The Varna Man, who lived around the 5th Millennium BC, is the wealthiest burial at that time
The site, located on the outskirts of the Black Sea resort of Varna, was discovered accidentally when tractor operator Raicho Marinov was cutting a trench to lay an electric cable for a local factory.
He suddenly noticed small squares of shiny yellow metal, bracelets of the same material, green-coloured artefacts, and flakes of flint.
Rushed to the local museum, the objects were soon identified as prehistoric stone tools, corroded copper axes, and, clearly associated with them, golden ornaments. The association was what mattered: the implication was that the gold artefacts were older than any others ever discovered anywhere.
Museum curator Michail Lazarov and Sofia University professor Georgi Georgiev immediately set about organising a rescue excavation, and the museum’s young archaeologist, Ivan Ivanov, was appointed to lead it.
Ivanov’s team eventually uncovered 281 graves, more than half with grave goods, 18 of them exceptionally rich, and one of them among the richest graves ever excavated.
The date of the cemetery has recently been pushed back to the 5th millennium BC. A radiocarbon determination now gives it as c.4500 BC.
About 200 crouched or, far more commonly, extended inhumations have been uncovered in the two-thirds of the cemetery so far excavated. Both males and females are represented.
The bodies were placed in flat graves formed of shallow pits without mounds. The remaining graves are ‘cenotaph graves’ – where nobody is present but where grave goods have been laid out – or ‘mask graves’, where a life-size ceramic mask has been substituted for an actual body.
Three cenotaph graves, three mask graves, and a number of the inhumations are extremely rich. The total assemblage includes 3,000 gold artefacts weighing over 6kg.
The richest burial is of a man in his mid-40s buried with no less than 990 separate gold objects, including beads, rings, and a variety of decorations for body, clothing, and hair, among them a penis sheath. This man was also buried with copper axes, other copper tools, and a sceptre in the form of a perforated stone axe or mace.
In addition to gold and copper, the exotic materials represented among the grave goods include graphite, spondylus shell, dentalium shell, carnelian, and marble. Ceramic containers were also present in many graves.
Varna implies three major developments in the mid-5th millennium BC. First, given the range of exotic material, Varna must have been part of an extensive trading network, allowing some members of this Early Chalcolithic community to become rich and powerful.
Second – presumably because of its role in trade – the Varna community appears to have developed extreme social differentiation at a very early date, judging by the fact that most graves contain no or few grave goods, while a minority are exceptionally rich. The social gap between the many unfurnished inhumations and the Grave 43 man seems huge.
Third, on the evidence of Grave 43 – by implication that of a warrior, a ruler, and perhaps, given the common character of early chieftainship, some sort of priest-king – the transition from a more matriarchal Neolithic to a more patriarchal Chalcolithic/Bronze Age form of social organisation was well advanced at Varna.
The presence of bull-shaped objects among the goldwork – most of which is otherwise non-representative – coupled with the penis sheath certainly implies a cultural preoccupation with virility and male power.
Village Dated to First Bulgarian Empire Discovered
A previously unknown village dated to the ninth century A.D. was discovered in northeastern Bulgaria by a team of researchers led by Stanislav Ivanov of the Shumen Branch of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, according to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report.
The 9th century AD was a very turbulent time for the First Bulgarian Empire but also a prelude to its greatest rise, with its so-called Golden Age beginning in the second half of the century and lasting into the middle of the 10th century.
For the First Bulgarian Empire, the 9th century started with the rule of Khan Krum the Fearsome (r. 803 – 814 AD), and ended with the beginning of Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893 – 927 AD). It saw the conversion of the entire Bulgarian Empire from paganism to Christianity and the development and adoption of the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) alphabet under Knyaz Boris I (r. 852 – 889; 893 AD) ushering into the rise of the Old Bulgarian literary language.
The previously unknown medieval Bulgarian village has been discovered as a result of rescue excavations for the construction of the Hemus Highway, a road linking the Bulgarian capital Sofia with the city of Varna on the Black Sea via the Danube Valley in Northern Bulgaria.
