Archaeologists Find Thracian Princess’s Tomb in Burial Mound Targeted by Treasure Hunters in Bulgaria’s Tatarevo

Archaeologists Find Thracian Princess’s Tomb in Burial Mound Targeted by Treasure Hunters in Bulgaria’s Tatarevo

The 1st century AD tomb of a cremated Ancient Thracian princess has been discovered inside the Great Mound (tumulus) in Tatarevo in Southern Bulgaria. Lead archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov is the first on the left. Photo: Monitor daily

The 1st century AD tomb of a cremated Ancient Thracian princess has been discovered inside the Great Mound (tumulus) in Tatarevo in Southern Bulgaria. Lead archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov is the first on the left. Photo: Monitor daily

An almost 2,000-year-old tomb of a cremated Ancient Thracian princess has been discovered during emergency rescue excavations of a Thracian tumulus (burial mound) in the town of Tatarevo, Parvomay Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, which has been repeatedly targeted by treasure hunters.

The discovery of the Thracian princess’s grave is one of the not so many cases in which the Bulgarian archaeologists have managed to beat the ruthless treasure hunters looting the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, after Plovdiv Municipality has provided emergency funding for the excavations, and after the Thracian tumuli in Tatarevo were targeted by treasure hunters as recently as June 2015.

The newly found tomb of the Thracian princess is dated to the end of the 1st century (ca. 90) AD. It has been discovered by the archaeological team carrying out the emergency excavations which is led by the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, Kostadin Kisyov.

The excavations started 20 days ago, and the archaeologists have unearthed two graves in total so far, reports the Bulgarian daily Monitor.

The first grave was discovered at a depth of 3 meters; in it, the human remains were placed in a coffin. The second grave, that of the Thracian princess, was found at a depth of about 6 meters.

Judging by the grave inventory the Bulgarian archaeologists believe that it contains the remains of a woman from the Thracian tribe Odrysae (Odrysians) who was burned at a stake, i.e. cremated, somewhere outside of the mound, and was placed in a brick masonry tomb with her favorite belongings.

The Thracian woman’s remains were placed in the grave together with part of the coal that was used to cremate her body, and the afterlife gifts, including a well preserved wooden comb, were put on top of them before the grave was sealed.

“So far we have discovered a very large bronze vessel with four legs, a bronze basin, two glass vessels, a bronze application with the image of the Gorgon Medusa, and two small clay vessels. We are currently unearthing another vessel in one of the corners of the tomb, which is most probably silver," lead archaeologist Kisyov is quoted as saying.

A bronze application with the image of Gorgon Medusa discovered inside the tomb of the Thracian princess in the Great Mound in Bulgaria's Tatarevo. Photo: Monitor daily

A bronze application with the image of Gorgon Medusa discovered inside the tomb of the Thracian princess in the Great Mound in Bulgaria’s Tatarevo. Photo: Monitor daily

The grave of the Thracian princess, however, was dated thanks to the discovery of another vessel – a large clay basin with seals indicating that it was made ca. 90 AD, i.e. after the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful Thracian state, and all of Ancient Thracian were conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD, with the Thracian aristocracy generally becoming absorbed as Roman provincial aristocracy.

The grave, or, rather, the tomb itself is made of brick masonry, and is covered with massive tiles, which are 70 cm long, 50 cm wide, and 6 cm thick.

“This is a Thracian funeral of a woman from the Early Roman period. She probably was part of an aristocratic circle because we can see that she was buried somewhere in the middle of the mound. The mound was raised, after that the woman was buried, and then more soil was piled on top of her tomb," the archaeologists explain.

The size of the Ancient Thracian tumulus in question near Tatarevo is considerable: it is 12 meters tall, and has a diameter of 67 meters.

“These are about 29,000 cubic meters of soil that need to be dug up, and searched. We started to explore the tumulus from its top down to its base. Technically, we are now at the depth which was reached by the treasure hunters," Kisyov explains referring to the 6-meter deep tunnel dug up over the spring by the looters who, however, failed to come across any of the burials hidden inside the Thracian mound.

The tumulus in question, which is also known as the Great Tumulus near Tatarevo, might have been something like a family tomb of a Thracian aristocratic family.

The Bulgarian archaeologists believe that they may be able to find the mound’s “central funeral" deeper inside it. It might be the funeral of the husband of the cremated Thracian princess, or it might be the funeral of another Thracian aristocrat.

The emergency archaeological excavations of the Great Mound near Tatarevo will probably continue for another mouth. The archaeologists who are carrying them out have called for the establishment of a special fund by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture so that the government can allocate funding for emergency rescue excavations.

“If we had been unable to start these excavations now, and had delayed them for 2 years, this tumulus would have been dug up and looted. That’s why there should be such an emergency fund at the Ministry of Culture," says the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology Kostandin Kisyov.

Back in 2013, through emergency excavations, Kisyov managed to save from treasure hunters six Thracian funerals found under the so called Pamuk Mogila mound in the town of Brestovitsa where the most impressive discovery was a very rare war helmet of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD, which was recently showcased for the first time, and, at least judging by the readership of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, generated global interest. You can learn more about the Ancient Thracian burial mound known as Pamuk Mogila in the Background Infonotes below.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) known as Pamuk Mogila near the town of Brestovitsa, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria, was excavated in emergency rescue excavations in 2013 since it had been targeted by treasure hunters. It was excavated by a team led by Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, after local treasure hunters had dug up a 13-meter tunnel into the burial mound in search of the graves inside, and Kisyov himself had been trying to find funding for five years. The emergency digs were funded by Plovdiv Municipality and Rodopi Municipality a total of BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 25,500). Luckily, the treasure hunters had not managed to find the graves inside the mound, and Kisyov and his team discovered them. The huge tumulus, which was 14 m tall and had a diameter of 70 m, harbored a total of six graves, including the grave of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD. The archaeologists discovered about 80 artifacts, including a golden ring, a silver ring, a bronze ring, a parade combat helmet, two iron swords, three spears, a bronze coin (an obol for Charon, the ferryman of Hades who, according to Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman mythology, carries the souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron in the underworld), 4 glass balsamaria with essential oils, 4 clay vessels, 2 bronze hydria for water and wine, bronze phiales (pateras), two candelabra, among others. Kisyov believes that because of the proximity of the Pamuk Mogila mound to ancient Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) it might have been a tomb for an aristocratic family that ruled the city. The Ancient Thracians believed in afterlife and they placed a lot of personal belongings in the graves and tombs of their dead.

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the majority of whom appear to be impoverished low-level diggers.