Archaeologists Resume Rescue Excavations of 8,000-Year-Old Prehistoric Settlement near Bulgaria’s Mursalevo

Rescue excavations near Mursalevo in Southwest Bulgaria have led to the discovery of an Early Neolithic settlement. Photo: Bulgaria's Road Infrastructure Agency

Rescue excavations near Mursalevo in Southwest Bulgaria have led to the discovery of an Early Neolithic settlement. Photo: Bulgaria’s Road Infrastructure Agency

A team of Bulgarian archaeologists has resumed the rescue excavations of the unique Early Neolithic settlement near the southwestern town of Mursalevo, Kocherinovo Municipality, which they discovered in April-May 2015 as they were carrying out rescue digs along the route of the Struma Highway.

The excavations of the Early Neolithic settlement near Mursalevo, which is dated to about 5,800 BC, are led by Prof. Vasil Nikolov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

In the first days of April 2015, members of Nikolov’s team inspected the site of the prehistoric settlement in preparation for the renewed excavations, reports the Bulgarian daily Presa.

The rescue digs near Mursalevo first started in April 2014 in order to clear the way for the construction of Lot 2 of the Struma Highway, which will connect Bulgaria’s capital Sofia with Greece.

However, as the archaeologists uncovered ever more impressive finds, the Bulgarian government extended their excavation period twice – once in August and once in November, when it was decided that the digs would be frozen for four months during the winter.

Now the Bulgarian archaeologists researching the prehistoric settlement near Mursalevo will have until the end of June 2015 to complete their excavations.

The Early Neolithic settlement near the town of Mursalevo in the District of Blagoevgrad covers an area of 16 decares (app. 4 acres) making it the prehistoric settlement with the largest excavated area in Southeast Europe, which is the first European region to see civilized human life.

The 8,000-year-old settlement near Bulgaria’s Mursalevo consists of three parallel major streets, including one main street, and several smaller streets that are perpendicular to them which form sections with 3-4 homes each. The Bulgarian archaeologists have been impressed with the perfect alignment and “urban" planning of what they have described as a prehistoric city.

The Early Neolithic homes at Mursalevo were built of plant stalks and clay, and have walls of 20 cm in width. Some of items found there include ceramic figurines of the Mother Goddess, tools, a golden ear decoration, a button and a needle, a Late Neolithic grave with a skeleton in the fetal position.

The archaeologists have also discovered that the site of the prehistoric city was deemed sacred by the Ancient Thracians who between the 5th and the 1st century BC dug up dozens of pits there in which they conducted rituals and sacrifices.

Some kind of a museum exhibition, possibly in situ, is expected to be created out of the finds from the Early Neolithic settlement near Mursalevo.

There have been calls for changing the route of the Struma Highway right now it is planned to pass right through the middle of the Early Neolithic settlement but so far the Bulgarian government has not indicated that this might be possible as the constraints range from the rough and mountainous terrain in the Kresna Gorge to the strict EU rules as the highway construction is financed with EU funding.

Background Infonotes:

The Early Neolithic settlement near Mursalevo, Blagoevgrad District, in Southwest Bulgaria was discovered in May 2015 (even though the spot has been known as an archaeological site since the 1930s) by a team of Bulgarian archaeologists led by Prof. Vasil Nikolov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It is dated to about 5,800 BC. The Bulgarian archaeologists found there at least 20 prehistoric buildings with perfect alignment whose walls are 20 cm wide and made of plant stalks and clay. They believe that the buildings were burned down deliberately in arson after firewood was stocked inside them. On the same spot near Mursalevo, the archaeologists have found a Late Neolithic grave with a skeleton in fetal position, artifacts such as tools, figurines, and ceramic vessels, as well as dozens of Ancient Thracian sanctuary pits for rituals and sacrifices from the 5th-1st century BC; it is thought that the Thracians deemed the spot of the former prehistoric settlement a sacred place.