An archaeological team led by Stanislav Ivanov from the Shumen Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia explored the archaeological site of the 9th-century Bulgarian village in September 2020. More than 100 people, including 16 archaeologists, took part in the rescue excavations, BTA reports.
The site in question is located near today’s town of Gradishte, Shumen District, in Northeast Bulgaria. (“Gradishte” is an old Bulgarian word referring to a “fortress” or a “stronghold”.)
The archaeological team has unearthed about 17 decares (app. 4 acres) from the territory of the medieval Bulgarian settlement as part of the plot slated for rescue digs for the building of the Hemus Highway. They have dug up some 80 dugout dwellings, with the total territory and the total number of 9th-century homes in the village remaining unknown for the time being.
“At the present stage, we are unable to say how big the settlement was,” lead archaeologist Stanislav Ivanov is quoted as saying.
“The bulk of the archaeological site is a settlement from the First Bulgarian State. These are dugout dwelling which was typical for the population that was not of aristocratic origin. These are dug into the ground, dugouts of the classical type, which have also been studied in other sites as well,” Ivanov explains.
“We have detected about 80 dwellings so far. On the inside, they had wooden plaster which has not survived. However, in many cases, there was a filling between the plaster and the soil, which has been preserved. It was used as additional reinforcement of the very walls of the dwellings,” the archaeologist elaborates.
“In some sectors of the settlement, we observe the grouping of dwellings. It is unclear why that is. It may have been due to individual families, or due to random factors, or due to the fact that some of the dwellings were slightly earlier than the others,” he adds.
“We will have a clearer idea about that after the processing of all materials. That will tell us which dugouts were built earlier and which came later. There are cases of dwellings which were reused, up to three times, as indicated by the floor levels and other evidence,” Ivanov says.
In some of the dugouts from the 9th-century village from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire, the archaeologists have discovered kilns used for the making of household pottery items.
The excavations have yielded also numerous arrow tips. Ivanov cautions, however, that the village was hardly the site of a battle. Instead, the arrow tip finds demonstrate that the male population of the medieval Bulgarian settlement included numerous warriors.
The dozens of dugouts have yielded other artifacts such as knives, bone awls, and here and there some adornments, bronze rings being the most frequent ones, and some medallions. The researchers hypothesize that one medallion, in particular, may have been used as an amulet against curses.
“So far we have found no evidence of crafts and the production of artifacts,” Ivanov says.
For the time being, the archaeologists have discovered neither the necropolis of the 9th-century medieval Bulgarian village nor any commercial or storage facilities. However, they do not rule the possibility of coming across those, with further excavations expected to be conducted in the 2021 archaeological season.
During the rescue digs at the site near Gradishte in Northeast Bulgaria along the route of the Hemus Highway, the archaeologists have also found in deeper layers some prehistoric items from the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age). Their presence is due to a nearby Chalcolithic settlement mound.
A large number of dugouts, some of them quite untypical in size and containing stone structures, have also been found during rescue excavations in 2020 in what was a previously unknown town from the 8th – 10th century right outside of Pliska, the first capital of the First Bulgarian Empire.
5th Century Roman Marble Table Unearthed in Bulgaria
According to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report, more than 100 pieces of a household table dated to the fourth century A.D. have been found in one of the towers at the Petrich Kale Fortress, which is located on a plateau in northeastern Bulgaria near the coast of the Black Sea.
Even though the rare artefact, an ancient marble table signifying the presence of a high-ranking Roman official, has been found broken, almost all of its pieces are in place, allowing the restorers from the Varna Museum of Archaeology to put it back together.
Petrich Kale is a fortress which was in used for about 1,000 years by the medieval Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and the medieval Bulgarian Empire, up until the region’s conquest by the Ottoman Turks. The Petrich Kale Fortress is located in Avren Municipality, right outside of the Black Sea city of Varna (it should not be confused with the modern-day town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria).
The Petrich Kale Fortress was established in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, in the 5th century AD, and was destroyed by the end of the 6th century by barbarian invasions. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and became a major stronghold in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). In 1154 AD, medieval Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi wrote that Petrich was a “thriving small town” to the west of Varna.
