Bulgarian Archaeologists Unearth Neolithic Bone Needle, 100-Meter Fortress Wall at Medieval Asen’s Fortress

A view from a distance of Asen's Fortress hill with the Churth of the Holy Mother of God. Photo by Asenovgrad Municipality

A view from a distance of Asen’s Fortress hill with the Churth of the Holy Mother of God. Photo by Asenovgrad Municipality

A bone needle from the Neolithic as well as the uncovering of 110-meter fortress wall are some of the latest discoveries made by archaeologists at the medieval Bulgarian fortress known as Asen’s Fortress (Asenova Krepost) in Southern Bulgaria.

Asen’s Fortress is located on a high and isolated rock near the southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad dates back to the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) and the Asen Dynasty (1185-1256 AD), and is best known for the well preserved 12th-13th century Church of the Holy Mother of God.

For the first time Bulgarian archaeologists led by Rositsa Moreva have excavated the southwestern section of Asen’s Fortress uncovering a 110-meter fortress wall, Ivan Dukov, director of the Asenovgrad Museum of History, has told the Bulgarian National Radio.

While the most impressive finds from different time periods discovered over the past year at Asen’s Fortress are to be presented to the public next week, Dukov has revealed some of them in advance. In the same interview, he has also revealed some of the finds discovered in the excavations of the nearby Upper Voden Fortress.

He explains that the newly discovered 110-meter fortress wall serving to protect Asen’s Fortress from attacks from an open plain to the south is to be excavated further; it was modified in three discernible phases judging by the nature of the construction

“The southern sector is very dangerous because it is very steep. But after further excavations this can be turned into a very convenient place for visitors," says the director of the Asenovgrad Museum of History, adding,

“We have established that this fortress wall was modified several times, with three main construction periods. It was first built with huge stone blocks, up to a meter in size. The latest modification was made with smaller stones, with no cementing that was used as a filling for some caverns that had opened up in the fortification wall."

In his words, the fortress wall in question served to protect the residents of Asen’s fortress from attacks from an open space to the south from the 9th century onwards.

The archaeologists excavating the medieval Asenova Krepost have discovered items from different time periods, as there had been earlier settlements on the same site.

“The more interesting artifacts that we have found [at Asen’s Fortress] took us back to the oldest settlement there dating back to the Neolithic period. We have discovered fragments from pottery vessels and a bone needle dating back to the Neolithic," Dukov explains.

They have also dug up some ancient finds, most notably, a coin from the Ancient Greek city of Parium (or Parion) in Anatolia, on the south coast of the Sea of Marmara, as well as a coin minted by Philip II, King of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC).

Update: During the official public presenation of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval artifacts found at Asen’s Fortress and the Upper Voden Fortress made in Asenovgrad on Monday, March 23, 2015, the Bulgarian archaeologists announced they had discovered that the earliest human settlement in the area of the two fortress dated back to the 7th-6th millenium BC, about 1500 years earlier than previously thought.

View here: A photo gallery of Asen’s Fortress and its 12th-13th century Church of the Holy Mother of God (by ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com)

A closer view of the Church of the Holy Mother of God at Asen's Fortress near Asenovgrad. Photo by Asenovgrad Municipality

A closer view of the Church of the Holy Mother of God at Asen’s Fortress near Asenovgrad. Photo by Asenovgrad Municipality

Background Infonotes:

Asen’s Fortress (Asenova Krepost) is a medieval Bulgarian fortress near the southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad (which takes its name from the fortress). It dates back to the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) and the Asen Dynasty (1185-1256 AD). Asen’s Fortress is located on a 300-meter-high isolated rock, on the northern slope of the Rhodope Mountains. Its location features traces of Neolithic, Ancient Thracian, and Byzantine settlements. It was mentioned as Petrich (not to be confused with today’s town in Southwestern Bulgaria) in an 11th century statute of the nearby Bachkovo Monastery. Asen’s Fortress was conquered by crusaders from the Third Crusade. It was renovated in 1231 AD during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241) as a stronghold against the Crusanders’ Latin Empire (1204-1261). It is best known for the well preserved 12th-13th century Church of the Holy Mother of God, a two-storey cross-domed single-naved church with a wide narthex and a large rectangular tower, with 14th century murals. Asen’s Fortress was captured by Byzantium after Tsar Ivan Asen II‘s death, and regained by Bulgaria in 1344 under Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). It was conquered by the Ottomans Turks during their invasion of Bulgaria at the end of the 14th century even though the church remained in use during the following centuries. According to some sources, the fortress was destroyed in the Ottoman Interregnum when Ottoman princes fought for the succession of the Ottoman throne (1402-1413 AD).