13 of Bulgaria’s Most Important Archaeological Treasures to Feature in ‘Mega-Exhibition’ of Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

The famous Ancient Thracian golden breastplate from the 5th century BC was found in 2001 in an Ancient Thracian King's burial mound (tumulus), part of a necropolis, near the town of Chernozem, Kaloyanovo Municipality, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

The famous Ancient Thracian golden breastplate from the 5th century BC was found in 2001 in an Ancient Thracian King’s burial mound (tumulus), part of a necropolis, near the town of Chernozem, Kaloyanovo Municipality, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

A “mega-exhibition" featuring a total of thirteen of Bulgaria’s top archaeological treasures is going to be organized by the Museum of Archaeology in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.

The exhibition will be part of the events of Plovdiv Municipality organized on the occasion of the city’s selection as the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

The precise dates of the megaexhibit have not been set yet but the preparation for it will start officially in January 2016, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, has announced, as cited by the Cross news agency.

He has confirmed that the top archaeological treasures that will be shown with their originals include the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the Rogozen Treasure (gold and silver), and the Valchitran Gold Treasure, all of which are from the time of Ancient Thrace, as well as the prehistoric Varna Gold Treasure, also known as the oldest gold in the world, which is from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis.

In addition, archaeological artifacts from the medieval Bulgarian Empire and the Bulgarian National Revival Period (18th-19th century) will also be included in the exhibition.

“We are starting with the preparation of the mega-exhibition in the first days of 2016; it is going to take a lot of time," Kisyov is quoted as saying.

He has also announced that in 2015 the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology has achieved great results in terms of visitor numbers and revenue.

The Museum has made BGN 160,000 (app. EUR 80,000) from the participation of its treasures in the “The Golden Legend" exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno, Tokyo, Japan (October 16, 2015 – January 11, 2016), the Miyagi Museum of Art in Sendai (January 22 – March 6, 2016), and the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya (April 1 – May 29, 2016)

“In addition to bringing us revenue, our artifacts are also promoting Plovdiv on the same level with capitals such as Paris, London, Rome, and Athens," Kisyov says.

Some artifacts from the collection of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology were also included in Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris entitled “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria" (also translated as “The Saga of the Thracian Kings"; in French: L’Épopée des rois thraces Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie).

These include the world-famous Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the gold breastplate (pictured above) from the 5th century BC discovered by Kisyov in the Thracian burial mound near the town of Chernozem, Kaloyanovo Municipality, Plovdiv District, and the finds from the Ancient Thracian necropolis near the town of Duvanlii, also in the Kaloyanovo Municipality.

The Plovdiv Museum made BGN 60,000 (app. EUR 30,000) from the showing of its artifacts in the Louvre.

In exchange for its participation in the exhibition in Paris, the Museum in Plovdiv showed an exhibit about Ancient Egypt from the Louvre entitled “Meeting an Egyptian Priest" which attracted 70,000 visitors.

However, the most popular 2015 exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology has been the exhibit entitled “Ancient Treasures from Brestovitsa".

It showed for the first time to the public a very rare war helmet of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD found during emergency excavations of the Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) known as Pamuk Mogila in Bulgaria’s Brestovitsa in 2013. The unique war helmet features mythology motifs from the Trojan War.

The “Ancient Treasures of Brestovitsa" exhibition was viewed by more than 120,000 visitors (Plovdiv’s total population is about 350,000).

Kisyov has reminded that in 2016 the archaeologists from his institution are going to stage major excavations of the 5th century Great Basilica in Plovdiv, and the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, to which Plovdiv owes the title of being Europe’s oldest city.

“The finds from these emblematic sites will enrich our archaeological collection," the Museum Director has concluded.

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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.

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The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

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The Panagyurishte Treasure, also known as the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, was found in 1949 by three brothers – Pavel, Petko and Michail Deikovi, who worked together at the region of Merul tile factory near the town of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria. It consists of a phial, an amphora and seven rhyta with total weight of 6.164 kg of 23-karat gold. All of the objects are richly and skilfully decorated with scenes from Thracian mythology, customs and life. It is dated to the 4th-3rd centuries BC, and is thought to have been used as a royal ceremonial set by the Thracian king Seuthes III.

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The Valchitran Gold Treasure was found in 1925 by accident in a vineyard near the town of Valchitran, Pleven District, in Northern Bulgaria. It is the largest Ancient Thracian gold treasure to have ever been found in Bulgaria. Its total weight is 12.5 kg, and its gold content is 88.15%, with the rest being silver and copper. The treasure consists of 13 vessels, including seven vessels in the shape of lids, four cups (one large, three smaller ones), a vessel consisting of three leaf-shaped interconnected vessels, and a krater similar to a kantharos (a large cup with a pair of handles) weighting 4.5 kg. The Valchitran Gold Treasure is dated to the 16th-12th century BC, i.e. the end of the Bronze Age. It is believed that the gold vessels were used for religious rituals by Thracian priest-kings. The treasure is part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia; a replica can be seen in the Regional Museum of History in Pleven.

