Snake heads hewn in the rocks can be made out at the newly discovered prehistoric rock shrine near Bulgaria’s Sarnitsa. Photo: Ivan Manuilov / Mineralni Bani Municipality
A prehistoric rock shrine with giant snake heads shaped out of the rocks has been discovered near the town of Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality, Haskovo District, in Southern Bulgaria, an archaeologist has confirmed.
The rock complex featuring what appear to be giant rock snake heads was first discovered a few weeks ago based on aerial photos of the area known as Dikilitash near Sarnitsa. The initial reports talked of the discovery of a rock city but it has now been established that the place was a prehistoric rock shrine.
Earlier in 2016, the rocks in the northern part of the Rhodope Mountains near Sarnitsa, Mineralni Bani Municipality, yielded another prehistoric archaeologicaldiscovery: the “Orlovi Skali" (meaning “Eagles’ Rocks") Shrine, also located in the Mineralni Bani Municipality, which features huge human faces hewn highinto the rocks, and dates back to the 4th millennium BC.
Later, the Ancient Thracians used parts of these shrines, though not the entire holy territory. In later periods, such as the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the shrines were no longer used as originally intended, and a number of them were turned into fortresses.
The newly discovered shrine with the giant rock snake heads has actually been found when a group of journalists from the city of Haskovo decided to the take a trip to Eagle’s Rocks Shrine to see the rock hewn human faces. As part of the trip, they used a drone for aerial photographing. The photos their drone took, however, have revealed what seem to be rocksshaped as snake heads.
While the archaeological authenticity of the rock snake shrine was at first uncertain, it has now been confirmed by archaeologist Prof. Ana Raduncheva, an expert in prehistoric rock shrines, Mineralni Bani Municipality has announced.
Raduncheva is certain that the rocks near Sarnitsa were deliberately shaped as snake heads by humans.
The rock shrine with the snake heads in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains. Photos: Ivan Manuilov / Mineralni Bani Municipality
“The snake resembling figures in the rocks over the town of Sarnitsa are categorically the work of humans, not a natural phenomenon. The snake heads form something like a defensive ring against the unenlightened. These [prehistoric] people had a dualistic society – they had secular authorities but their true rulers were the priests," the archaeologist has stated at a news conference in the town of Mineralni Bani in Southern Bulgaria.
She believes that the rock complex with the snake heads could be a cultural tourism site comparable to Stonehenge in the UK.
“In any case, this is an archaeological asset of global and European importance," she has added.
According to Raduncheva, the snake shrine near Sarnitsa is just one out of a total of over 250 similar prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains.
In her words, a similar snake rock figures have been found in Antioch, Syria, including a female figure with a snake head, and a giant reptile on a throne. Other rock shrines can be found in Italy, Spain, and all over the Mediterranean.
“The people who built this shrine complex near Sarnitsa belonged to a highly developed migrating society which left from the Rhodope Mountains around the 4th millennium BC,"Raduncheva believes.
Her hypothesis is that the prehistoric society in question migrated every 2,000 years following shifting patterns in the celestial sphere.
“They would move over a certain period of time. They came from Asia Minor, then, in 2,000 years they migrated back south via Greece to Egypt, and then again to Asia Minor," hypothesizes the archaeologist.
She also argues that the prehistoric society which hewed inthe snake heads near Bulgaria’s Sarnitsa had great naval skills, the evidence being various rock shrines found on islands in the Mediterranean.
Archaeologist Prof. Ana Raduncheva during her public presentation about the newly identified prehistoric rock shrine with the snake heads. Photos: Mineralni Bani Municipality
Raduncheva has reiterated the results from her archaeological studies that the originally prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria were subsequently inhabited by the Ancient Thracians, who also made use of some of them for religious purposes, and in the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages,forts, strongholds, churches, and monasterieswere built on many of them.
The archaeologist emphasizes that the locations of the prehistoric rock shrines in question were not convenient for living but were strategically located which is why many were used for military purposes in later periods.
Raduncheva says that more data about the rock shrine with the snake heads in Bulgaria’s Mineralni Bani Municipality can be collected in the fall when the foliage of the trees is gone. This will provide for improved visibility and exploration at the foot of the rocks. For the time being, the snake figures can be seen through aerial observation.
Other views of the rock shrine with the snake heads and its portal. Photos: Ivan Manuilov / Mineralni Bani Municipality
The journalistic trip to the Eagle’s Rocks Shrine which led to the discovery of the new, “snake" shrine near Sarnitsa was organized by Paulina Mihova. The drone photos were taken by Ivan Manuilov from the city of Stara Zagora.
“We were very surprised when Ivan Manuilov’s drone revealed a magnificent view. This was not just a single rock but an entire complex hewn into the rocks. There is good visibility only from above. The [rock] city has a clear-cut portal with a staircase leading up to it. There are also niches hewninto the rocks, which is invariable evidence of a shrine. On both sides of the portal, there are high towers hewn into the rock which resemble wrapped snakes, and end up with snake heads. The entire complex is about 900 meters long, with the portal being located close to the center,"Mihova explains.
„This is not a rock city but a series of rocks in which snake images are natural or a combination between a human body and snake head. There are more of them here than in other locations, and this is one more newly discovered part of the Rhodope Mountain system of prehistoric shrines,"archaeologist Ana Raduncheva has told the Bulgarian National Radio.
“The snake is a character which is present in many forms in the prehistoric spiritual culture. Sometimes it is a guard or keeper of the bones of sacrificial animals, sometimes it is something like an engine of time. The snake can also be an intermediary between the humans and the gods in the many cults served by rock shrines, especially at the end of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) when the institution of supreme priesthood was established," she elaborates.
Another recent archaeological discovery in the Mineralni Bani Municipality in Southern Bulgaria had to do with the exploration of the previously unexplored rock shrine near the town of Angel Voyvoda, including the finding of a previously unknown Roman fortress and an Early Christian church.