Burgas Museum Disproves Reports of Discovery of ‘Giants’ Skeletons’ in Bulgaria’s Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Exposed archaeological structures at the Rusocastro Fortress located in Kameno Municipality, Burgas District, in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Exposed archaeological structures at the Rusocastro Fortress located in Kameno Municipality, Burgas District, in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas has issued a statement disproving reports, which have recently hit Bulgarian news sites and newspapers, about an alleged discovery of skeletons of “giants" at the major medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress and city of Rusocastro back in 2011.

The statement was issued by Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Museum, and the lead archaeologist of the excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress, which is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century. It was also the last major battle of the seven-century-long Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars for domination of the Balkan Peninsula (lasting from the 7th until the 14th century), which ended when, weakened by their hostilities against one another, among other factors, Bulgaria and Byzantium were both conquered by the Ottoman Turkish invaders at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.

During the 1332 Battle of Rusocastro, the then still young Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) led personally his troops against the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD). As a result, the Second Bulgarian Empire forced Byzantium to rescind its claims to the rich medieval cities on the southwestern Black Sea coast which remained parts of Bulgaria for a few more decades.

The reports about the “unreported" 2011 discovery of human remains of “giants" emerged as part of the story about Kameno Municipality’s decision to allocate funding for the 2016 archaeological excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress. Their original author remains unknown but they were reprinted by a lot of Bulgarian online media outlets.

They stated that “mysterious giants" lived in Rusocastro, that their skeletons were discovered in 2011, and that “it remains a mystery who these people were and where they came from".

The false reports did state correctly that the skeletons discovered in a necropolis at Rusocastro in 2011 were 1.8 meters tall (app. 6 feet 1 inch) meaning that the actual height of the humans in question was no less than 1.9 meters and possibly even up to 2 meters.

They further noted that the necropolis in question dates back to the 13th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) was attacked from the northeast by the Tatars (Mongols), that after them a lot of Cumans and Alans settled on Bulgaria’s territories, and that the “giants" from Rusocastro probably stemmed from these medieval peoples.

The bogus reports even concluded that “the [giants’ skeletons] are about to produce a real sensation and turn the region into a top region on Bulgaria’s archaeological map".

In response to these fake stories and questionable deliberations of certain Bulgarian online media which cited no particular archaeological sources, the lead archaeologist of the Rusocastro Fortress excavations has made it clear that “the actual situation does not correspond to what has been reported in the media", and that “the original source of this information remains absolutely unknown".

The Director of the Burgas Museum explains that indeed in 2011, during the extraction of construction materials near the Rusocastro Fortress, medieval graves from a large necropolis were exposed. The necropolis was located in one of the suburbs of the city of Rusocastro.

The ensuing rescue excavations revealed that in one of the two levels of the necropolis, the funerals dating to the 13th century consisted of graves in rectangular pits carved into the rocks.

“In 3 or 4 cases, the skeletons found in these pits were of rather large size – they were up to 1.80-1.83 meters long. This means that, when alive, those humans were about 1.95-2.00 meters tall. This was a rare phenomenon in the Middle Ages, but it is not unusual, and these were not “giants from an extinct civilization", as some media have reported," Nikolov states.

He adds that in the second level of the necropolis, the skeletons had a “normal height" of about 1.60-1.70 meters.

“This is the true archaeological situation," sums up the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

The archaeologist also explains that the excavations planned for 2016 are designed “not to look for the above mentioned “giants" but to research the citadel of the Rusocastro Fortress in order to go ahead with the conservation and exhibition of the preserved architectural monuments".

Nikolov concludes by stating he is happy about the media interest in the cultural and historical heritage of Bulgaria and Burgas region but he is calling upon the news sites, radio stations, and the press to verify with the responsible archaeologists whenever they come across seemingly suspicious information such as the story about the “giant skeletons from an extinct civilization" from Rusocastro.

Another “giant skeleton" story emerged in Bulgaria in the spring of 2015 during the rescue excavations of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of the ancient city of Odessos (Odessus) in the downtown of the Black Sea city of Varna.

An exposed part of a skeleton found right underneath the fortress wall led eyewitnesses and media to report that it belonged to a man of unusual size for the Late Antiquity period. The archaeologists managed to measure the skeleton only after completing the digs, and found it to be only 1.65 meters tall.

For more details and photos of the Rusocastro Fortress and the Battle of Rusocastro check out the Background Infonotes below and our original article:

Bulgaria’s Kameno, Burgas Museum to Excavate Rusocastro Fortress Known for Last Big Victory of Medieval Bulgarian Empire

Bulgarian Archaeologists Come Across Late Antiquity Toilet at Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Bulgarian Royal Seal at Rusocastro Fortress

10th Century Lead Seal of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I Discovered by Locals in Field near Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World", where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield" of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.