Bulgarian Archaeologist Enlists Mongolian Experts to Study Ancient Bulgar Petroglyphs in Rock City Perperikon
Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov is going to study allegedly Ancient Bulgar petroglyphs, i.e. rock engravings, found in the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval rock of Perperikon (Perperik) with the help of experts from Mongolia.
The Mongolian scientists are due to arrive in Bulgaria in September 2015, Ovcharov has announced while presenting to reporters his latest discoveries from the renewed archaeological excavations of Perperikon – a Late Antiquity Roman temple and a 3rd century AD bronze statuette of Ancient Greek god Apollo.
The joint project with the Mongolian experts was negotiated by Ovcharov during the recent visit in Mongolia of a Bulgarian delegation, during which Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev opened a Monument of the Bulgarian (Cyrillic) Alphabet in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator.
Ovcharov believes that the some 30 rock engravings discovered by him in Perperkon give important clues about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars who set up the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in the 7th century AD, first in 632 AD in the so called Old Great Bulgaria located in today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia, later moving to the west, settling Southeast Europe and intermarrying with the Slavs and possibly any remaining Thracians (in the so called “Danube Bulgaria”), with the year 680/681 AD considered a major milestone because of the state’s recognition by the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.
According to Nikolay Ovcharov, the petroglyphs indicate the Turkic, i.e. Mongol origin of the Ancient Bulgars. The Turkic (Mongol) theory about their origin has been discredited after the fall of the communist regime in 1989 since it was imposed as the “official history” of Bulgaria during the communist period, largely for ideological and political reasons, while in the 25 years since many Bulgarian historians have hypothesized that the Ancient Bulgars were in fact of Iranian (Sarmatian, Scythian), i.e. Aryan origin, or were of Iranian origin but were exposed to strong Turkic influences. (See the Background Infonotes below for more details)
Ovcharov has used a more careful wording saying that the Ancient Bulgar petroglyphs in Perperikon indicate the “Turkic-cultural origin” of the Bulgars. He notes that this hypothesis is an old one, and that the idea to explore it again was generated by the interest of the Mongolian historians demonstrated during the visit of the Bulgarian delegation in Ulan Bator last month.
In support of his thesis, the Bulgarian archaeologist points out that one of the rock engravings in Perperikon depicts a woman with a vulva image on her clothing who holds a bow with an arrow in her right hand.
Ovcharov believes that this is the female deity Umay, a goddess of fertility and virginity in Turkic mythology, which he describes as the female equivalent of the alleged god of the Ancient Bulgars, Tangra.
He points out that similar allegedly Ancient Bulgar rock engravings (petroglyphs) have been found by Greek archaeologists near the ancient city of Philippi in today’s Northern Greece.
Ovcharov reckons that the Bulgar petroglyphs in Perperikon and Philippi were not the work of the Ancient Bulgars led by Khan Asparuh (r. 680-700 AD) who are technically believed to have founded “Danube Bulgaria” (i.e. to have moved the focus of the Ancient Bulgar state from the Ukrainian steppes to Southeast Europe) but of the Ancient Bulgars led by Asparukh’s brother, Khan Kuber, who at the end of the 7th century AD settled the region of Macedonia north of Thessaloniki with his Bulgar tribes.
“It is possible that groups of Ancient Bulgar inhabited Perperikon or were part of its military garrison,” says Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov.
The expedition of the Mongolian scholars in Bulgaria in September 2015 will be funded by a Mongolian businessman, he reveals.
(The following is a very brief account of the main (groups of) theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars).
The question about the precise origin of the Ancient Bulgars, a powerful steppe people with a strong social and military organization and a highly sophisticated calendar, remains resolved and a matter of discussion among Bulgarian and international historians. Unfortunately, in the past it has been marred and even perverted by political and ideological motives stemming from the fact that in the 20th century Bulgaria was under foreign (mostly Soviet) domination. There are numerous theories about the Ancient Bulgars’ origin, the main ones stipulating either a Turkic (Mongol), or an Iranian (Aryan) origin, or a combination of the two.
The theory about the Turkic origin of the Bulgarians was overwhelmingly promoted during the communist period by historians in the Soviet Union and its satellite, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Scientific arguments aside, its political motivation was to denigrate the role of the Bulgars and to promote the role of the Slavs in Bulgaria’s formation in order to prove the stronger ties of 20th century Bulgaria with Russia (the Soviet Union). This is contrasted with the trends in the 1930s when some Bulgarian historians and scholars sympathetic to Nazi Germany sought to deny altogether the role of the Slavs in the formation of the Bulgarian nation.
While still defended by a number of older generation historians, the theory about the Turkic (Mongol) origin of the Ancient Bulgars has been largely discredited since the fall of the communist regime. Taking advantage of the newly established academic freedom, a number of Bulgarian historians and archaeologists have formulated and explored the theory about the Iranian (Sarmatian, Scythian), i.e. Aryan origin of the Bulgars. This theory actually originated with a group of Russian historians in the mid 20th century but was not part of the “official history” during the communist period, and was only given greater publicity and developed further in the 25 years since the fall of communism in 1989.
There is also a third major theory uniting the first two which stipulates that the Ancient Bulgars originated from Iranian tribes in Central Asia in the 1st-4th century AD which were later involved in the tribal union of the Huns and exposed to Turkic influence as they moved into the steppes of Eastern Europe. This hypothesis explains the Turkic elements discovered in Ancient Bulgar archaeological remains which also exhibit features typical of the Iranian tribes (Sarmatian, Scythian).
There are also a number of other theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars such as the one stipulating that they were in fact Ancient Thracians; however, those theories appear to be largely pseudo-scientific.
Today’s Bulgarian society has adopted a more balanced approach to the issue, with the theories stipulating the Iranian (Aryan) origin of the Ancient Bulgars (with or without Turkic influences) appearing to dominate the public discourse.