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Unearthing Bulgaria's Golden Age
Financial Times ^ | 12-2-2005 | Nicholas Glass

Posted on 12/02/2005 10:21:42 AM PST by blam

Unearthing Bulgaria’s Golden Age

By Nicholas Glass
Published: December 2 2005 15:09
December 2 2005 15:09

There was nothing unusual about the village shop in the depths of the countryside, 75 miles east of Sofia. What astonished the young archaeologists wanting cigarettes was the shopkeeper’s jewellery. Her necklace and earrings were exquisite: the beads so small and perfectly worked that her customers assumed they were modern, the gold of a high carat. But how could a shopkeeper afford such trinkets in a country where the average monthly salary is £100?

The archaeologists didn’t know it but the shopkeeper’s jewellery was 5,000 years old, dating from the Bronze Age. Her farmer husband had found the loose beads while tilling the sunflower fields. He showed the archaeologists where and, last spring, they excavated a series of burial mounds, uncovering an ancient cache of 15,000 tiny gold beads, each barely a millimetre across.

The most sensational archaeological finds of recent times are currently being made in one of the poorest countries in Europe: Bulgaria. Bulgaria has long argued that Thracian art is both indigenous and distinct, yet compared with classical Greece and Rome, Thrace has largely been overlooked. The discovery promises to revolutionise our understanding of the ancient goldsmiths. We now know their work was minutely detailed; they could manipulate gold in miniature - spheres, cylinders, whorls and octahedrons like double-headed pyramids.

By the first millennium BC the Thracian tribes - a loose confederation of peoples about a million strong - had spread across Europe. Great warriors and slave-traders, by the 5th-century BC they had become master goldsmiths. The ore was abundant - it still is - and was tooled for the Thracian aristocracy and exported to Troy, Athens and Rome. Little wonder that the Romans referred to Golden Thrace.

Bulgarian museums have now mounted their own excavations after widespread looting of Thracian tombs. The director of the National History Museum in Sofia, Bozhidar Dimitrov, admits that controls have been lax since communism collapsed in 1989. “Banditry has flourished. Many people have illegally dug and extracted treasures and... destroyed historical monuments. We museum people became convinced that a drowning man’s salvation rests in his own hands.” Reluctant to estimate how much of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage has been lost, he fears the mafia has found more gold than the museums.

I drove out to the Valley of the Thracian Kings, three hours from Sofia, to see the gold-rush for myself. Villages are almost deserted and the traffic is mostly horse- and donkey-drawn. The Thracian tumuli - molehills the size of a two-storey house - are scattered across a grassy plain, unmissable and obviously manmade.

Archaeologist Georgi Kitov leads me through a dark, narrow passage 30 yards long into a tomb where in October 2004 he experienced “the longest, most thrilling, most beautiful night” of his life. In the first chamber the team found the skeleton of a horse, sacrificed to its master. Kitov shone his torch into the burial chamber beyond; the floor shimmered in a hundred places. Was it gold? An exultant Kitov soon had the proof in his hands - a breathtaking gold wreath, 2,500 years old. It was once worn by a Thracian King, Seuthes III, identified by the name in Greek on his gilded, bronze battle helmet, also found in the tomb.

Kitov tells his story with bravado, but in a quiet aside, one of his assistants mutters that it was a night of terror. No sooner had they got into the first chamber and established the tomb’s importance, than masked men surrounded the archaeologists pointing automatic weapons. The group was held overnight at the local police station. What exactly happened? In Bulgaria, the more questions asked, the murkier it gets. In September, the Bulgarian government was told it must fight corruption if it is to join the EU. Bulgarian archaeologists and journalists told me privately that soldiers, policemen and custom officers are somehow involved in the looting.

But King Seuthes’ gold and silver treasures - wreath, drinking cup, jewellery box and helmet - were saved for the state and now reside in the regional museum in Kazanlak. At the National History Museum in Sofia another newly discovered gold wreath has its own cabinet in the Thracian Gallery. More elaborate than King Seuthes’ but the same age, a model of Nike, Greek goddess of victory, is entwined in its leaves and a chain of pressed medallions hangs from it. In the basement the head conservator, Svetla Tsaneva, is bent over a microscope, cleaning and reconstructing necklaces from tiny gold beads found after the shopkeeper’s jewellery was admired. Tsaneva is astounded by their uniform beauty. “There are no defects, no sign of soldering,” she says. “You have the impression they were punched or minted like coins. They must have developed a tool to mass-produce them 5,000 years ago.”

Similar beads were found by Heinrich Schliemann, a German amateur archaeologist, at the site of Troy in Turkey in 1873. But the craftsmanship of the Bulgarian hoard is far more sophisticated. Tsaneva can barely contain her excitement. “All my knowledge of the ancient goldsmiths has been completely turned upside down.” She is certain Schliemann’s gold came from “our lands”. Museums in Japan, France and Switzerland have asked to borrow the new finds. Bulgaria will probably welcome the additional funds - the loan fees will be useful in the ongoing war with looters.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: age; bulgaria; bulgarias; godsgravesglyphs; golden; rhodope; rhodopemountains; thrace; unearthing

1 posted on 12/02/2005 10:21:43 AM PST by blam
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To: SunkenCiv

GGG Ping.

