Intriguing new archaeological finds in Bulgaria

With the improving weather, the archaeological season inBulgariais in full swing and several new finds already have been reported, the most intriguing one being made this past weekend.

In the Black Sea town of Sozopol, archaeologists digging at the site of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius church found two  curious funeral sties. They have been preliminary dated to the 13th-14 century CE and are of two men with iron ploughshares driven through their hearts, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said. Most likely the two burials had nothing in common, though being side by side, near the church apse, suggests that both men were of noble birth.

Dimitar Nedev, head of the archaeological dig, suspects that the iron stakes were a part of a medieval ritual against vampires. Most likely the deceased were intellectuals – a group often suspected by superstitious medieval  Europeans of being warlocks communicating with Satan.

Nedev said this is the first occasion when the archaeologists make such findings in the Black Sea town. The “vampire” burials are part of a larger necropolis with 600 graves which are yet to be dated.

A week earlier the discoveries were made of a 14th century CE dagger and a 13th century short halberd at the walls of medieval Sozopol.

The director of Bulgaria’s National History Museum, Bozhidar Dimitrov, told news agency Focus that both presumably belonged to Western European knights who had repeatedly besieged the town in that period. Moreover, such weapons were not typical for Bulgarian and Byzantine warriors.

The type of halberd with short handle and a pike on one side was used by medieval Western warriors both as a weapon and as a pick-axe to help them climb walls.

According to Dimitrov, it must have belonged to a fighter in the army of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), which besieged and sacked Constantinople and repeatedly fought with the Bulgarian army of Tsar Kaloyan until he eventually drove them away.

The dagger is from a later period – archaeologists presume it belonged to a knight in the army of Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, whose fleet besieged several fortresses along the Bulgarian coast and seized Sozopol in the autumn of 1366. It has a 20cm blade and richly-ornamented bone handle and was typically used in close combat. Dimitrov said that most likely the dagger fell off the body of the knight and was trampled in the mud or it would have been taken as a trophy.

On Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, in Sarafovo, near Bourgas, archaeologists made another interesting discovery.

The ruins uncovered by the crashing waves in the big February 2012 sea storm and which were presumed to be a sixth to fourth century BCE dwelling, turned out to be the walls of a much older temple. Archaeologists have yet to date it more precisely, but it is most likely from the ninth to eighth century BCE.

The walls are very sturdy and well-preserved and still have colourful mosaics from the period.

“They are of small cubes in five different colours: white, green, red, blue and black,” Dr Liudmil Vagalinski, head of the National Archaeological Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with Nova TV.

“We are yet to find out what were they depicting, but there are also traces of murals,” Vagalinski said.

Archaeologists are surprised by the location of such a richly-ornamented temple right on the coastline.

Vagalinski said that his team also had discovered an early Christian funeral ground, which makes them believe that the site was later used as a Christian chapel. “This is typical – the Christians traditionally were assimilating the pagan temples by building churches on top.”

Meanwhile in central Sofia, a team of archaeologists is continuing its work on the ruins of ancient Serdika, uncovered during the construction of the second metro line. When the restoration, reconstruction and conservation work is completed, the ruins will be opened to the public as a museum complex with a pedestrian area of 19 000 sq m. It will include the two main streets of ancient Serdika, early Christian basilicas, residential buildings and several public buildings and will be connected to the earlier discoveries of the eastern gate of Serdika and the St. Petka Samardzhiiska church.

The entire project costs 15.8 million leva and is funded from the Regional Development Operational Programme.

At a later stage, the museum complex will be extended to include the findings under Maria Louisa Boulevardand the Central Department Store, Tzum.

The archaeologists will continue their work after the opening of the new metro station at the end of August. The site will be fenced off with transparent screens so that passersby can watch the work of the archaeologists as an attraction.

It is expected that the museum complex will be complete by the end of next year. It will make accessible to the public about a 10th of the remains within the walls of ancient Serdika from its heyday in the fourth to the sixth centuries CE.





Hristina Dimitrova

Hristina Dimitrova has more than a decade of journalistic experience and is a senior editor at The Sofia Globe; previously she has worked in both online and print media, having started her career at The Sofia Echo.