Bulgarian archaeology August: From the ‘seal of God’ to a shepherd’s discovery

The month of August customarily sees a range of discoveries by archaeologists in Bulgaria as the excavation season peaks, and in 2015, the month has seen its share of intriguing finds.

Some of the archaeological news of the past month involves the culmination of work that has been proceeding for years, while in some cases the finds were discovered not by professionals but by amateurs – who were not even looking to find anything.

In Varna, the beginning of September saw the opening at the Black Sea city’s Archaeological Museum of a recently-unearthed medieval silver treasure found nearby the village of Dolishte, in the Kurdzhali region of southern Bulgaria.

The treasure, including gold- and silver-plated ear decorations that archaeologists have assessed as dating from the late 14th century, were found by a business person from Varna, who came across the artifacts while out hunting, according to the museum.

August 2015 also saw the announcement of the finding of a gold coin dated to the time of Byzantine emperor Constantine V Corponymus, who reigned from 741 to 775 CE. The coin was found near Pliska, which was the capital city of the First Bulgarian Empire for some years in the seventh century.

The find was made by a shepherd, Rossen Popov, who handed it to the Regional History Museum in the town of Shoumen in north-eastern Bulgaria. The coin, of close to 24-carat gold and of considerable rarity among finds in Bulgaria, is not the first discovered in the Pliska area by Popov, who similarly has handed over the museum his previous finds. Museum authorities have promised Popov a reward.

Also in August, Hristina Stoyanova, head of research at the Pliska site, said that more than 100 artifacts had been found so far during this season’s excavations of the residential complex in the south-western part of the central part of the ancient city.

Stoyanova said that in 24 days, archaeologists had found 10 coins, many ornaments, rings, bracelets and knives. The coins confirmed the earlier assumptions of archaeologists that the complex had existed since the middle of the 10th to the 11th century.

Archaeologists had found many arrows, which was considered surprising because at the time that the site was inhabited, it was common practice to gather arrowpoints and use them repeatedly.

This year, the archaeologists found that the building at the site continued to the north. Stoyanova said that there would “certainly” be another large-scale building to be found, but this would be the subject of a dig in 2016.

Meanwhile, a marble slab with the image of Christ monogram, called Chi Rho or “seal of God”, was put together by archaeologists from the remains collected for years on the site of the Episcopal Basilica in the South Bulgarian town of Sandanski, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television reported in August. The find was believed to be from the sixth century.

Over the past 25 years, archaeologists have found many small fragments of the Chi Rho, but now, having discovered the last fragment, they carried out a complete reconstruction of the Christian symbol.

Interestingly, the Christ monogram was combined with a donor’s inscription in the original marble slab. The Chistogram was part of the decoration of a scriptorium or an ancient library at the episcopal basilica.

In Silistra, the port city in the far north-east of Bulgaria, archaeologists had uncovered walls of a medieval church, with excavations at a water project site in the city to continue in September. The church was a typical cruciform structure with three apses, estimated to be dated from the 10th to the 11th century.

In Sofia, it emerged in early August that archaeologists working at a future transport connection site near the Benkovski residential area had come across Thracian-era artifacts, giving new insights into the Thracian population who had lived in that part of what is today Bulgaria’s capital city. At least three archaeological periods were represented at the site, reports said.

At the Augusta Traiana site in Stara Zagora, archaeologists announced in early August that they may have found a large-scale basilica. A rectangular-shaped room had been found, but because there had been various alterations in different ages, it was not yet possible to confirm that it had been a house of worship.

At Perperikon, the ancient sacred site that is among the most pre-eminent digs in Bulgaria, this season’s announcement included the finding of a monogram of Bulgarian Tsar Mihail III Shisman Assen and a number of Bulgarian coins from the 14th century CE.

Professor Nikolai Ovcharov, who heads the Perperikon excavations, said that the monogram, on a fragment of a clay vessel, was important because it served as historical evidence of Bulgarian forces having been at Perperikon in the 14th century. He added that 14th century coins produced at Tsar Ivan Alexander’s mint and probably used to pay the military also pointed to the presence of Bulgarian forces at the site in that period.

At the Black Sea town of Sozopol, archaeologists working at the site of what the head of the local archaeological museum has described as possibly having been the most impressive building in the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica had found a total of three water tanks, the oldest dating to the third century BCE.

Dimitar Nedev, head of Sozopol’s Archaeology Museum, said that about 250 sq m of the building had been excavated so far, and the team had not yet reached a conclusion about the overall size of the structure. He said that it could be said with certainty to have been the “most impressive” building in the former Greek colony found so far.



The Sofia Globe staff

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