Trapezoid-shaped niches carved into the rocks at the recently discovered Eagles’ Rocks prehistoric shrine near Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe.bg
A large amount of human labor went into the hewing and shaping of the huge human faces which are hewn into the newly discoveredprehistoric rock shrine Orlovi Skali (“Eagles’ Rocks") near the town of Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, says archaeologist Prof. Ana Raduncheva.
“This is a very pleasant discovery,"Raduncheva has told local news site Haskovo.net in a video interview.
She is positive there is no doubt the human faces, rock niches, and rock altar at the newly found rock shrine were made by humans who put a great amount of labor into the carving of these structures.
The Eagles’ Rocks shrine has recently been discovered by accident by young Bulgarian photographer Miroslav Chobanov, 24, from the Mediacafe.bg website. He came across one of the huge rock carved human faces while photographing eco trails in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, which are known for their magical natural landscape and countless archaeological sites.
A total of three huge human faces hewn into the rocks have been discovered, each of which is between 7 and 10 meters tall; one of them is believed to be a female face, while the other two are thought to represent males.
A sacrificial rock altar which was most probably also used as an astronomical observatory has also been found.
Based on the pottery fragments discovered at the site of the shrine, Raduncheva and Ivanova date it back to the second half of the 4th millennium BC (3500-3000 BC), some 2,000 years before the rise of the civilization of Ancient Thrace.
Both archaeologists have studied for decades the prehistoric rock shrines in the Rhodope Mountains and elsewhere in Bulgaria, and have concluded that they, including the newly found shrine at Eagles’ Rocks, have been made by the same prehistoric civilization from the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age).
One of the total of three human faces hewn into the newly discovered prehistoric Eagles’ Rocks shrine in Mineralni Bani Municipality in Southern Bulgaria. This particular human side face profile is believed to represent a female face. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe
The male side face profile at the prehistoric Eagles’ Rocks shrine near Bulgaria’s Sarnitsa which was noticed by accident by young photographer Miroslav Chobanov, leading to the discovery of the shrine. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe
The third side face human profile hewn into the Eagles’ Rocks shrine is not so well preserved; it, too, is believed to represent a male figure. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe
“Of course, there has been natural aeolation and rock decay but it is certain that a lot of human labor has been used,"Raduncheva explains.
“Nature can be deceptive but here the human activity is obvious. Actually, the two have been combined. Wherever there are caves, there are niches. And all of these niches are entirely human-made. In the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, most caves are actually human-made," she elaborates.
In addition to the huge human heads and the sacrificial altar / astronomical observatory, the newly discovered rock shrine at Eagles’ Rocks in Bulgaria’s MineralniBani Municipality, Haskovo District, also features makeshift stairways carved into the rocks and numerous trapezoid-shaped niches hewn high into the rocks.
The archaeologist jokes that “this time the treasure hunters did something useful" because during their three-day exploration of the newly found rock shrine at Eagles’ Rocks, she and her colleague Stefanka Ivanova were able to easily recover fragments of prehistoric ceramic vessels from an abandoned pit dug up by treasure hunters.
Asked to summarize on her main findings during her decades of work on the number of prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria such as Belintash, Tatul, Perperek (also known as Perperikon or Perperik), Gluhite Kamani (“the Deaf Stones"), and Dolnoslav, Raduncheva says her main achievement is proving that the entire “shrine system" covering a holy territory was the work of a single civilization during the Chalcolithic period, with some of the shrines having been started at the very end of the Neolithic.
“The people from the plains created these shrines in the mountains. In certain days and hours which they knew they had to be there to meet with their gods, and to offer sacrifice, they would go up to the shrines. It is also possible that they went from one shrine to the next but we cannot determine their [shrine routes] for certain,"Raduncheva says.
“After [this prehistoric civilization], the Ancient Thracians used parts of these shrines, though not the entire holy territory. And then came later ages when the shrines were no longer used as originally intended. A number of them were turned into medieval fortresses," she adds.
She points out that one of the shrines in question is the Tatul Rock Shrine, which has been explored by archaeologists Stefanka Invanova and Nikolay Genov. Among other things, it is known for hypotheses that it might have been the shrine of Ancient Thracian poet and musician Orpheus.
However, Raduncheva says it is much older, and that aerial viewing has led to the conclusion that in the 4th millennium BC, the entire hill where the shrine is located was shaped as a prehistoric idol; the shrine itself is situated on the idol’s head.
Views of the Eagles’ Rocks shrine, part of the prehistoric holy territory in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe
A view of the entire Eagles’ Rocks formation. Some of the trapezoid-shaped rock niches are visible, and so is the female human side face profile on the left, in the back row of rocks. Compare it with the image on the second photo above. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe
The archaeologist notes also that the name of this first prehistoric European civilization which existed before the Ancient Thracians could not be known because it had no script and left no written sources.
“We can’t say what their name was. They were peoples without writing. These were our very, very distant ancestors,"Raduncheva notes.
She explains the prehistoric civilization in question raised livestock and employed agriculture for a living, but also hunted extensively. It had in-depth knowledge ofastronomy which was kept by a class of priests serving the rock shrines.
In her words, this first European civilization which developed on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria came from Asia Minor.
“In Asia Minor, there are similar rock shrines, niches, and sites some of which are 12,000 years old. This civilization came here during the Neolithic, and its universe was adopted and developed further [by this first European civilization],"Raduncheva concludes.
Also check out our original article on the discovery of the Eagles’ Rocks prehistoric shrine which also includes more photos:
The prehistoric sacrificial altar / astronomical observatory at the Eagles’ Rocks shrine. The rock where it is located has been named Chobanov’s Rock, after its discoverer. Photo: Miroslav Chobanov, Mediacafe