Bulgarian Archaeologist Sheds Light on Missing Excavation Records for Nebet Tepe Fortress in Plovdiv

The prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of the Nebet Tepe hill in Bulgaria's Plovdiv as viewed from the north. Photo by Peterdx, Wikipedia

The prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of the Nebet Tepe hill in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv as viewed from the north. Photo by Peterdx, Wikipedia

The missing paperwork for the pre-1980 excavations of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress on the historic hill of Nebet Tepe in the Southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv will likely result in the site being excavated anew, says archaeologist Elena Bozhinova.Bozhinova, who is part of the team from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology that will explore Nebet Tepe again, has commented on the recent controversy about a project for the restoration of the ancient and prehistoric fortress. It caused a scandal during a public hearing last week after the local community overwhelmingly opposed the project of architect Yuliy Farkov, and booed the Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov who supported it publicly.

The project worth EUR 2 million is entitled “Nebet Tepe – the Citadel of the Odrysae" referring to the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians, providing, among other things, for rebuilding part of the preserved fortress wall to a height of 4 meters, and re-erecting the remains of the preserved fortress tower to a height of 8 meters. It also provides for exposing the Roman or Byzantine underground secret passage found at Nebet Tepe (see the Background Infonotes below).

One of the major conclusions of the heating public discussion has been that there is no proper paperwork for the archaeological excavations of Plovdiv’s Nebet Tepe fortress carried out between 1930 and 1980 which means that there is insufficient archaeological evidence that can be used as a basis for architectural projects for the proposed restoration.

The excavations of Nebet Tepe, one of the seven historic hills of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, whose oldest settlement dates back to the 6th millennium BC, allegedly making Plovdiv the oldest city in Europe, were terminated in 1980.

“The first residents of Nebet Tepe are people from the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic of Stone – Copper Age) in the 5th millennium BC. Nebet Tepe had the function of a regional center. The hill was something like a citadel, a place fortified from all sides where important gatherings were held," archaeologist Elena Bozhinova has told Radio Focus Plovdiv.

She has reiterated an earlier explanation by Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, that the archaeologist who excavated Nebet Tepe before 1980 is to blame for the lack of respective documentation; Bozhinova, however, has now provided details about the case with the missing records.

“The archaeologist who conducted large-scale excavations of Nebet Tepe without keeping records was Atanas Peykov. In addition to having been ambitious, his excavations were unprofessional. The entire archaeological community in Bulgaria knows that these were the most large-scale excavations on Nebet Tepe. They covered the entire central part of the hill," Bozhinova says.

She emphasizes that archaeologists are obliged to document their work in detail because that way they provide the archaeologist digging after them with the opportunity to correct any mistakes they might have made, and to complement the records for the respective archaeological monument.

“This is the case with Nebet Tepe and the archaeologist who ambitiously studied the entire monument but did not keep records. Before Peykov, the site was excavated by archaeologist Liliya Borusharova and others. They did thorough digs that were completely documented but were too limited in scale for them to be able to specify the time periods and the specific conditions for this hill," Bozhinova elaborates.

In her words, the partial exploration of archaeological sites is a global trend because it leaves some parts of the respective monument to be researched by the future generations who will have better work methods and more research to build on.

This [rule] was not observed by Plovdiv archaeologist Atanas Peykov. He explored the entire Nebet Tepe and left no records. The things he published in scientific journals are unprofessional and incorrect," she adds.

Bozhinova points out that the archaeologists from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology are prepared to start new excavations as soon as Plovdiv Municipality provides funding.

Earlier, museum Director Kostadin Kisyov said that before going for new digs the local archaeologists were going to use a ground penetrating radar first to localize structures that lie underground.

Background Infonotes:

The ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkish word for “hill") is one of the seven historic hills where today’s Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times. The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi. During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire. In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills. Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis. Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD. In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.