thank you.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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