Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Varna Unearth 3 More Skeletons, Identify Necropolis under Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos

A closeup of the "giant" man's skeleton which is still partly buried under the Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos in the downtown of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Photo: TV grab from Nova TV

A closeup of the “giant” man’s skeleton which is still partly buried under the Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos in the downtown of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Photo: TV grab from Nova TV

Bulgarian archaeologists carrying out rescue excavations in the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos, today’s Black Sea city of Varna, have discovered three more skeletons in what essentially appears to be an ancient necropolis, lead archaeologist Prof. Dr. Valeri Yotov has announced.

On March 17, 2015, during excavations of the so called Varna Largo near the St. Nikolay Church, the Bulgarian archaeologists stumbled upon a man’s skeleton described by some researchers, passers-by, and the local media as “tall” or even “giant”.

Three more skeletons have been found in the last couple of days during the continuing excavations of the Late Antiquity fortress of ancient Odessos (known in Roman times as Odessus), Yotov is cited as telling local news site Varna Utre on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

The discoveries of more skeletons have changed radically the working hypothesis of the archaeologists from the Varna Museum of Archaeology, who previously believed that the man in question, whose skeleton is dated back to the late 4th century or early 5th century, was probably a construction worker who died during the construction of the Odessos (Odessus) fortress wall, possibly from a work-related incident, and was buried right on the spot, in a deeper pit dug up for construction purposes.

Now, Yotov says that he and his colleagues might have discovered an ancient necropolis which, according to initial estimates, is older than the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos / Odessus under which it has been found.

However, the Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology, Prof. Dr. Valentin Pletnyov, has urged caution regarding the necropolis hypothesis.

Speaking in a media interview later on Saturday, he has pointed out that the discovery of the human skeletons does not mean yet that they were buried in a necropolis.

He has pointed to the fact that no additional artifacts have been found in the graves yet, Top Novini Varna reports.

As the excavations continue, the archaeologists from the Varna Museum are yet to study the newly found ancient necropolis in depth, and to try to figure out why the Late Antiquity fortress wall, which is just one of Odessos’s several fortress walls dating from different time periods, was constructed on top of a cemetery.

Yotov has been trying to convince the media and the passers-by in downtown Varna that the seemingly tall man’s skeleton was really not such an important discovery compared with the Late Antiquity fortress wall under which he was lying, and that the ancient man was certainly not a “vampire” or an “Atlantis giant”.

As the Varna archaeologists have excavated the skeleton in full only now, more than 10 days after its initial discovery, and have just measured it, Yotov has announced that the actual size of the ancient man turns turns out to be “modest” – “only” 165 cm, or about 5 feet 4 inches.

Even keeping in mind the fact that people were relatively shorter in ancient times, and that the Varna man was probably about average in size, the announcement is expected to debunk the media reports about the “giant” found in Varna.

Meanwhile, early in the morning on Saturday, March 28, 2015, the site of the ongoing excavations in downtown Varna was flooded as a result of a water supply failure, Varna Utre reports, with the water covering almost completely the ancient second earthen jar discovered during the recent excavations which, not unlike the “tall man’s skeleton”, has not been fully excavated and has been left in situ.

What is more, the 1500-year-old earthen jar has been hit by an earth mover driven by workers from the Varna water utility and cracked.

“At least they didn’t manage to hit the fortress wall,” lead archaeologist Prof. Dr. Valeri Yotov is quoted as commenting, referring to recently unearthed Late Antiquity fortress wall, one of ancient Odessos’s several fortress walls from different time periods whose location had been previously unknown to the Bulgarian archaeologists.

Yotov says the Varna Museum of Archaeology has experienced specialists who should be able to glue back together the cracked 5th century earthen jar which managed to survive some 1,500 years before the Varna water utility workers were ‘successful’ in breaking it with their earth mover.

Commenting on the “flood”,he has explained that the earthen jar was kept in situ (and still filled with soil) precisely in order to preserve it better. The newly found skeletons from the necropolis under Odessos’s Late Antiquity wall have been covered with nylon and soil on top of it in order to protect them from the weather and flooding from water supply pipes.

Thus, Yotov has assuaged fears that the frequent flooding caused by the problems in the water supply and sewerage system in downtown Varna (whose rehabilitation was how the latest archaeological discoveries were made in the first place), or the weather might do some damage to the uncovered finds.

“These are fragments that survived hundreds, thousands of years, to this day, regardless of any calamities,” he emphasizes.

Speaking in a media interview later on Saturday, however, Prof. Dr. Valentin Pletnyov, Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology, has painted a pretty grim picture of the situation.

“The incessant water pipe failures and the arbitrary actions of the water utility are ruining the artifacts discovered during the recent excavations of the [Varna] Largo,” the archaeologist has complained, as cited by Top Novini Varna.

Yet, he has also sought to assured that the ancient pithos will be dug up and restored by the museum experts.

It has also been reported that Varna Mayor Ivan Portnih has achieved an agreement with Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov for the rescue excavations in Varna.

According to the report, the current digs will continue until April 1, 2015, and will then be “frozen” in order to complete the pavement of the pedestrian zone of the Varna Largo. Local archaeologists and architects are supposed to figure out a way to fence off the excavation sites for the duration of the summer tourist season in a way that would allow the tourists to view them without hindering the pedestrian traffic.

The excavation and research of the newly found Varna necropolis and the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos (Odessus) are expected to continue in the fall of 2015, with the winding down of the summer season.

Pletnyov has made it clear that in the fall the local archaeologists plan to remove a fountain with dolphin statues near the St. Nikolay Church in order to excavate the ruins of the fortress tower of the Late Antiquity wall of Odessos whose location is known to them.

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.