History Museum in Bulgaria’s Kazanlak to ‘Digitize’ 9 Ancient Thracian Tombs with Norway / EEA Money

The nien best researched Ancient Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings in Central Bulgaria will be "digitized" as part of a Norway-funded cultural heritage project. Photo: Kazanlak Municipality

The nien best researched Ancient Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings in Central Bulgaria will be “digitized” as part of a Norway-funded cultural heritage project. Pictured is the entrance of the Griffins’ Tomb. Photo: Kazanlak Municipality

The “Iskra" Museum of History in the central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak has started a Norway/EEA-funded project for the “digitization", i.e. filming, photographing, 3D presentation, and web publication of a total of nine Ancient Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings.

The project entitled “Documenting and Digitization of Thracian Tombs, Burial Complexes, and Cultural Heritage Artifacts from the Valley of Roses and [Odrysian] Thracian Kings" is funded with a total of EUR 187,000 by the EEA/Norway Grants mechanism under a measure for the restoration, rehabilitation, and preservation of cultural heritage.

The nine Thracian burial mounds to be digitized with the tombs they contain inside are the Kazanlak Tomb (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979), the Helvetia Tomb, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Shushmanets Tomb, the Sarafova Tomb, the Golyama Kosmatka Tomb, the Golyama Arsenalka Tomb, the Sashova Tomb, and the Ostrusha Tomb.

The Norwegian and EEA development aid is presently funding nearly a dozen projects for cultural heritage “digitization" all over Bulgaria, for example, in Plovdiv and Tutrakan.

The EEA/Norway Grant mechanism is a major source of financial support for the restoration and preservation of Bulgaria’s archaeological sites and cultural heritage monuments.

In another EEA/Norway-funded project, Bulgaria’s Kazanlak has just started the delayed excavation and restoration of two of the most famous Ancient Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings, the Helvetia Tomb and the Griffins’ Tomb.

The town of Kazanlak is the center of the so called Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings. The Valley harbors some of Bulgaria’s most interesting and best researched Ancient Thracian burial mounds (tumuli) and the tombs inside them where a number of the most important kings of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BD – 1st century AD) were buried.

As part of the digitization project, the Kazanlak History Museum “Iskra" has now started a tender worth app. EUR 10,000 for hiring experts in archaeology to conduct the 3D scanning and filming of a total of nine tombs from the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings, and for their 3D modeling and the development of a geographic information system for the Valley.

These tasks for the “digitization" project, which is expected to help preserve and promote Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian cultural heritage, are supposed to be completed by the end of October 2016, the Museum has announced.

As part of the project, the Museum is going to establish a digital center that will offer 3D viewing, virtual tours, photos and video of the Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley.

The “digitization" is also going to cover the Museum’s entire collections on the Bulgarian Rose, the world-famous plant from the Kazanlak Valley used for the production of rose oil, and on archaeology, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay artifacts from the Golyama Kosmatka Tomb, the gold, silver, and clay finds from the Kazanlak Tomb, and the gold, silver, bronze, clay, stone, and marble artifacts from the submerged city of Seuthopolis, the once splendid capital of the Odrysian Kingdom which was left on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir by the Bulgarian communist regime in the 1950s.

“The results from the project will be directed towards researchers, students, archaeologists, museum workers, tourists, web users interested in cultural heritage, and people with disabilities and ethnic minorities," states the official description of the project for the “digitization" of the Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings where Bulgaria’s Kazanlak is located.

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Map of the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings in Central Bulgaria (i.e. the Kazalank Valley). Map: Kazanlak Sustainable Tourism Association

Map of the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings in Central Bulgaria (i.e. the Kazalank Valley). Map: Kazanlak Sustainable Tourism Association

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, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrysai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was one of the two most powerful states 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 Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings is a term used to describe the numerous Ancient Thracian tumuli (burial mounds) containing tombs and graves in the valley of the Central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, which was coined by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, a tracologist (an archaeologist specializing in Ancient Thrace). It is believed that over 1,500 Ancient Thracian burial mounds exist in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings alone, of which some 300 have been excavated by archaeologists. Not unlike the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Valley of the Odrysian Thracian Kings is where the Thracian rulers and high aristocrats were buried.

