Archaeological finds in Bulgaria: July 2016 highlights

The month of July 2016 saw the traditional archaeological season in Bulgaria in full swing, with finds at digs in various parts of the country – from an 8000-year-old settlement in Sofia to the rock tomb of a Thracian princess near Benkovski to the long-awaited unearthing of the eastern gate of Perperikon – producing headlines.

At the beginning of July, it was announced that a team of Bulgarian archaeologists had uncovered the remains of an early Neolithic settlement, dating back 8000 years, in the Slatina neighbourhood of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia.

It has long been known by archaeologists that the oldest human settlement in Sofia was in Slatina.

In recent days, archaeologists had come across the remains of two burnt houses, of an impressive size for the age. The head of research, Professor Vassil Nikolov, said that the structures were 150 square metres, with three rooms and two additional business premises.

Nikolov said that this area was the location of the earliest farmers in the central Balkans. It was here, he argued, that the nucleus of European civilisation was formed.

Sofia deputy mayor in charge of culture, Todor Chobanov, said that after the completion of the digs at the site, an information centre would be built and the site would be opened to visits by the public.

Meanwhile, archaeological excavations near the village of Benkovski near the border with Greece uncovered the rock tomb of a ritually dismembered Thracian princess. The find was made by a team of young archaeologists from the National Archaeological Institute, Lyuben Leshtakov and Yana Dimitrova, advised by Professor Nikolai Ovcharov.

The burial is estimated to date from the second half of the fourth or the beginning of the third century BCE, from the time of the rule of Alexander of Macedon.

The Benkovski site.
The Benkovski site.

Leshtakov said that the burial site was surrounded by rocks and the burial chamber itself was carved into the rock. Inside, the remains of a woman were found, with a rich inventory of close to 60 items, nearly two-thirds of which were silver.

Experts consulted about the finds said that they were Hellenistic-era jewellery, including earrings, brooches, pendants, and 11 rings – six silver and five bronze.

A silver tiara was found with the skull. Made of silver foil, the tiara was in poor condition and was at risk of disintegration. According to Leshtakov, the presence of the tiara showed that “this was no ordinary person”. He hoped that specialists would be able to restore the tiara.

The fact that the body was dismembered could give some information about Orphic rites, named for Orpheus, who was torn apart by Bacchantes, Leshtakov said.

According to Dimitrova, such a ritual was conducted on the remains of people who were in the “higher seam” of Thracian society.

The estimates of the dating were based on the objects, such as a silver tetradrachm coin, minted in Maroneia. Such a coin customarily was placed with the body to pay the ferryman Charon to convey the soul across the river to the underworld of Hades.

Ovcharov said that the find was a significant one, revealing information about the belief systems of the Thracians, that began in antiquity and continued into the late Iron or Hellenistic era, from the fourth to the third century BCE.

He said that he was certain that continued excavations in Benkovski could find a Thracian temple. About 400 metres from the altar, there was a building from the fourth to third century BCE, very similar to the temple found 10 years ago near the village of Tatul. Ovcharov said that his guess was that there was a very rich necropolis near the foot of the temple.

“I am convinced, judging by these cuts in the rock, in time an earlier period will be revealed, that is, the golden age of the Thracians from the time of Homer.”

Reports on July 8 said that on the island of St Kirik near the Bulgarian seaside holiday town of Sozopol, archaeologists had found 2600-year-old arrows that at the time had been used as currency. The arrows also were used as sacrificial offerings to the gods.

The team, headed by Associate Professor Krastina Panayotova, believed that the site was the location of a temple to Apollo Iatros (the healer).

The Bulgarian Black sea islands Ivan, Petar and Kirik. Photo:
The Bulgarian Black sea islands Ivan, Petar and Kirik. Photo:
The St Kirik site.
The St Kirik site.

Since excavations began in 2009, a large number of artefacts have been found, including rare containers for incense in the shape of a bull’s head, vessels in the shape of a warrior’s helmet, while the latest finds include a miniature theatrical mask, a clasp from a mediaeval book from the basilica on the island, and a bowl at the bottom of a ritual pit.

Mid-July brought news that archaeologists had unearthed an ancient market at the mediaeval fortress at Ryahovets near Gorna Oryahovitsa. Work at the site was resumed in 2015 after a 25-year hiatus, and the finds, dating from the eighth century CE, are from the second consecutive year of the new phase of archaeological excavations.

This summer, the team is excavating the western gate of the fortress and part of the northern wall. They found a main street, leading from the western gate to the interior of the fortress.

Trade at the site had been brisk, according to the team, who have found a large quantity of coins and scale weights.

They found coins from the beginning to the middle of the 13th century. Team leader Ivan Petrakiev said that this was a time when the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist, and mediaeval Bulgarian rulers were not minting their own coins, so practice was to cut existing coins – which led to huge devaluation. In the mid-13th century, such coins did not have nominal value, but rather were valued according to their weight, Petrakiev said.

The team found a mediaeval dwelling attached to the northern wall, with coins and pottery that indicated much about the daily life of residents of the fortress in the Middle Ages.

This year, a layer from the early Byzantine era had been found, with several fibulas, coins and various pieces of weaponry. Finds include a large amount of metal arrowheads.

It is believed that the lifespan of the fortress came to an end around the middle of the 13th century, most likely as the result of a powerful earthquake.

On July 15, reports said that a Bulgarian archaeological team led by Professor Kazimir Popkonstantonov had disovered a Christian basilica from the time of Emperor Justinian the Great in Palmatis fortress near the village of Onogur in the municipality of Tervel, north-eastern Bulgaria.

Palmatis, near Tervel.
Palmatis, near Tervel.

Richly decorated, the basilica was of an impressive size, 55 metres long and 30 metres wide.

Across at Perperikon, the ancient rock city sacred site dating back 8000 years in southern Bulgaria, archaeoligists headed by Professor Ovcharov achieved a goal for the 2016 season, unearthing the ruins of the eastern gate of the fortress.

Bulgarian National Radio reported Ovcharov as saying that the eastern gate had been the starting point of a large street lined with buildings. The excavations were assisting in building up the picture of the structure of the rock city.

Later in July, it was announced that archaeologists working at the site of the Byzantine and mediaeval fortress of Missionis near the town of Turgovishte in north-eastern Bulgaria had found a religious cult building from the second century and a unique bronze statue. The temple had a brick floor, covered with decorated tiles.

Ovcharov said that the discovery of the cult building shed new light on the past of the ancient city. Until now, it was assumed that an office for trading with Russia was located in the area, as mentioned by the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi.

The newly discovered religious cult building is at the foot of the ancient city of Missionis, off the main road that connects capital Sofia with Bulgaria’s main Black Sea city Varna.

Angel Konakliev, archaeologist and project leader, said that the temple was from the pagan period. Measuring 6.5 by 4.5 metres, and dating from no later than the third century, its construction probably marked the start of the building of Missionis. The dating of the temple was confirmed by coins, a lamp and bronze statue dating from that era.

As July 2016 was coming to a close, it was announced that archaeologists working at a site in Rupite near Petrich had come across a number of highly valuable finds, including a statue of Dionysus, a fountain with three lion heads and what reports described as an “erotic candlestick”.

The site at Rupite. Photo: Nova TV.
The site at Rupite. Photo: Nova TV.

The ancient city of Herakliya Sintica was located near what is today’s Petrich and was built in the fourth century BCE in the crater of a volcano. The area was inhabited by Thracians and Sinti. The city was conquered by Philip II, who came to the area to hunt lions. It is believed that the city was destroyed by a strong earthquake in the sixth century CE.



The Sofia Globe staff

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