The Petrich Kale Fortress was ultimately destroyed for good by the Ottoman Turks in 1444 AD, three days before the Battle of Varna, in which they defeated the second and last Christian Crusade of the King of Poland and Hungary, Wladislaw III (also known as Varnenchik because he found his death in the Battle of Varna).
An archaeological team from the Varna Museum of Archaeology has found the white marble table from the 5th century AD inside the ruins of the southern tower of the Petrich Kale fortress during excavations in the fall of 2020, BTA reports.
“It is one of the nicest finds from our latest excavations of the Petrich Kale fortress,” says Assist. Prof. Maria Manolova-Voykova from the Varna Museum of Archaeology.
“It is a round table made of white marble, and is known in scientific literature as a table from the “raven beak” type due to its typical profile, with its top slightly curled inwards,” she explains.
Manolova-Voykova notes that similar white marble tables from the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period are known from the Eastern Mediterranean, where samples have been found in Greece and Turkey. The 5th-century table from the Petrich Kale fortress near Varna is the first one of its type to have been discovered in Bulgaria.
“Interestingly, unlike most [late Antiquity and early medieval] marble tables, which are connected with some liturgy functions from the Christian period, this type of tables have more of a secular character and household usage, as a household item showing the well-being of the respective residence,” the archaeologists say.
“Because of that, it was very interesting for us to discover this table in one of the fortress towers, which showed that the tower probably was the residence of some high-ranking administrator, perhaps dealing with the defence of the fortress, or perhaps its very governor,” she elaborates.
“Of course, for the time being, those are just conjectures but it is a fact that we found the marble table in a layer connected with the 4th century AD (i.e. the Late Roman period),” Manolova-Voykova states.
Her team has found the white marble table from the Late Roman / Early Byzantine period while clearing up construction debris inside the southern fortress tower of the Petrich Kale fortress. In addition to the shattered table, the archaeologists found inside numerous pottery fragments and Late Roman and Early Byzantine coins.
Artist and restorer Milen Marinov, who is in charge of the restoration of the 5th-century white marble table from the Petrich Kale Fortress, notes that it has been found in more than 100 pieces. Yet, it will probably be restored at almost 100% with patience and diligence as there are very few missing pieces. Marinov praised the archaeologists who recovered the precious Antiquity artefact for saving even pieces as tiny as 1 centimetre.
He adds he is using various types of glue in order to make sure that the restored table will be simultaneously solid and natural-looking once it is exhibited for the visitors of the Varna Museum of Archaeology. The museum itself boasts one of the richest archaeological collections in Bulgaria, not least the world-famous Varna Gold Treasure, the world’s oldest. The medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress Petrich Kale are located 4 km north of the town of Avren, Avren Municipality near the Black Sea city of Varna, in Northeast Bulgaria (not to be confused with the modern-day town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria); it is also 1 km away from the Razdelna railway station.
It is located on a high rock plateau towering at up to about 100 meters, on a territory of about 30 decares (app. 7.5 acres). It had an inner and outer fortress wall as well as stone stairs carved into the rock on the north side of the plateau. Archaeological exploration indicates that the Petrich Kale Fortress was first established during the Early Byzantine period, in the 5th-6th century AD, but was destroyed towards the end of the 6th century AD.
(“Кale” is a Turkish word meaning “fortress” leftover from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown.)
It was rebuilt in the 11th-12th century, the period when Byzantium conquered the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) and was a major fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) during the 13th-14th century. The Petrich Kale Fortress was completely destroyed in 1444 AD by the Ottoman Turks who had conquered all of Bulgaria in 1396 AD, after the Second Crusade against the Ottoman Empire led by Wladislaw III, King of Poland, Hungary, and Croatia, who perished in the Battle of Varna (which is why he is also known as Varnenchik – Warnenczyk in Polish).
The Petrich Kale Fortress was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks on November 7, 1444, three days before the Battle of Varna on November 10, 1444, in which the Christian Crusaders were defeated. Thus, the Petrich Kale Fortress is connected with the history of the Central European states Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
The Petrich Kale Fortress was first mentioned in written sources in 1154 AD by medieval Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi who described it as a “small thriving town” west of Varna. Later it was mentioned by Byzantine poet Manuel Philes (ca. 1275-1345 AD) in connection with the military campaign of Byzantine general Michael Tarchaeneiotes in Northeast Bulgaria in 1278 AD.