2 posted on 12/02/2005 10:22:30 AM PST by blam
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To: blam


Always like pictures ... are their any?

If not, thanks for posting this. This is fascinating.

3 posted on 12/02/2005 10:25:04 AM PST by nmh (Intelligent people believe in Intelligent Design (God).)
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To: blam

Bulgaria never had a Golden Age, Thrace did.

4 posted on 12/02/2005 10:33:50 AM PST by Mikey_1962
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To: nmh
"Always like pictures ... are their any?"

No, not yet. I always post pictures when they are available.

5 posted on 12/02/2005 10:34:20 AM PST by blam
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To: blam
Similar Thracian items:

6 posted on 12/02/2005 11:20:31 AM PST by balrog666 (A myth by any other name is still inane.)
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To: blam; FairOpinion; Ernest_at_the_Beach; StayAt HomeMother; 24Karet; 3AngelaD; asp1; ...
Thanks Blam.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)

7 posted on 12/02/2005 10:58:25 PM PST by SunkenCiv (Down with Dhimmicrats! I last updated my FR profile on Wednesday, November 2, 2005.)
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To: blam

Neat !!!!!

8 posted on 12/03/2005 6:53:39 AM PST by Dustbunny (Main Stream Media -- Making 'Max Headroom' a reality.)
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To: blam

After reading Noah's Flood by Ryan and Pitman, stories like this make a lot more sense.

9 posted on 12/03/2005 6:58:42 AM PST by shuckmaster
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To: blam

Neat pic of 'church pulpit.'

The Thracian Tomb-Temple at Starosel

More pics and info

It looks like a beautiful country.

I would post them as links but I don't know how. < G >

10 posted on 12/03/2005 7:07:42 AM PST by Dustbunny (Main Stream Media -- Making 'Max Headroom' a reality.)
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To: blam
Thanks! As a goldsmith myself I'm fascinated by the evolution of smithing technology by the ancients. For instance, Etruscan granulation, based on making tiny gold beads and adhering them (without solder!) to gold objects like vases to form elaborate patterns, wasn't duplicated in the modern world until around 35 years ago. How the Etruscans achieved it with the "primitive" ovens of their time implies enormous skill and metallurgical knowledge.

It also implies a reservoir of knowledge from which it was developed, possibly Thrace. I'll follow this one with great interest! If anyone comes up with images of the beads please post 'em!

I know how to make tiny gold beads of uniform size but mass-producing the other shapes mentioned -- "spheres, cylinders, whorls and octahedrons like double-headed pyramids" -- is fascinating.

11 posted on 12/03/2005 9:05:44 AM PST by Bernard Marx (Don't make the mistake of interpreting my Civility as Servility)
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To: Dustbunny
Church Pulpit Unearthed in Thracian Sanctuary of Perperikon

Evolving from the shrine of a Dionysus cult in Hellenistic times, the unique rock sanctuary of Perperikon may prove to be the gate of Christening of Thracian tribes. The new finding of a church pulpit comes as evidence to that. Photo by Y. Nikolova (SNA)

Archaeologists have found a church pulpit at the peak of the Thracian rock sanctuary Perperikon.

This is the first of the kind finding in Bulgaria, the team's chief Nikolay Ovcharov said. According to him, the pulpit was built at the end of the 4th century AD or the early 5th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Honorius and coincided with the period of the christening the Thracians in the Rhodopes area.

It has the form of one-ship basilica of 16.5 m length, which is the most typical form of an early christen religious temple.

The pulpit, which is almost untouched by time, is richly decorated with stone-carved ornaments. An eagle with largely spread wings is clearly seen on the rock.

It also bears five inscriptions in Greek, which are yet to be explained but which archaeologists suppose are liturgical writings.

One hypothesis suggests the church existed until 12 century when it was erased from earth's face by barbarian invaders. At about that time it was probably sealed up and abandoned to the oblivion of time.

12 posted on 12/03/2005 9:16:03 AM PST by blam
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To: Dustbunny
The Thracian Tomb-Temple at Starosel

Ancient Secrets Unearthed in the Heart of the Balkans

In August 2000, a sensational discovery occurred near the village of Starosel, in central Bulgaria. Archaeologists found the enormous temple/grave of what is believed to be a Thracian ruler, possibly Sitakes I, the first king of a combined Thracian empire. Sitalkes had an annual income of 800 talents and ruled from the Danube to the Aegean. He invaded Macedonia with a supposedly 150,000 strong army. He died in battle in 424 BC. The site, 100 miles east of Sofia, has been dated as from the fourth or fifth century BC.

The grave and its surroundings are thought by archaeologists to have been an important religious site for Thracians dating from the stone age. The two-chamber tomb is approached by stairs and a corridor. It is surrounded by a 263-yard long wall made out of some 4,000 stone blocks and was hidden under a 20-meter high mound of earth.

