Archaeology: 2014 finds in Bulgaria include Roman statues, pottery workshop, child’s toy

With the final tally yet to be made, the 2014 summer archaeology season in Bulgaria has uncovered a number of fascinating finds, ranging from remnants of 2nd century BCE Roman statues in Plovdiv’s forum site to the wheel of a child’s toy chariot in Mezdra.

In short, there is a lot more going on in Bulgaria’s archaeological scene than just the “vampires” found in 2014 in Vratsa and Plovdiv.

In August, it emerged that archaeologists working at the Koriyata site near the town of Suvorovo in the Varna area had found what was described as a unique building that had been used as a pottery workshop.

A report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television enthused that the articles found at the Koriyata site showed that the Bulgarian Black Sea coast made up one of the foundations of European civilisation.

Vladimir Slavchev, head of the excavation at the Koriyata site, said that the finding of the pottery workshop showed the specialist work that had been done during the middle Stone-Copper Age, as he described it.

The site near Suvorovo.
The site near Suvorovo.

“Indeed, there were people who dealt exclusively with the production of a specific product, meaning that a second division of labour had already occured,” Slavchev said.

“The flowering of this society occured 200 years later, when it built the Varna Necropolis.” Bulgaria claims that it is at this site that the oldest processed gold in the world was found.

Slavchev said that the people who had worked at the pottery were the “immediate precursors, the genetic ancestors of the people who have left the Varna Necropolis”.

The excavation of the pottery workshop is rendering valuable information about artisanal production for more than 6500 years. The objects are exhibited at the museum in Suvorovo. The studies are to continue in the next archaeological season.

Meanwhile, at the coastal site at Cape Kaliakra, a stunning beauty spot on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, archaeologists have been working this past summer at a necropolis believed to date from the late 13th century CE.

Twenty-four skeletons have been examined.

Archaeologists working at the Cape Kaliakra site believe that the remains at the necropolis are from people of “high society”. Evidence for this is seen as including the coins on the eyes of one of the women and the choice of location for the burial ground, one of the highest points on the eastern part of the Cape, used previously in modern times as an observation deck for tourists.

Dr Bonnie Petrunova, deputy director of the National Archaeological Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, quipped, “Unfortunately, I cannot boast of a vampire or something”.

Near Turgovishte, 335km north-east of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, archaeologists working at the site of the ancient city of Misionis found coins, jewels and a headline-making bronze weight called an ekzagiya.

The ekzagiya is square, with a thumbnail image of an ancient temple, which archaeology Professor Nikolai Ovcharov said was a find with no equivalent in Bulgaria.

Archaeology Turgovishte

The item was used as a measure of gold and other precious metals. The drawing on it is incredibly precise, showing full details of the facade of the ancient building – columns, capitals and pediment with all its decorations.

This and other valuable findings confirm that Misionis was a rich commercial city with a wealthy population, reports in late August 2014 said.

Ovcharov said that it could not be ruled out that the image was of a church or other public building. In late antiquity, symbolically important buildings were frequently depicted on coins.

In Mezdra in north-western Bulgaria, in the province of Vratsa, finds at the excavation of the “Kaleto” site included several coins and the well-preserved wheel of a toy.

Separately, at the Tsurkvishte site near the Purvomai village Dragoynovo, archaeologists said that they had found a reliquary in a memoria in an early Christian church that they say dates to the late fourth century.

The head of the excavations, Professor Ivo Topalilov, said that in the church there was a pedestal for a reliquary, with the relics probably those of a saint. Theories about the relics include that they could be from Dimitar Stanimashki, who had been in the area in the fourth century, or from the 38 saints martyred near Philippopolis (today’s Plovdiv).

Nearby the site passes the Roman road the Via Diagonalis that connected Europe with Asia. Those who passed along that route included Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and the Apostle Paul, Topalilov said.

In the Christian tradition of the time, a reliquary would have been placed in niches in the walls. But at the Christian church on the site, niches were not found, but instead the pedestal on which the reliquary stood.

Colonnades and murals remain at the church site. The original brick floor remains. On each of the bricks, crosses are incised. The bricks are believed to have been made locally.

A unique find is that the church floor includes tiles showing the footprints of birds, dogs and cats, which according to local residents traditionally was meant to bring luck.

A further interesting fact about the church is that its entrance faces south, against church canons which say that it should be at the west. According to archaeologists, this departure from the rule may have been because of the specifics of the terrain.

On both sides of the porch of the church were places where wine used in the rite of baptism was stored.

Topalilov and his students from the University of Shoumen have found 11 votive objects. Also found were bronze arrowheads, probably left over from attacks by barbarians in the region. Other finds have included special nails that held icons on the walls, as well as glass cups and bronze candlesticks.

Topalilov and his team have been working at the site for the past five years. The local mayor has plans to use rural development funds to build a trail to the early Christian church that the team has discovered, to ease access for tourists to view the archaeological excavations.

At the site of Abritus, established at the end of the first century CE as a Roman military camp built on the ruins of an ancient Thracian settlement, now close to the contemporary town of Razgrad in north-eastern Bulgaria, finds in June to August 2014 have included hundreds of bronze coins from the fifth century, walls of buildings and numerous fragments of amphorae.

Work was focused on seven sectors in Abritus. In two, the foundations of buildings that probably were barracks were found, according to archaeologist Galena Radoslavova. Also revealed were the foundations of a basilica from the fourth century.

Radoslavova said that fully investigating Abritus would take at least years of active work and a lot of money.

In Plovdiv, at the ongoing excavations of the Roman Forum close to the central post office building, two marble statues from the second to third century BCE were found, project head Elena Kesyakova said.

One discovery was of the torso of a man and the other statue is a bust of a woman. Kesyakova said that there could be no doubt that these artefacts belonged to the forum complex.

Archaeologists have not yet established who the statues were meant to depict – gods or members of the imperial family.

The forum site in Plovdiv.
The forum site in Plovdiv.

Also discovered this summer 2014 archaeological season was a votive plaque with images of Zeus and Hera. So far, more than 1000 coins and many seals and weights have been found.

The forum archaeological site in Plovdiv, photographed in July 2014. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
The forum archaeological site in Plovdiv, photographed in July 2014. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Excavations will continue until the end of the year. In 2015, work will move to the conservation and restoration phase. The idea is for the forum to be turned into a museum, part of the new look of the main square in Plovdiv.

(Main photo: The necropolis at Cape Kaliakra)



The Sofia Globe staff

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