It was also mentioned in documents of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople in 1369 AD and in numerous accounts of the Second Crusade of King Wladislaw III against the Ottoman Turks. The Petrich Kale Fortress near Varna was excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists in the 1970s; in recent years, the archaeological excavations were resumed in 2010 by the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History).
Bulgarian Gangsters Busted for Looting 4,600 Ancient Artifacts from Historical sites
After two years of investigation by Bulgarian, British, and German authorities, an international crime ring planning to smuggle thousands of ancient artifacts into England has been caught. According to The Times, the 4,600 items ranged from spears and coins to funeral urns, ceramics, and arrowheads.
The artifacts span from the Bronze and Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Some of the relics were illegally excavated from Roman-era military camps in Bulgaria. They were then smuggled into Germany, with the ultimate goal being legitimate sales in the London art market.
According to Heritage Daily, the gang chose Germany as its transit country and hired private U.K. transportation companies to bring the goods into England. Little did they know that Bulgarian police received a tip-off in March 2018 — after which surveillance on the group began in earnest.
Were it not for the successful sting operation on behalf of authorities from three different countries, the eight individuals now under arrest would’ve made several millions of euros. The remarkable goods, meanwhile, would have been likely been dispersed across private homes around the world.
A task force came together to stop the smugglers, coordinated by Europol and conducted by the General Directorate for the Fight against Organized Crime of the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
They worked for hand in hand with the British Metropolitan Police, as well as the German State Criminal Police of Bavaria, under an umbrella operation called MEDICUS.
As the existence of the looted goods wasn’t officially known, proving their illicit origin is difficult to do. With forged provenance and documentation on top, the legal ownership of these artifacts would appear entirely legitimate to auction houses or interested parties.
Only diligent surveillance and monitoring of the group allowed authorities to confirm their suspicions. Five of the eight gang members were arrested before leaving Bulgaria. Three of them were permitted to enter the U.K., thus committing the crime of smuggling goods across, before being arrested.
The group of three was detained after entering the U.K. in Dover. Two men aged 19 and 55 and one 67-year-old women were arrested. According to The Southend Standard, the charge was suspicion of handling stolen goods, and the artifacts concealed in the suspects’ vehicle quickly confirmed as much.
“The arrests were made as part of an ongoing investigation into the theft of cultural artifacts in Europe which is being led by detectives from the Met’s art and the antique unit,” the Metropolitan Police said.
This sting operation dates to October 2019, but Europol has only now felt assured enough that publishing any details won’t jeopardize other operations nor the trials of these eight individuals. Europol explained in a statement that auction houses are commonly part of such illegal sales.
“This case confirms that the most common way to dispose of archaeological goods illegally excavated is by entering the legitimate art market,” the agency said.
Last month, the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby was caught having illegally purchased an ancient tablet inscribed with part of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
On top of that, the $1.6 million artifacts were only one of the thousands of relics looted and smuggled from Iraq that the company had illegally bought.
Hopefully, more time and effort is spent on preventing this seemingly ubiquitous practice. Cultural artifacts belong to the people of their countries — and should be displayed for them to cherish and learn from. At least in this latest case, it appears that this kind of justice is being fought for.
Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an unidentified medieval settlement has been discovered in northwestern Bulgaria by a team of researchers, led by Elena Vasileva of Bulgaria’s National Archaeological Institute with Museum, who were investigating the path of a road construction project.
Near the Danube city of Vidin in Northwest Bulgaria, a previously unknown settlement from the Second Bulgarian Empire in the High Middle Ages and a layer from an early Bronze Age settlement from the 3rd millennium BC were uncovered.
The ruins previously unknown medieval settlement from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) and structures from an Early Bronze Age settlement have been found near the town of Tarnyane, 12 kilometres away from Vidin, on the banks of the Voynishka River, which forms two waterfalls before flowing into the Danube.
