After vampire, Sozopol archaeological dig yields skeleton of gambler

Archaeological digs in the Bulgarian town of Sozopol on the Black Sea – where earlier this summer archaeologists found a skeleton staked post-mortem to prevent the deceased from rising as a vampire – have yielded another unusual find in the skeleton of a man that appears to have been such an inveterate gambler that he took his knucklebones to the grave.

The skeleton has been provisionally dated to the fifth century BCE. As part of the funeral rites, the deceased was buried with a Greek dish that had 80 astragaloi – roughly cubic-shaped ship ankle bones used for gambling in the ancient times, Bulgarian daily Pressa reported.

The use of astragaloi for gambling in ancient Greece is well-established by pottery depicting Ajax and Achilles playing a version of backgammon, such as the Exekias amphora of the Vatican museum.

The skeleton was found in a classical-era necropolis under the St Nicholas church in Sozopol. Other skeletons found as part of the digs include that of a pregnant woman and, separately, that of a Christian girl, dating to the sixth century CE, the report said.

Sozopol is one of Bulgaria’s oldest towns, the current settlement dating back to the seventh century BCE when it was founded as a Greek colony named Antheia (the town’s name would later change to Apollonia and then Sozopolois), but it appears that the site was inhabited as far back as the second millennium BCE, which makes it a rich digging ground for archaeologists every summer.

It does not hurt that one of the town’s more famous sons, the head of the National History Museum in Sofia, Bozhidar Dimitrov, rarely misses an opportunity to promote Sozopol – as he did with the “vampire” find, which grabbed international media attention and resulted in a documentary by the National Geographic channel.

Dimitrov is not averse to making bombastic pronouncements on the value of new finds – in 2010, he proudly proclaimed the contents of a relic urn found on a small island off the coast of Sozopol to contain the bones of St John the Baptist, even before the remains could be dated.

Dimitrov, who is a former diver and whose historian credentials are based mainly on his research of the medieval Boyana church near Sofia, has in recent years seized every opportunity to big up his hometown, nor is he afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes – earlier this summer, he proudly proclaimed Vlad the Impaler, the Wallachian prince who served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, as having been Bulgarian.

Following the “vampire” find earlier this summer, Sozopol plans to twin with Sighisoara, the Transylvanian town where Vlad spent his exile between his first two reigns.

(Photo of archaeological digs in Sozopol by Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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