5,000-Year-Old Prehistoric Rock Shrine with Huge Human Faces Hewn In Discovered in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains
“Orlovi Skali” (meaning “Eagles’ Rocks”), a beautiful rock formation located near the town of Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, has been identified as a prehistoric rock shrine from the 4th millennium BC, i.e. the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), after the accidental discovery of huge human faces hewn into the rocks.
The Mineralni Bani (“Mineral Baths”) Municipality is located in Bulgaria’s Haskovo District, on the northern slopes of the (Eastern) Rhodope Mountains, which are known for both their magical natural landscapes and countless archaeological and historical monuments from all time periods.
The discovery of the prehistoric rock shrine has been made by accident by young Bulgarian photographer Miroslav Chobanov, 24, who noticed and photographed a human side face hewn high into the rocks at the Orlovi Skali (“Eagles’ Rocks”) formation.
Now his discovery has been examined and verified by two archaeologists specializing in Prehistory, and especially in the study of the numerous prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria’s mountains, Prof. Ana Raduncheva and Assoc. Prof. Stefanka Ivanova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Chobanov first made the discovery of the Chalcolithic rock shrine with the human faces hewn into the rocks by the prehistoric inhabitants of what today is Southern Bulgaria about a month ago while he was photographing eco trails in the Rhodope Mountains for the Mediacafe.bg website.
“About a month ago, as we were taking photos of the eco trails, I came across a human head hewn into the rock. I had climbed up [the Eagles’ Rocks] using a climbing rope up to a height of about 40 meters, from where I saw this side face profile of a male human face,” photographer Miroslav Chombanov has told ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com.
“I wondered what to do in order to make this find known. We started banging the phones, and we eventually managed to get in touch with Prof. Raduncheva and Assoc. Prof. Ivanova from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and they agreed to come over [to examine the find],” he continues his discovery story.
The archaeologists have taken a three-day trip together with the photographer to study the Eagles’ Rocks in near Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality.
They are now positive that the natural rock formation was fashioned into a major rock shrine by humans during the Copper Age, between 3500 BC and 3000 BC.
Their findings, which have officially identified the rocks as a prehistoric archaeological site, have been formally presented at a news conference in the town of Mineral Bani.
Raduncheva and Ivanova have found prehistoric ceramics at the site of the Chalcolithic rock shrine dating back to the second half of the 4th millennium BC, which means that the prehistoric civilization that created the rock monuments, often described as the first European civilization, predates the civilization of Ancient Thrace by roughly 2,000 years.
During their three-day exploration of the Eagles’ Rocks formation, the archaeologists and the photographer made further discoveries: they found two more half face human profiles hewn into the rocks – one which appears to be female, and another one which appears to be male but is not as well preserved as the other two.
Each of the human side faces hewn into the rocks measures about 7-8, up to 10 meters in height, and each of them stands at a height of about 30-40 meters above the ground.
It is possible that the shrine had an entire gallery of human faces carved out of the rocks but not all of them have been preserved.
The facts that they are located high up on the rocks, and that at least one of them is visible only from a certain angle, are the reasons they, and, respectively, the entire Chalcolithic shrine, have remained unnoticed in modern times, until now.
What is more, however, on the top of rocky formation, the photographer and the archaeologists have found what appears to have been a sacrificial altar (or an astronomical observatory, or both) hewn into the rocks which resembles the altars at other well-known ancient shrines in Bulgaria’s Eastern Rhodope Mountains – the Tatul Shrine located a few dozen kilometers to the south, and the shrine near the town of Angel Voivoda, which is also situated in the Mineralni Bani Municipality.
The shrine also features numerous niches, including trapezoid-shaped niches found high up on the side of the rocks (view photos of those in our follow-up article), and what seem to be stairways carved into the rocks.
“This time I climbed another cliff which was also about 40 meters tall, with no rope, and I saw this rock formation which looks like the sacrificial altars at Angel Voivoda and Tatul. The archaeologists have confirmed that this was hewn into the rock by humans, and is not a natural phenomenon,” Chobanov says.