The discoveries have been during rescue excavations for the construction of the Vidin – Ruzhintsi – Montana road (E79 road) in Northwest Bulgaria, bTV reports citing lead archaeologist Assist. Prof. Elena Vasileva from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
Vasileva, who points that construction project often provides invaluable opportunities to study otherwise neglected or unknown archaeological monuments, has been in charge of archaeological site No. 7 out of a total of eight archaeological sites slated for rescue excavations along the route of the road in question. The digs were carried out from September until November 2020.
The previously unknown medieval settlement near Vidin and Tarnyane existed in the 11th – 14th century on an area of a total of 54 decares (nearly 14 acres) on both banks of the Voynishka River.
The archaeological team has excavated there a total of 47 structures from the 11th – 14th century AD.
These include 23 pits with an average depth of 2.5 meters; a moat which is 1 meter deep and 5 meters wide; eight kilns, six dwellings, including three dugouts, and one human grave.
According to the lead archaeologist, the newly discovered site is one of the few open-type settlements, i.e. with no fortifications, from the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire to have ever been researched in today’s Bulgaria.
“It contains all elements of a settlement, namely, dwellings, pits, production kilns, and a necropolis,” Vasileva says.
“Of structures, the most interesting ones are some of the pits that we’ve explored, which have a large diameter and depth, and contain animals remains – of houses and less so of smaller animals – sheep, goats, and poultry.
This practice is typical of such structures from earlier periods, i.e. the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) but not of the later periods,” she explains.
During the medieval settlement’s excavations, the archaeological team has found a total of 350 artefacts, including coins, arrow tips, tools such as knives, chisels, awls, scrapers, loom weights, parts of copper vessels, pottery vessels such as pots and jugs, adornments such as rings, metal and glass bracelets, parts from earrings, buckles, crosses, and medallions.
Towards the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century, today’s Northwest Bulgaria and part of Eastern Serbia were part of the Vidin Tsardom, a rump state of the Second Bulgarian Empire, which was the last part of Bulgaria to be conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks.
In addition to the medieval settlement from the Second Bulgarian Empire in the High Middle Ages, the archaeological site near Tarnyane on the Voynishka River also yielded a layer from the Early Bronze Age, from the so-called Magura – Cotofeni Culture, from the 3rd millennium BC. From it, the researchers have excavated one dwelling and one grave.
“The drilling surveying shows that in the 3rd millennium BC the convenient tall bank of the Voynishka River had a settlement, and later, in the 2nd millennium BC, to the south of it there was a necropolis,” Vasileva is quoted as saying.
Both the Early Bronze Age layer and the medieval settlement from the High Middle Ages will be excavated further in 2021.
The rescue excavations in 2020 have included archaeologists and archaeology students from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”, and experts from the National Institute of Morphology, Pathology, and Anthropology, and the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia.
An Ancient Mask With An “Alien Face” Dug Up In Bulgaria
This year’s archaeological season at the oldest salt mining center in Europe, which dates back to the 5 – 4th millennium BC and became the first prehistoric town on the continent, is now over.
The site is located near the present town of Provadia (northeastern Bulgaria) and has been studied for years. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, archaeologists’ work began later this summer, but the season was extremely successful.
The latest find by Prof. Vasil Nikolov and his team is a mass grave. Days ago, while exploring the bottom of an evaporation pool, archaeologists came across 6 skulls, including children’s.
It is not known whether the people buried there were killed in some of the attacks against the fortress city, or whether it was an internal conflict over salt, which was used as currency at the time.
Among the most interesting finds at Provadia-Saltworks this summer is a unique late Chalcolithic artifact. The ancient ceramic object has a triangular shape and shows an anthropomorphic image of a human face. It looks a lot like a mask.
In its upper part, one can see something similar to stylized ears. In addition, the object has two holes, which most likely served for hanging.
The eyes of the mask are elliptical, eyebrows are painted and a nose can be seen.
But the strangest thing is that the human-like image has no mouth, and many say it looks like an alien in a spacesuit. It is assumed that the object was a symbol of high status in the social hierarchy.
