Hunter Comes Across 14th Century Noblewoman’s Silver Earrings near Bulgaria’s Varna

Three earrings (ear tabs) which belonged to the wife of a Bulgarian boyar (aristocrat) in the 14th century have been found by a hunter near Varna. Photo: Darik Varna

Three earrings (ear tabs) which belonged to the wife of a Bulgarian boyar (aristocrat) in the 14th century have been found by a hunter near Varna. Photo: Darik Varna

Three gold-coated and silver earrings which belonged to a noblewoman from the later period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) have been found by accident by a hunter outside the town of Dolishte near the Black Sea city of Varna.

The earrings, which are more properly defined as “ear tabs" because of their weight and size, and the way they were worn, are dated to the late 14th century AD.

They were presented at a news conference by Bulgarian archaeologists Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Igor Lazarenko from the Varna Museum of Archaeology, and by their founder, Varna businessman Mladen Stanev, reports local news site Darik Varna.

Two out of the three earrings, which are either gold-coated, or made entirely of silver, are fully preserved.

Stanev has told the story of how he stumbled upon the artifacts. He found them sticking out of the ground during a wild boar hunt near Dolishte in January 2015. He dug them up, put them in his pocket, and forgot about them until recently when he was preparing his gear for the new hunting season. After rediscovering them in his pocket, Stanev showed the items to his friend, archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov who figured out their archaeological value.

Ovcharov and Lazarenko are certain that the earrings (ear tabs) belonged to a Bulgarian noblewoman, the wife of a boyar (also called bolyar or bolyarin), a medieval Bulgarian nobleman. They believe that the jewels were buried shallowly into the ground in a hurry by their owner at a time of danger or flight.

Ovcharov has explained that in the Middle Ages, the Bulgarian boyars (aristocrats) wore silver belts and were presented with silver cups by the Bulgarian Tsars for their loyalty and service, while their wives would receive and wear ear tabs (resembling earrings), rings, and other jewels of the type discovered by the hunter near Dolishte.

He has even described the discovered earrings as “the dream” of the women from the medieval Bulgarian aristocracy.

A closeup of one of the three discovered medieval earrings (or ear tabs). Photo: Standart daily

A closeup of one of the three discovered medieval silver and/or gold-coated earrings (or ear tabs). Photo: Standart daily

Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov looking at the jewels worn by a noblewoman from the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire on display in the Varna Museum of Archaeology. The displayed jewels include earrings (ear tabs) like the ones recently discovered by a hunter near Dolishte, Varna District. Photo: BGNES

Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov looking at the jewels worn by a noblewoman from the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire on display in the Varna Museum of Archaeology. The displayed jewels include earrings (ear tabs) like the ones recently discovered by a hunter near Dolishte, Varna District. Photo: BGNES

The earrings in question were not worn directly on the ears because they weighed about 100 grams; instead, they were hung up on a wooden wreath that the Bulgarian noblewomen would wear under their kerchiefs (head cloths).

The archaeologist has pointed out that a number of archaeological artifacts from the Late Middle Ages, the 13th-14th century, i.e. from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, have been found by accident in the near the town of Dolishte, Varna District.

“Dolishte has become synonymous with an archaeology phenomenon having to do with the Medieval Period, and especially the 13th-14th century. Numerous valuable artifacts dug shallowly into the ground which belonged to noble families have been found in the area," Ovcharov says, as cited by the Standart daily.

He has hypothesized that the earrings (ear tabs) discovered by hunter Mladen Stanev near Dolishte may have been buried by the wife of a Bulgarian boyar whose family was fleeing today’s Northeast Bulgaria for Wallachia north of the Danube (today’s Romania) from the invasion of the Ottoman Turks who conquered the already feudally partitioned Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century.

Another possibility is that the jewels were buried at the time of the plague pandemic that hit medieval Europe in the middle of the 14th century.

“Such finds from the 14th century buried at a depth of only 20-30 cm have been found all over Bulgaria but the largest number of cases are in the Varna region," Ovcharov adds.

Varna Museum archaeologist Igor Lazarenko has provided more precise information.

“This is the 14thtreasure of this type which has been found around the town of Dolishte. It has now become part of the collection of jewels of the [Varna Museum of Archaeology] which is the richest in the Balkans," he says.

However, Lazarenko has made it clear that the discovery of the medieval noblewoman’s earrings will not bring about archaeological excavations because the archaeologists are aware that those types of treasures were buried randomly in order to be hidden in a time of crisis, and usually do not indicate the presence of settlements or other archaeological structures.