The stone blocks of the surrounding wall/facade were largely undisturbed because they were fastened on the other side with iron clamps, which had lead poured over them. To the south it is crossed by a parade staircase flanked by two smaller staircases, climbing to an 11-yard roofless doorway with 5.5-yard high walls leading to the facade. The round stone wall symbolises the Sun, while the temple itself stands for the goddess of Earth who lived in a cave, according to Thracian beliefs. The interior consists of a rectangular entrance and a round vaulted main hall, whose ceiling is supported by 10 Doric semi-pillars, each carved with 10 vertical flutes.

The inner walls are covered by ornate stone plates. The dome is decorated with a stone frieze in red, black, green and blue colours.

In a neighbouring mound, archaeologists found a magnificent trove of relics, including a large gold funerary wreath, other gold jewellery (including a 1-ounce gold ring depicting a Thracian horseman spearing a wild boar), bronze shields, helmets and swords, four silver and eight bronze vessels, ancient Greek ceramics, greaves (decorated with the royal double-edged axe symbol), scale armor, a bronze javelin tips, a quiver full of arrows with bronze tips and two sets of silver decorations for horses.

A large silver applique was found in the entrance depicting a fully armed Thracian king with a beard but with no moustaches, riding a horse, and raising a rhyton in one hand. These were dated to the fifth century, B.C. Other tombs were found in the vicinity, thought to be Sitalkes’ brother and cousins. One had a golden sarcophagus cover.

Among the grave goods of a Thracian aristocrat in the second necropolis were 5 silver horse appliqués (around 5 cm wide and 4 cm high) depicting griffins.

In 2001, no further work was conducted on the site, but we hope to make further interesting discoveries next year.

This is how it was reported at the time:

Bulgaria Uncovers Largest Ancient Thracian Temple

SOFIA, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A team of Bulgarian archaeologists has unearthed a Thracian sanctuary, believed to be the largest yet found in the area of the Balkan peninsula inhabited by ancient Thracians, state news agency BTA said on Saturday.

The find, dated back to the fifth century B.C., is located near the village of Starosel in the Plovdiv region in central Bulgaria. "The ancient sanctuary is the most impressive monument of Thracian cult architecture found so far," BTA quoted head of the archeological team Georgi Kitov as saying.

The mound is some 20 metres (66 feet) high and has a diameter of 90 metres (295 feet). It is surrounded by a 240 metre (785 feet)-long stone wall.

According to Kitov at least one powerful Thracian king may be buried there. It is thought that this might be Sitalkes I, the great Thracian king who united Thrace and invaded Macedon with an army of 150,000 men in 429BC.

The team has so far uncovered a stone staircase and a 15 m (50 feet)-long corridor leading to an impressive facade decorated with relief ornaments. The team also found earthenware, coins, arrowheads and cult objects.

The temple-tomb has two rooms, one rectangular and one round. Excavations continue and archaeologists have yet to explore them. The ancient Thracians, ruled by a powerful warrior aristocracy rich in gold treasures, inhabited an area extending over most of modern Bulgaria, northern Greece and the European part of Turkey. They are regarded as one of the bedrock peoples of the Balkans whose ethnic stock, though much diluted, has endured to present-day. Bulgaria is rich in archaeological ruins dating back to classical times.

The Thracian Temple-Tomb of Starosel in Sub-Sushtinska Sredna Gora Mountains (Hissar Municipality)

The monument was discovered in 2000. It has been investigated by Dr. Georgi Kitov in the last summer of that century. The temple-tomb of Starosel is the biggest one in the Balkans dated according to the excavator from the later 5th century BC. It is a magnificent monument of powerful ruler of Thrace, possibly Sitalk, c. 445/440-424 BC (?), comparable with his politics towards establishment of Thracian hegemony in the Balkans.

Dubene-Sarovka and Starosel Temple-tomb are some of the greatest discoveries of Bulgarian archaeology at the end of the 20th century. They open a new page of the investigation of the ancient history in the Central Balkans, facing the significant participation of the population from the both sides of the eastern Sushtinska Sredna Gora Mountains in the cultural-historical development of Upper Thrace and in the Balkans during prehistory and the classical Antiquity. For millennia the time had borrowed unique and sensation secrets of for-, early and classical Thracian society lived there, which were just unearthed.

13 posted on 12/03/2005 9:23:44 AM PST by blam
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To: Dustbunny
A link to lots of pictures.
14 posted on 12/03/2005 9:26:08 AM PST by blam
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To: Kolokotronis; kosta50

Ping to 12.

15 posted on 12/03/2005 9:28:24 AM PST by MarMema (
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To: MarMema

This stuff is so neat!

16 posted on 12/03/2005 9:52:57 AM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: blam


17 posted on 12/03/2005 9:53:11 AM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: blam

LOL..... thank you. They are just like the ones that I posted a url to.

18 posted on 12/03/2005 12:43:45 PM PST by Dustbunny (Main Stream Media -- Making 'Max Headroom' a reality.)
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19 posted on 01/07/2019 11:01:41 PM PST by SunkenCiv (and btw --
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