Archaeology: Field studies to begin on Roman-era Erite site on Bulgaria’s coast

Bulgaria’s caretaker cabinet this week granted the National History Museum free use for three years of a site close to the mouth of the Kamchia River on the Black Sea coast in the Varna district, to carry out field studies and conservation of an ancient fortress marked on Roman maps with the name of Erite, the government information service said.

The archaeological work is to be done in a forested area that is private state property near the village of Bliznatsi, which is 20km south of the city of Varna.

Scholarly work refers to Erite, sometimes spelt Ereta, as having been on the Panyssos river, today known as the Kamchia.

Erite has been described as having been a mansio – a road station.

In the Roman Empire, a mansio was an official stopping place on a Roman road for the use of officials while travelling, for rest and recreation. Usually built as villas, mansios were customarily spaced apart on the basis of a distance that could be travelled in a day.

One research work places the Erite site at latitude 43.037 and longitude 27.893, a location near the current Romantika complex and the Rai campsite in a forested area near the shore of the Kamchia beach.

The site also is not far from the controversial Russian-owned children’s rest complex close to the mouth of the Kamchia River.

Notable underwater archaeological work was done by a diving team from the National History Museum in two stages in September and November 2023 north of the mouth of the Kamchia River.

The work was part of a project “Underwater archaeological research in the water area of the ancient Erite roadside station at the mouth of the Panyssos River (Kamchia)” with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and the National History Museum.

The diving team’s first find was a tin ingot, the museum said.

A curious fact is that it reached the waters of the Black Sea from the Roman mines in the Cornwall area, according to Professor Ivan Hristov, the deputy director of the museum and who headed the diving team.

There are parallels in ingots found in Roman Britain, and the object is dated to the 2nd-4th century. Historians note that Cornwall and Devon only dominated the European tin market from late Roman times, beginning around the 3rd century CE, as many Spanish tin mines were exhausted.

Cornwall retained its importance as a source of tin throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern period. This is the first find in Bulgarian territorial waters of such a nature and dating.

Another extremely rare object found was a ritual vessel made of stone called by the ancient Greeks periantherium. A periranterium was an ancient Greek vessel used in pagan cults as a reservoir for holy water. It is made of cut stone, marble and less often of baked clay. It was found in various sanctuaries.

The object is the first of its kind to be found under water along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, the museum said. It is also extremely rare on land.

During underwater research, whole and fragmented amphorae, as well as iron anchors from different historical periods, were found. An important find is the location of the remains of a sunken ship from the Ottoman period. An excellently preserved wooden keel lies from it on the seabed. Divers recovered two cannons and fragments of pottery.

The project involves not only underwater research, but also geophysical research between the mouth of the Kamchia River and Cape Paletsa, led by Kiril Velkovski, an associate of the Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol.

Using side-scanning sonar and multibeam echo sounder, the boundaries were located on a mysterious island that has seemingly disappeared near the very mouth of the Kamchia River.

From the data obtained, it can be concluded that the reef may have supported an island in the past, which most likely eroded, the museum said.

This island was marked on numerous Western European maps in the period 1452 – 1750. In a large number of maps from this period, images of islands that do not exist today or are smaller in area than those mapped at the time make an impression.

Specialists from the Institute of Oceanology in Varna said that a drop in sea level was observed during the Middle Ages.

This is the Korsun regression, named after the medieval city of Korsun (ancient Chersonesos, today’s Sevastopol in Ukraine).

During this period the coastline was different from today and it is expected that there would have been smaller or larger islands that were of importance to mediaeval navigators.

This is probably the case with the island in front of the mouth of Kamchia, called by the local fishermen the Kamchia Stone. The island is a reef with a slightly elongated shape in the north-south direction, about 520m wide and 870m long.

(Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer and the National History Museum)

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