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The Rogozen Treasure was discovered by chance in 1985 by a tractor driver digging a well in his garden in the town of Rogozen, Hayredin Municipality, in Northwest Bulgaria. It consists of 165 receptacles, including 108 phiales, 55 jugs and 3 goblets. The objects are silver with golden gilt on some of them with total weight of more than 20 kg. The treasure is an invaluable source of information for the life of the Thracians due to the variety of motifs in the richly decorated objects. It is dated back to the 5th-4th century BC.

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Bulgaria’s Varna Gold Treasure is the oldest processed gold in the world dating back to the time of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) Varna Culture (usually dated to 4400-4100 BC).

It was discovered in 1972 in the so called Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis during the construction of a canning factory. It was the operator of an excavator, Raycho Marinov, then aged 22, who stumbled upon several artifacts, collected them in a shoe box, and took them to his home. A couple of days later he informed the local archaeologists. For his discovery back then, Marinov was awarded BGN 500, a substantial sum for the time equaling several monthly salaries. However, the intelligence services of the Bulgarian communist regime followed him around for a while to make sure he had not kept any artifacts for himself in order to sell them.

A total of 294 Chalcolithic graves were unearthed at the necropolis which was excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists Mihail Lazarov (in 1972–1976) and Ivan Ivanov (in 1972–1991). About 30% of the estimated territory of the necropolis is yet to be excavated.

Using radiocarbon dating, in 2006, the Chalcolithic graves where the Varna Gold Treasure was found were dated to 4560-4450 BC.

The discoveries from the necropolis indicate that the Varna Culture had trade relations with distant Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. It likely exported rock salt from the Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit") rock salt mine.

The shells of the Mediterranean mollusk Spondylus found in the graves in the Varna Necropolis and at other Chalcolithic sites in Northern Bulgaria may have been used as a form of currency.

Among the graves, several featured a wealth of gold artifacts indicating that as early as the Chalcolithic the Balkan Peninsula (Southeast Europe) already had some form of statehood and a royal institution.

The gold artifacts from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis were found in graves with skeletons (mostly male) as well as in symbolic graves without human remains.

One of the most interesting inventories was found in the so called Grave No. 43 which was unearthed in the central part of the Varna Necropolis in 1974. It belonged to a male aged 40-45 but of rather substantial size for the time, 1.70-1.75 meters tall (app. 5 feet 6 – 8 inches).

The numerous gold artifacts discovered in Grave No. 43 near Bulgaria’s Varna weighbb a total of 1.5 kg which one of the reasons to believe that the buried man was a very important member of his community.

The gold items include 10 large applications, a high number of rings some which were on strings, two necklaces, an item believed to be a gold phallus, beads, golden decorations for a bow, a stone ax and a copper ax with gold decorations, a bow with gold applications.

The funeral inventory also includes a large number copper artifacts such as a copper ax, a copper claw hammer, a copper chisel and a copper awl as well as lots of stone, flint, seashell, and bone artifacts including bracelets from the Spondylus mollusk, and 11 ornately decorated ceramic vessels.

In another grave of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, Grave No. 36, a symbolic grave, the archaeologists found over 850 gold itemsa tiara, earrings, a necklace, a breastplate, bracelets, a belt, a gold hammer-scepter, a good model of a sickle, two gold lamellas representing animals, 30 models of heads of horned animals.

The artifacts were found covered with a gold-laced cloth. The gold items lined the contours of a human body with more artifacts on the right side which is deemed to signify that the grave contained a male funeral. The gold artifacts are interpreted as royal insignia.

Similar “royal" burials have also been found in graves No. 1, 4, and 5 of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis.

Another type of graves in the necropolis contains clay masks of human faces where the eyes, mouths, teeth, and noses are depicted with gold. Unlike the graves described above which contain smith tools, the graves with the mask contain clay vases, cups, and needles. That is why these are interpreted as female funerals depicting the Mother Goddess.

The closeness of the “female" symbolic graves No. 2, 3, and 15 with the symbolic royal graves No. 1, 4, and 5 are interpreted as ritual representations of holy marriages between a king and the Mother Goddess. These six funerals are believed to have been the core of the Chalcolithic Necropolis in Bulgaria’s Varna, and to have predated the rest of the graves.

Much of the meaning of the finds from the necropolis is seen as celebrating the role of the smith who in his role as a creator is seen as supplanting the role of the Mother Goddess transforming the matriarchal world into a patriarchal one.

The position of the smith in the Chalcolithic culture is seen as comparable to that of the king because during the Chalcolithic period metal was more of a status symbol than an economic means.

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