Water Utility in Bulgaria’s Varna Cracks 5th Century Earthen Jar, Submerges Ancient Odessos ‘Like Atlantis’

The 5th century earthen jar found in January 2015 in the downtown of Bulgaria's Varna, which has been kept in situ, has not only been submerged by a water pipe leak, but has also been cracked by the water utility's earth mover. Photo by passer-by provided to local news site Varna Utre

The 5th century earthen jar found in January 2015 in the downtown of Bulgaria’s Varna, which has been kept in situ, has not only been submerged by a water pipe leak, but has also been cracked by the water utility’s earth mover. Photo by a passer-by provided to local news site Varna Utre

Employees of the water supply utility in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna have broken the recently found 5th century earthen jar lying in situ in the downtown where archaeologists from the Varna Museum of Archaeology have been conducting rescue excavations of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus).

The rescue excavations in Bulgaria’s Varna started after an earthen jar (pithos) was found in January by construction workers rehabilitating the so called Varna Largo, a downtown pedestrian zone. During the rescue digs in March 2015 the archaeologists found a second earthen jar together with a stonemill and parts of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos. It is this second earthen jar that has now been hit by an earth mover after employees of the local water utility entered the site of the ongoing archaeological excavations of ancient Odessos without the permission of the archaeologists.

They did so in order to stop a large-scale leak from a water supply pipe, local news site Varna Utre reports on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

“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.

He explains that the workers and their machines had no right entering the excavation site without at least notifying the local archaeologists first, as on March 12, 2015, Bulgaria’s Culture Ministry recognized the rescue digs in downtown Varna as an official archaeological site issuing a 22-day ban for the rehabilitation and construction works in the Varna Largo along the Knyaz Boris I Boulevard between the so called “Varna Hole" and the Cherno More (“Black Sea") Hotel.

Yotov has also announced the discovery of three more skeletons in addition to the tall man’s skeleton found earlier from what appears to be an ancient necropolis which is older than the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos (Odessus).

The cracking of the ancient earthen jar, however, is not the only negative “contribution” of the local water utility to the excavations of the ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna.

The broken water pipe that the utility workers tried to fix breaking the 5th century pithos (earthen jar) flooded the excavation site on Saturday morning, alarming indignant passers-by who have made photos and sent them to the local media.

Thus, the pits and ditches dug up by the Varna archaeologists have been filled with water, and the cracked earthen jar was almost entirely submerged, prompting local news headlines such as “Ancient Odessos Submerged like Atlantis".

Commenting on the man-made “flood", lead archaeologist Valeri Yotov has explained that the earthen jar, which has not been fully dug up since January, was kept in situ (and still filled with soil) on purpose precisely in order to preserve it better. The three newly found skeletons from the necropolis under Odessos’s Late Antiquity wall, whose discovery was announced on Saturday, had been covered with nylon and soil on top of it in order to protect them.

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 first made), 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 assure that the ancient pithos will be dug up and restored by the museum experts.

The earth mover of the water utility in Bulgaria's which has been "successful" in breaking a 5th century earthen jar. Photo by a passer-by provided to local news site Varna Utre

The earth mover of the water utility in Bulgaria’s which has been “successful” in breaking a 5th century earthen jar. Photo by a passer-by provided to local news site Varna Utre

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.

Check out the other stories about the March 2015 rescue excavations of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna SO FAR (in reverse chronological order):

Water Utility in Bulgaria’s Varna Cracks 5th Century Earth Jar, Submerges Ancient Odessos ‘Like Atlantis’

‘Giant’ Man’s Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Turns Out to Be ‘Only’ 165 cm Tall

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

Giant’ Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Not Fully Dug Up, Measured Yet, Archaeologists Inform

Archaeologists Dig Up Ancient Skeleton from under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna

Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Hand Mill, Odessos Fortress Wall in Varna

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

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.