The month of June 2015 is closing with archaeologists in Bulgaria having unearthed a wide range of finds at various dig sites around the country, ranging from Stone Age flint tools, ancient coins, Roman foundations and mosaics.
A particularly controversial archaeological project in Bulgaria is at the site of the 15th century Lead Mosque in Karlovo, where a Muslim burial site estimated to be from the 18th to 19th centuries has been found, leading to protests by the Muslim community against desecration of the site.
The mosque already has been the subject of court action for some months by the Muslim community who want to be awarded ownership of it, with the mayor countering that it has not been used as a mosque for a long time and belongs to the town’s community as a whole.
In Bulgaria, among the largest-scale projects underway in June 2015 – and which is set to continue for years – is at the Great Basilica in Plovdiv, a site that dates back to early Christian times in about the fourth to fifth centuries and which is one of the largest early Christian sites in Bulgaria and in South Eastern Europe.
Archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of a Roman building, murals and mosaics. The finds will eventually be placed in a purpose-built special protective structure as part of a future museum project.
The work at the Great Basilica site is painstaking, as archaeologists deal with the mosaics fragment by fragment.
The other Great Basilica in Bulgaria that has been making headlines in June is at Pliska, which in the seventh century CE was the capital city of the First Bulgarian Empire.
According to Bulgaria’s National History Museum, archaeologists believed that they had found the grave of Boyan Enratov, the son of First Bulgarian Empire ninth century ruler Khan Omurtag. Enratova was murdered because word spread that he had become a Christian, at a time some decades before Bulgaria officially adopted Christianity, and he is revered as a saint by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The grave site was found close to what is described as a holy well at the Pliska Great Basilica site.
Bulgaria’s government earlier allocated 500 000 leva (about 250 000 euro) to excavation and conservation at the Great Basilica site in Pliska.
Meanwhile, towards the end of June, the saga of archaeological excavations versus motorway construction near the Mursalevo village in the Kyustendil region came to an end, as the dig project concluded – with archaeologists expressing satisfaction that extensions of deadlines and “understanding” by the Road Infrastructure Agency had enabled them to achieve everything they wanted in the field study.
Professor Vassil Nikolov told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television that archaeological research had been completed, and a 100 metre wall would be built that respects Neolithic-era Mursalevo would start, with seven million leva from the Road Infrastructure Agency, to conserve the ancient settlement for further study in later years.
On June 22, Bulgarian National Radio reported that manual tools made of flint from the late Stone-Copper Age (Late Chalcolithic), more than 4000 years ago, had been found at a site in the Kamenovo village in the Razgrad area.
The finds were made in a field near a school building, where in 1967 burials were found from the same period.
Archaeologists, headed by Dr Yavor Boyadzhiev of the Bulgarian Academy of Science’s National Archaeological Museum and Dimitar Chernakov of the Regional History Museum in Rousse, said that the site appeared to have been a large one, larger than the boundaries of the current village, and the finished products made there had been “shipped” throughout the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula.
At almost all prehistoric sites that archaeologists have studied in Bulgaria, the flint usually originates from the Kamenovo area.
Also found at the site were cult objects, bone awls, and small fragments of plaster, their distribution an indication of the large size of the settlement, the report said.
In the second half of June, Perperikon archaeological chief Professor Nikolai Ovcharov told reporters that in the first week of excavations at the ancient sacred site, a gold and four silver coins had been found, after the headline-making discovery of an exquisite statue of Apollo that had led to suggestions that there once had been a temple to Apollo at Perperikon.
The gold coin is from the time of Justinian the Great (527-565). On one side is the face of the ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire and on the other, the goddess Victory, with outstretched wings.
Two of the silver coins were minted at the time of the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331 – 1371), Ovcharov said.
At Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, the second season of excavations was started at the Hrisosotira Peninsula site, in the eastern part of the Chernomorets village. The dig is focused on the early Byzantine fortress on the peninsula, built during the reign of Emperior Anastasius in the fifth century. The fortress, which is said to have housed 2000 people, lasted until the seventh century, when the area was conquered by the Slavs.
In Sozopol at the Black Sea coast – where, separately, this year will see continuing work on the islands of St Ivan and St Kirik as well as in the area of St Marina, and parts of ancient Apollonia – archaeologists investigating a burnt-out house in Sozopol’s Old Town found a silver coin from the time when the town was the Greek Apollonia Pontica, as well as 11th to 12th century CE Byzantine coins, as well as stone missiles and items of pottery.
In Silistra, in north-eastern Bulgaria on the banks of the Danube, archaeologists made a new find, of a protective outer wall, two metres wide and about a metre and a half high, estimated to date back to the fourth century CE.
The wall had protective towers and very strong red mortar had been used to build it.
Also found at the site were frescoes in a second-century building.
In Silistra, Bulgarian archaeologists have documented about 20 sites, including large buildings from the ninth to the 10th centuries CE, some of which are beyond the fortified territory, a Bulgarian settlement from the same period in the suburbs of the medieval city, and part of the Ottoman fortification of the city.
In Sapareva Banya, in south-western Bulgaria in the Kyustendil region, archaeologists from the Regional Museum of History announced the find of the graves of an adult male and a child, which they believed to have died during a barbarian invasion led by Attila the Hun.
The find was made at a Roman villa, estimated to be from the third to fourth centuries, which appeared to have been destroyed during a fifth century invasion by Attila. At the time, what is now Sapareva Banya was the city of Germaneia.
The villa was found during a construction project. On the site, a gold coin from the time of fifth century Byzantine emperor Theodosius II has been found, as well as a large number of bronze coins dating from between the second and sixth centuries. It appeared to have had a wealthy owner, given the size and facilities, including a heating system that drew on mineral springs for which the latter-day Bulgarian town continues to be well-known.
(Main photo: the Great Basilica, Pliska, a partial reconstruction. Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis.)