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The world-famous Kazanlak Tomb was discovered in 1944 (it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979). Between 1948 and 1954, Bulgarian archaeologists had the chance to explore one of the capitals of the Ancient Thracians, the ancient city of Seuthopolis.

Unfortunately, those were only rescue excavations since the then communist dictatorship in Bulgaria thought it would be a good idea to submerge Seuthopolis on the bottom of the then constructed Koprinka Water Reservoir (present day initiatives for creating an underwater island to exhibit Seuthopolis for tourists have failed to be realized). The Thracian tombs in Maglizh and Kran were discovered in 1965.

Thracian tombs from the Roman period (i.e. after Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD) were excavated near the towns of Tulovo and Dabovo in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the team of Dr. M. Domaradski explored a Thracian settlement and a necropolis near the town of Tazha.

Between 1992 and 2006, late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov led his special archaeological expedition TEMP (Tracology Expedition for Mound Research) which explored over 200 Thracian burial mounds during the Iron Age and the Roman Age in the Kazanlak Valley. The expedition’s finds include over 15 tombs, 3 brick masonry graves, and a number of rich funerals.

New discoveries after 2007 of funerals of Thracian aristocrats at Drumeva Mogila Mound near the town of Staro Selo, and Yakimova Mogila Mound near Krushare have extended the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings’ eastward along the Tundzha Valley to the city of Sliven. The traces of civilized life indicate that the Thracians continued many of the traditions of the prehistoric people who inhabited the region in today’s Central Bulgaria. This is evidenced by the Buzovgrad Megalith dating back to 1,800-1,600 BC, and the city of Seuthopolis, which was built on top of a previously existing settlement. More Thracian tumuili have been studied recently near Buzovgrad and Dolno Izvorovo.

Of all the Ancient Thracian burial mounds with their tombs and graves in the Valley of the Odrysian Thracians Kings, only the Kazanlak Tomb has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1979). However, in 2012, Kazanlak Municipality started preparing its application for seeking UNESCO World Heritage Status for several more of the most major Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings’ – the Golyama Kosmatka Tomb, the Ostrusha Tomb, the Shushmanets Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, and the Griffins’ Tomb.

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The Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as the Helvetia Tomb is located near the town of Shipka, Kazanlak Municipality in Central Bulgaria. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC. It was discovered in 1996 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, and was named after the Swiss foundation Helvetia which supported Kitov’s excavations at the time. It is the second tumulus from the necropolis around the Shushmanets Mound. The stone funeral bed and stone benches found inside it indicate that the tomb was used as a mausoleum-shrine where Orphic Mysteries (connected with the cult for mythical Ancient Thracian poet Orpheus) were probably performed. The tomb had a mechanism for locking from the inside. A small furrow at its doorstep indicates that sacrifices were performed there, which is the first time this has been discovered in a Thracian tomb. The Helvetia tomb-shrine was emptied or robbed in the Antiquity period. Yet, the Bulgarian archaeologists have found there several silver artifacts including silver applications and buttons as well as two fully preserved horse skeletons.

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The Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as the Griffins’ Tomb is located near the town of Shipka, Kazanlak Municipality in Central Bulgaria. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC. It was discovered in 1996 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, and was named after the depictions of griffin heads discovered above its entrance. It is the third tumulus from the necropolis around the Shushmanets Mound, and the largest domed tomb from Ancient Thrace discovered to date. The door to the Griffins’ Tomb was found crushed in several pieces. The Bulgarian archaeologists have established that the tomb was robbed back in the Antiquity period. Inside its funeral chamber, there is a stone funeral bed and a small stone table in front of it. It was built with stone blocks connected with iron brackets. It is believed to have been built 1-2 decades after the Golyama Arsenalka tomb. Despite the ancient robbery, the archaeologists excavating the Griffins’ Tomb discovered two golden jewels, golden flakes, and small pieces of silver and bronze.

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