The focus of the archaeological works this summer was the fortification systems of the Saltworks, as well as its settlement part, including two houses, one of which was a two-storey building, and its occupants used 400 square meters of space.
The origin of the Saltworks is linked to the largest and only deposit of rock salt in this part of the Balkan Peninsula. Thanks to salt, the inhabitants of the ancient town accumulated innumerable riches.
Prof. Vasil Nikolov connects the salt deposit near today’s Provadia with another unique find in the area – the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, where the oldest processed gold in the world was discovered, dating back to the same era as the Saltworks.
Thracian King Sevt III discovered: 2,400-yr-old Solid gold mask weighing 640 gr found near the village of Shipka
A 2,400-year-old golden mask that once belonged to a Thracian king was unearthed in a timber-lined tomb in southeastern Bulgaria, archaeologists reported.
The mask, discovered over the weekend, was found in the tomb along with a solid gold ring engraved with a Greek inscription and the portrait of a bearded man.
“These finds confirm the assumption that they are part of the lavish burial of a Thracian king,” said Margarita Tacheva, a professor who was on the dig near the village of Topolchane, 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of the capital, Sofia.
Georgi Kitov, the team leader, said that they also found a silver rhyton, silver and bronze vessels, pottery, and funerary gifts.
“The artifacts belonged to a Thracian ruler from the end of the 4th century B.C. who was buried here,” Kitov added. According to Kitov, the Thracian civilization was at least equal in terms of development to the ancient Greeks.
The Thracians lived in what is now Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia, and Turkey between 4,000 B.C. and the 8th century A.D. when they were assimilated by the invading Slavs.
In 2004, another 2,400-year-old golden mask was unearthed from a Thracian tomb in the same area.
Dozens of Thracian mounds are spread throughout central Bulgaria, which archaeologists have dubbed “the Bulgarian valley of kings” in reference to the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt, home to the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs.
Seuthes III (Sevt III)
Seuthes III was the ruler of the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace from c. 331 BC to c. 300 BC, After the campaigns of Philip II in 347–342 a significant part of Thrace was dependent on Macedon.
After Philip’s death in 336 BC, many of the Thracian tribes revolted against Philip’s son Alexander the Great, who waged a campaign against and defeated the Getae and King Syrmus of the Triballi. All other Thracians sent troops to join Alexander’s army.
Seuthes revolted against Macedon in about 325 BC, after Alexander’s governor Zopyrion was killed in battle against the Getae.
After Alexander died in 323 BC he again took up arms in opposition to the new governor Lysimachus. They fought each other to a draw and each withdrew from the battle.
Ultimately Seuthes was compelled to acknowledge the authority of Lysimachus, by then one of Alexander’s successor kings.
In 320 BC, Seuthes III moved the Odrysian kingdom to central Thrace and built his capital city at Seuthopolis (Kazanlak, present-day Bulgaria).
In 313 BC he supported Antigonus I in the latter’s war against Lysimachus, occupying the passes of Mount Haemus against his overlord but was again defeated and forced to submit
In three rescue excavations near the town of Radnevo, three different ancient settlements are discovered funded by a coal mining company, the most interesting was a new artefact was a statuette of the ancient goddess Athena, an early Thracian settlement a town from the time of the Roman Empire, and an early Byzantine and mediaeval Bulgarian settlement.
The rescue excavations have been carried out by the Maritsa East Archaeological Museum in Radnevo with funding from the Maritsa East Mines Jsc company, a large state-owned coal mining company, on plots slated for coal mining operations.
An Early Ancient Thracian settlement has been discovered in the first researched location to the west of the town of Polski Gradets, Radnevo Municipality, Stara Zagora District, (in an area called “Dyado Atanasovata Mogila”), the Maritsa East Mines company has announced.
The Maritsa East Archaeological Museum has not announced the precise dating of the site but the Early Thracian period would typically refer to ca. 1,000 BC, the Early Iron Age.
