Bulgaria’s Burgas Showcases for the First Time 7,000-Year-Old Ceramic Prism with ‘Pre-Alphabetic Writing’

The signs on the Early Chalcolithic ceramic prism which has been made public by the Burgas Museum of History could be a form of pre-alphabetic writing. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The signs on the Early Chalcolithic ceramic prism which has been made public by the Burgas Museum of History could be a form of pre-alphabetic writing. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A nearly 7,000-year-old ceramic prism with what might be pre-alphabetic writing has been unveiled to the public for the first time by the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas.

The prism-shaped prehistoric artifact featuring the supposedly pre-alphabetic signs on its four sides was discovered during the excavations of an Early Chalcolithic settlement mound near Burgas back in 2008, and has never been shown to the public before.

The artifact (and the Burgas Chalcolithic Mound where it was found) dates back to the Early Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) – 4,900 / 4,850-4,600 / 4,550 BC, the Burgas Regional Museum of History has announced.

“The archaeologists believe that 7,000 years ago when the ancient people made the clay artifact, they put their own signs on its four sides. They encrusted the engravings they had made with white paste," the Museum explains.

The newly unveiled Chalcolithic ceramic prism is described as “an extraordinary item from the most ancient history of the people who inhabited the lands of today’s Burgas".

This, however, is not the first such ceramic prism with “pre-alphabetic signs" to have been discovered in the Chalolithic settlement mound in Burgas but the third one. The other two similar artifacts have already been made public in previous years.

A view of the other sides of the prehistoric ceramic prism from the Burgas Chalcolithic Settlement Mound. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A view of the other sides of the prehistoric ceramic prism from the Burgas Chalcolithic Settlement Mound. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The Burgas Museum points out that the three prism with what seems to be pre-alphabetic writing are comparable to other well-known discoveries of artifacts with prehistoric signs such as the votive tablets found near the town of Gradeshnitsa, Vratsa District, in Northwest Bulgaria, the so called Gradeshnitsa Tablets (discovered in 1969), and those from the so called Karanovo Culture, from Karanovo, Sliven District, in Eastern Bulgaria.

The Museum also emphasizes that the prehistoric signs from Gradeshnitsa and Karanovo “are still generating interest on part of the scholarshistorians and linguists alike".

The two previously known ceramic prisms with prehistoric signs from the Burgas Chalcolithic Mound are displayed in two different buildings of the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

The third prism, which has just been made public, has been included in the new special exhibition of the Burgas Museum which is entitled “A Wall of Letters", and features artifacts representing a total of 11 ancient and medieval alphabets and writing systems.

“Science will hardly ever be able to “read" what information “was recorded" on these [prisms], the archaeologists are telling us. What matters more in their view, however, is that as early as the 5th millennium BC, there were tribes of agriculturalists and stockbreeders living on [today’s] southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast who had the consciousness for “recording" information and transferring this recording from generation to generation," concludes the announcement of the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

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Two other ceramic prisms with pre-alphabetic signs have also been discovered and put on display in Bulgaria's Burgas. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Two other ceramic prisms with pre-alphabetic signs have also been discovered and put on display in Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Burgas Prehistoric 4 Burgas Prehistoric 5

Another Black Sea Bulgarian city, Varna, is home to the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, and the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure.

Learn more about the ancient and medieval predecessors of today’s Bulgarian city of Burgas, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis and the Burgos (Poros) Fortress, in the Background Infonotes below.

Background Infonotes:

The ancient and medieval fortress and port of Burgos (Poros) is located on Cape Foros in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. It was first excavated in 2008 by archaeologists Milen Nikolov (currently Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History), Dr. Tsonya Drazheva, and Konstantin Gospodinov, after access to its site was denied for decades because of the existence of a nearby military base which has been closed down in recent years. Part of its fortress wall was first discovered in 1989 during the construction of a cow farm. Even though there have been traces of ancient life, the fortress and port city of Burgos (Poros) on the Cape of Foros in Bulgaria’s Burgas is dated back to the Late Antiquity / Late Roman period, with the Bulgarian archaeologists uncovering a large number of buildings, artifacts, and pottery vessels dating back to the 4th-6th century AD.

Their excavations have revealed a complex set of fortifications, including walls, ramparts, and towers, which were rebuilt and reorganized multiple times from the 4th until the middle of the 15th century, and were in use throughout this entire period by different states: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire. Some of the more interesting finds including a stone block with an Ancient Roman inscription in Greek mentioning the name of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238-244 AD); a 2nd century AD inscription carved into stone stating that “burgi" (fortifications) were built on the border of the Roman colony of Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt) – hence, possibly, the name Burgos; a basilica; the remains of a small monastery called “St. George" which is described in a 13th century Byzantine source; the 6th century lead tube reliquary containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus, Anatolia.

The Foros pennisula was marked on Italian and Catalan maps from the 13th-17th century as an old fortress and port under the name Poro (strait) or Poros, which means that the fortress defended the waterway entry point of the nearby Lake Mandra which flows out into the Black Sea. A stone inscription dating back to the 2nd century AD (presently exhibited in the Burgas Regional Museum of History) discovered on the site states that “burgi" (fortifications) were built on the border of Roman colony Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt). Historians believe that there used to be a large fortified port along the waterway between Lake Mandra and the Black Sea which served and protected the Roman city of Deultum. The Roman road station called Pudizo marked in the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia) has been discovered in this same area.

The area of the Burgos (Poros) fortress and the Cape of Foros is also famous for being the site of a major battle during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). The so called Battle of Skafida (named after the Skafida River and the Skafida Fortress, another medieval fortress located nearby) took place in 1304 AD when the forces of Bulgarian Tsar Theodore Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322 AD) defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Michael IX Palaiologos (Palaeologus) (r. 1294-1320), after having reconquered earlier the nearby Black Sea cities of Rusocastro, Mesembria, Anchialos, Sozopolis and Agathopolis. The victory in the Battle of Skafida helped the Second Bulgarian Empire regain most of the region of Thrace from Byzantium bringing it a period of relative stability at the beginning of the 14th century, after feudal strife had put it in a state of permanent dynastic crisis at the end of the 13th century.

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The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs" by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.

The name “Aquae Calidae" comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.

The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city" in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort" for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.

The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan FIlov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve".