Workers Stumble Upon 1500-Year-Old Earthen Jar in Odessos Archaeology Preserve in Bulgaria’s Varna

A 1500-year-old earthen jar has been discovered by chance in the downtown of Bulgaria's Varna. Photo by Darik Varna

A 1500-year-old earthen jar has been discovered by chance in the downtown of Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo by Darik Varna

An earthen jar from the late Antiquity has been discovered by accident by construction workers during water supply and sewer rehabilitation in the downtown of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna.

In addition to the jar, the workers have also come across a previously unknown section of the fortress walls of the Ancient Greek and Roman city of Odessos, the precursor to today’s Varna, whose ruins lie below the modern day city downtown, reported Darik Radio.

According to Valentin Pletnyov, director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology (also called Varna Regional Museum of History), the local archaeologists have been looking for years for the newly found fortress wall section, and the earthen jar itself is more than 1500 years old.

The construction workers rehabilitating the so called Varna Largo, the pedestrian zone along the Knyaz Boris I Boulevard, have come across their finds right in front of the St. Nikolay Church, a famous city landmark.

The Varna archaeologists have been looking for more remains from the Odessos fortifications but all they had had before the latest discovery were only wall pieces from the Primorski Boulevard and one of the downtown squares, Pletnyov says.

“We are aware of the exact location of the fortress wall, as part of it went south from the St. Nikolay Church. The [newly] discovered remains are from the greatest expansion of the [Odessos] fortress wall from the 6th century. It was between 6 and 8 meters tall, and 3-4 meters thick. It existed for a long time even though in 715 AD the city was destroyed and abandoned during Avar and Slav invasions," elaborates the head of the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

The newly found ancient earthen jar will be moved by crane and exhibited in the yard of the Varna Museum of Archaeology, which already has more than 10 ancient clay vessels of this sort.

The local archaeologists expect to find remains from grain on the bottom of the earthen jar, rather than gold coins or precious finds, as such clay vessels were used by the ancient people for storing grain, olive oil, and wine.

The earthen jar is to be moved in days in order to clear the area for rescue excavations seeking to establish the location of an ancient building. The newly found section of the ancient fortress wall falls within the boundaries of the Odessos Archaeological Preserve which means that any water supply and sewer rehabilitation works are conducted under archaeological supervision, explains Pletnyov. He expects that the excavations around the St. Nikolay Church will be completed in two weeks.

Plevnyov elaborates that because Varna has seen large-scale construction and the city has been in existence on the same spot for 2600 years the discovery and preservation of ancient finds is very hard.

“Unlike [Bulgaria’s] other Black Sea towns which haven’t seen such urbanization on the territory of their ancient sites, Varna has seen significant development over the years, and this has had certain ramifications," states the director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

He also says the local authorities are considering how to display the new discoveries as part of the rehabilitated downtown.

Pletnyov reminds that the inside of the notorious “Varna Hole" (a pit dug up for the construction of a department store in 1984 but abandoned after the collapse of Bulgaria’s communist regime in 1989 which is presently used as a paid parking lot) features signs designating the remains of the Ancient Roman fortress wall of Odessos / Odessus dating back to the 1st century AD as well as preserved walls of the Ancient Greek colony of Odessos dating back to the 5th century BC.

Earlier in January 2015, construction workers in Varna “rediscovered" for the archaeologists and the public a previously excavated but long-forgotten Roman tomb located in the very downtown.

Background Infonotes:

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Eneolithic Varna Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts dating back to the 5th millenium BC.

Ancient Odessos is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC. However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The v(val) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.

The Varna Hole is a pit dug up for the construction of a department store in 1984 but abandoned after the collapse of Bulgaria’s communist regime in 1989. It is presently used as a paid parking lot. It is intriguing because it features remains of the Ancient Roman fortress wall of Odessos / Odessus dating back to the 1st century AD as well as preserved walls of the Ancient Greek colony of Odessos dating back to the 5th century BC.