The rescue excavations on the site of the Early Thracian settlements were carried out in September and October 2020 by a team led by Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Nikov and Assoc. Prof. Rumyana Georgieva, both of them archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
The archaeologists have discovered the ruins of Thracian residential and “economic” buildings. The artefacts discovered in the site include anthropomorphic figurines, pottery vessels, ceramic spindle whorls, loom weights, millstones, stone tools used for polishing and hammering. Inside the ritual pits of the Early Thracian settlement near Radnevo, the archaeologists have found human burials.
In them, the humans were buried in a fetal position (in archaeological texts in Bulgaria and some other European and Asian countries, it is known as the “hocker position” – in which the knees are tucked against the chest).
The Maritsa East Museum says that the discovery of the Early Thracian settlement has yielded new “information about the settlement structure of the Thracian Age.”
In the second location subject to rescue excavations near Bulgaria’s Radnevo (in an area called “Boyalaka”), an archaeological team has found the periphery of a settlement from the 2nd – 4th century AD, i.e. the period of the Roman Empire, which also existed in later periods, all the way into the Middle Ages.
The excavations in question have covered a large area of about 40 decares (10 acres) on a plot slated for coal mining. The archaeological team has performed a total of 32 drillings at selected spots in order to designate areas for further more detailed excavations.
On the surface, the archaeologists have found pottery from different time periods – from the Roman Era, the Early Byzantine Era, the Middle Ages, and the Late Middle Ages – the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire. The archaeologists have unearthed bricks, tegulae, and a glazed plate from the Late Antiquity period.
“We assume this was the periphery of a settlement from the Roman Era – 2nd – 4th century AD, which developed in the western direction. The eight [Roman] coins that we have found during the drillings also confirm this dating,” says Plamen Karailiev, Director of the Maritsa East Archaeological Museum in Radnevo. The most interesting artefact from the Roman Era settlement in question is a bronze statuette depicting Ancient Thracian, Greek, and the Roman goddess Athena.
“What’s generating interest is the bronze statuette depicting goddess Athena, which is the first of its kind to become part of the collection of [our] museum,” the museum director states. In the same location, however, the archaeologists have also discovered for the first time pottery fragments from the Bronze Age, which the Museum says is adding information to the site’s stratigraphy for future excavations to precede the coal mining there.
The third location excavated at the request of the state mining company near Radnevo in 2020 is near the town of Troyanovo (in an area called “Vehtite Lozya”), where an archaeological team has discovered structures from a settlement from the Early Byzantine period, i.e. Late and Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, and from the medieval period when the region at different times was part of the First and Second Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).
There the archaeological team led by Krasimir Velkov from the Tvarditsa Museum of History and Tatyana Kancheva from the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology has found a wide range of early medieval and medieval structures.
These include a total of 12 dwellings, 7 semi-dugouts which, however, were not used as homes, i.e. for residential purposes, a total of 14 pits, two household kilns and one hearth. The excavations of the “layer settlement from the Early Byzantine and medieval period” covered an area of 4 decares (app. 1 acre), and were carried out from early August until early October 2020.
The wide range of archaeological artefacts discovered on the site including a number of coins, including two Byzantine “cup-shaped” coins, the so-called scyphates, fragments from bronze and glass bracelets, an iron spur, iron arrow tips, small knives, an iron fishing hook, numerous spindle whorls, clay candlesticks, and lids of pottery vessels.
The 2020 rescue archaeological excavations in all three locations around the town of Radnevo, which is the largest coal mining area in Bulgaria, have been funded by the state-owned Maritsa East Mines company with a combined total of more than BGN 240,000 (app. EUR 120,000).
In a release, the Maritsa East Mines company points out that the first-ever rescue archaeological excavations in the area of Radnevo in Southern Bulgaria were carried out back in 1960 right at the start of the industrial coal mining there.
“For many decades now, Maritsa East Mines Jsc have contributed to the preservation of artefacts from past millennia. The extraction of coal begins only after the respective plots have been researched by archaeologists. The finds from these rescue archaeological expeditions, some of which are unique, have been processed and exhibited at the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology in Radnevo,” the state-owned company says.
A very interesting archaeological artefact discovered during rescue excavations near Radnevo funded by the coal mining conglomerate has been an Ancient Thracian clay altar from the 4th century BC.