The half face female profile has been found hewn into the rock opposite the cliff with the sacrificial altar / astronomical observatory.
“Every 2,000 years, the celestial sphere changes, with some constellations rising, and others setting. The people who inhabited this territory followed their gods. Their pantheon was based on the constellations they observed on the sky. As the constellation moved, so did they, in order to be able to see it, because they thought the constellations were what controlled their lives. In this sense, all shrines were used as astronomical observatories as well, not just as a holy place for pilgrimage and meetings wibth the gods. The great and powerful knowledge was kept by the class of priests who served the mountain shrines,” says Raduncheva who has been studying the prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria for several decades, including as part of international teams.
In a follow-up interview on the discovery, Raduncheva has explained that a great deal of human labor went into the carving of the Eagles’ Rocks shrine, revealing more details about her research.
Archaeologists Raduncheva and Ivanova are positive that the human faces and the altar at Eagles’ Rocks were hewn in by humans without metal tools, by using other stones, i.e. stone tools.
They have emphasized, however, that while the Eagles’ Rocks formation has now been identified as a prehistoric shrine from the Aeneolithic, it was not in fact an isolated shrine but part of an entire system of a holy prehistoric territory far along the northern ridges of the Rhodope Mountains.
“The [holy territory] starts somewhere near Mount Kupena, and goes along the entire ridge of the mountain. There are similar rock structures that were hewn there, and which appear connected to the shrine at Eagles’ Rocks. Similar shrines can also be found in [other mountains in Bulgaria] such as the Sredna Gora Mountain and the Balkan Mountains,” Raduncheva says.
“This shrine [at Eagles’ Rocks] is part of an entire system of shrines from the 4th millennium BC. All of its parts existed in unison with one another. The people who created them and used them probably visited all of them in the days when they were supposed to according to their religion. There is water here, caves, and niches, which is a must. A magnetic anomaly has not been measured yet but the experience of the archaeoastronomers working at most of the [rock] shrines in Bulgaria shows that there must a magnetic anomaly as well. It is true that at places like this, one does feel more energetic,” elaborates the archaeologist.
She adds that the prehistoric people would give finishing touches to a certain rock in order to shape out of it the image that they wished, or sometimes they would even modify an entire rock transforming it completely into the image that corresponds to their religion. No traces of metal tools have been found at the Eagles’ Rocks shrine.
“The [half face] profile at Eagles’ Rocks is very beautiful. It can be described as an intelligent profile. The pottery we found is from the second half of the 4th millennium, about 2000 years before the Ancient Thracians. This shrine is indeed a major discovery, an addition to the entire shrine system in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, including the shrines at Belintash, Tatul, Perperek (also known as Perperikon or Perperik), and Gluhite Kamani (“the Deaf Stones”),” Raduncheva concludes.
“This was one of the most developed prehistoric civilizations, and we have the honor that it inhabited our territories. This was the first European civilization. Not a culture but a civilization. These were the people who were the first in the world to process gold, who extracted rock salt which at the time equaled the worth of gold, and who had a very developed religious system, and conducted very serious astronomical observations,” explains in turn Assoc. Prof. Stefka Ivanova.
The rock of the Eagles’ Rocks shrine where the sacrificial altar / astronomical observatory is located will be named Chobanova Skala (“Chobanov’s Rock”), after photographer Miroslav Chobanov who discovered the Chalcolithic shrine.
Bulgaria’s Mineralni Bani Municipality says it has already provided 24/7 security at the site of the Eagles’ Rock shrine in order to protect it from treasure hunters.
For the time being, it remains unclear as to who is going to study the shrine further, now that it has been identified, and is no longer just a natural phenomenon but a full-fledged prehistoric archaeological site.
Learn more about the discovery of the Eagles’ Rocks shrine and other prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria in our follow-up article which also contains more photos: