Archaeologists Discover Ancient Thracian Clay Altar in Newly Found Ancient and Medieval Settlement in Coal Mine near Bulgaria’s Radnevo

This Ancient Thracian clay altar has been found in Pit No. 18 of a newly discovered ancient and medieval settlement in the Maritsa East Mines near Bulgaria's Radnevo, together with amphorae and other ancient vessels. Photo: Maritsa East Mines Jsc

This Ancient Thracian clay altar has been found in Pit No. 18 of a newly discovered ancient and medieval settlement in the Maritsa East Mines near Bulgaria’s Radnevo, together with amphorae and other ancient vessels. Photo: Maritsa East Mines Jsc

An Ancient Thracian clay altar, the first of its kind ever found in Bulgaria, has been discovered during rescue excavations of a newly found ancient and medieval settlement on the territory of the Maritsa East Mines near the town of Radnevo in Eastern Bulgaria.

The rescue excavations have been organized after the discovery of structures from an Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian settlement in the Troyanovo North Mine, the state-owned company Maritsa East Mines Jsc has announced.

The digs have been carried out jointly by three Bulgarian archaeological teams led by Prof. Boris Borisov from the Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius", who specializes in the medieval archaeology; the team of Assoc. Prof. Milena Tonkova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who specializes in Ancient Thracian archaeology; and the team of Plamen Karailiev from the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology in the town of Radnevo.

In addition to the archaeological structures from the Late Antiquity (Early Byzantium) and the Middle Ages (the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire), the area of the newly found settlement also features remains from the periods of Ancient Thrace and the Roman Empire.

Thus, during the rescue digs, the archaeologists have come across several Ancient Thracian pits from the Late Iron Age.

It is in one of these pits that they have found a Thracian clay altar as well as a large number of ancient clay vessels, including amphorae from the Ancient Greek polis of Chios.

Another find representative of the Antiquity is a fragmented luxury Ancient Greek krater, a red-figure pottery item.

The newly found settlement has been established to cover a huge area in several quarters outside the town of Radnevo.

The most interesting discovery, the Ancient Thracian clay altar, has been found in Pit No. 18. According to the initial findings of the archaeologists, the altar dates back to the 4th century BC.

Its decoration is said to be “typical of the Thracian-Hellenic World"; yet, this is the first time a clay altar has been discovered in any of Bulgaria’s numerous archaeological sites.

The altar has a cylinder base, while its upper part is rectangular. It is made of highquality clay.

A photo from the rescue excavations of the newly found ancient and medieval settlement in the Maritsa East Mines near Bulgaria's Radnevo at the end of November 2015. Photo: Maritsa East Mines Jsc

A photo from the rescue excavations of the newly found ancient and medieval settlement in the Maritsa East Mines near Bulgaria’s Radnevo at the end of November 2015. Photo: Maritsa East Mines Jsc

Next to the pit where the clay altar has been found, the archaeologists have started exploring a building from the same Late Iron Age period.

They note that homes from this period have barely been studied in Bulgaria; the exploration of the entire set of Thracian pits and buildings found in the mine is expected to make a major contribution to the study of the residential architecture of Ancient Thrace.

The Thracian clay altar is going to be taken to the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology in Bulgaria’s Radnevo where it will be conserved.

According to Plamen Karailiev from the Museum, the entire transfer and conservation process will take the archaeologists between 6 and 8 months.

Assoc. Prof. Milena Tonkova points out that the Chios amphorae and the other ancient vessels found on the territory of the ancient and medieval settlement near Bulgaria’s Radnevo are evidence of the active commercial exchange between the Ancient Thracians and the Ancient Greeks in the 5th-4th century BC.

The management of Bulgaria’s Maritsa East Mines Jsc reminds that the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology’s collection features highly intriguing finds saved during decades of rescue excavations on the territory of the mining complex.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.