7,000-Year-Old Ceramic Fragment with Possibly ‘World’s Oldest Writing’ Discovered in Bulgaria’s Riben

Pictured at the Gradeshnitsa Tablets (actually, the two sides of a single table) discovered near Gradeshnitsa in Northwest Bulgaria back in 1969, and believed to contain some of the oldest human writing in the world. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

Pictured are the nearly 7,000-year-old Gradeshnitsa Tablets (actually, the two sides of a single table) discovered near Gradeshnitsa in Northwest Bulgaria back in 1969, and believed to contain some of the oldest human writing in the world. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

A ceramic fragment dating back to 5,000 BC with what might be “the world’s oldest writing” has been discovered in a previously unknown Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) settlement found underneath the Ancient Roman road station Ad Putea near the town of Riben, Dolma Mitropoliya Municipality, Pleven District, in Northern Bulgaria.

The archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman road station Ad Putea have been led by archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, who is, respectively, an expert in Roman archaeology.

However, during the 2016 digs in the Roman fortress near Riben the researchers have reached a settlement from the Chalcolithic, and have stumbled upon the ceramic item seemingly featuring pictographic or pre-alphabetic writing.

The writing on the artifact which is in fact a fragment from a clay vessel could turn out to be the world’s oldest, Volodya Popov, Director of the Pleven Regional Museum of History has stated when announcing the discovery, as cited by BTA.

According to Popov, who is a specialist in prehistoric archaeology, the potentially prehistoric writing found on the slab from Bulgaria’s Riben is 2,000 years older than the writing of Ancient Sumer in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. It could prove that the first ever instance of written transfer of information occurred on the territory of today’s Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula.

For the time being, the newly found 7,000-year-old ceramic fragment has been seen by archaeologists only; it is to be shown to the media and the public only in early 2017, after a conference to be held at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

However, Popov has revealed that the artifact features two pictographic signs, a swastika, and a group of other written signs.

In his words, 7,000 years ago, prehistoric ceramic vessels with written signs on them were used for religious rites and rituals. However, the decoding of the actual meaning of the writing is, of course, very difficult.

“These pictographs are codified information that was either transmitted among the people, or it was an attempt to transmit information from the [human] societies to the gods,” the archaeologist has told the Bulgarian National Television.

“The settlement in question dates back to 5,000 BC, and goes back to a period of the Copper-Stone Age which was very long. The Copper-Stone Age in the Balkans gave rise to a global civilization which laid the foundations of everything that we can witness today,” he has added.

The Director of the Pleven Museum of History is convinced that the world’s first writing developed more specifically in today’s Northwest Bulgaria. He cites as evidence not just the newly found ceramic fragment from Riben but also about 120 other “similar artifacts” with written signs discovered in the region so far.

“The first pictographic writing emerged here, in the Balkans, and, more precisely in this region of Northwest Bulgaria. All this information suggests that the proto-writing that developed into the linear writing of Sumer and the hieroglyphs of Egypt 2,000 years later started here,” he concludes.

Popov is convinced that the archaeological discoveries of pre-alphabetic writing from Bulgaria are yet to be researched systematically in order to achieve “the discovery of the century” about how humankind’s written communication emerged.

The excavations of the Ancient Roman road station Ad Putea in Bulgaria’s Riben have been terminated, and next year the site will be researched with a focus on the Chalcolithic settlement discovered underneath, with prehistory experts from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia such as Ivan Vaysov.

Probably the most famous archaeological artifacts with pre-alphabetic writing from Northwest Bulgaria so far have been the so called Gradeshnitsa Tablets (discovered in 1969 near the town of Gradeshnitsa, Vratsa District).

Another relevant example is the 7,000-year-old Chalcolithic settlement in the town of Telish, Pleven District (excavated in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov), whose research yielded an altar and ceramic vessels with possibly proto-writing signs.

Impressive prehistoric artifacts with potentially pre-alphabetic writing have also been discovered in Southeast Bulgaria – for example, those from the so called Karanovo Culture, found near Karanovo, Sliven District, in Eastern Bulgaria, and the nearly 7,000-year-old ceramic prism with what might be pre-alphabetic writing recently unveiled to the public for the first time by the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas.

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Learn more about the Ancient Roman fortress and road station Ad Putea in Bulgaria’s Riben in the Background Infonotes below!

Also check out our stories about the archaeological discoveries in the Roman fortress and road station Ad Putea in 2014 and 2015:

Roman Fortress Ad Putea in Northern Bulgaria Was Burned Down Twice during Goth Invasions, Archaeologists Find

Archaeologists Finds Sacrificial Altar of Unknown Pagan God Porobonus at Roman Road Station Ad Putea in Bulgaria’s Riben

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Roman fortress and road station Ad Putea are located on the right bank of the Vit River near the town of Riben, Dolna Mitropoliya Municipality, Pleven District, in Northern Bulgaria. It was a road station on the Via Traiana, a road used by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD).

Via Traiana, which runs through the Troyan Pass of the Balkan Mountains, was vital in Roman Emperor Trajan’s wars for conquering the Dacians, the resisting Thracian tribes north of the Lower Danube, in today’s Romania.

It linked the Ancient Roman city of Philipopolis (Trimontium) (today’s Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria) in the Roman province of Thrace, with two major Roman outposts on the Lower Danube frontier, the so called Limes Moesiae – Ulpia Oescus near today’s town of Gigen, and Novae near today’s town of Svishtov, in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior.

The Ad Putea Fortress and road station is located about 22 km south of Ulpia Oescus and 10.5 km north of the ruins of the Ancient Roman fortress of Storgozia in today’s city of Pleven.

The Ad Putea Fortress, which has an area of about 10 decares (app. 2.5 acres), has been excavated by archaeologist Petar Banov from the Pleven Regional Museum of History since the excavations started in 2013, and later by Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology.

Archaeological artifacts and structures from the 1st-3rd century AD have indicated that the site might have been an Ancient Thracian shrine before it was taken over by the Romans. The fortress and ancient buildings are only partly preserved, with some of the structures still reaching a height of up to 2.2 meters.

In 2014, the archaeologists discovered an altar dedicated to little known deity Porobonus (which according to some hypotheses is of Celtic or Thracian / Dacian origin), only the third such find after altars from Abritus (Razgrad) and Ratiaria (Archar), as well as the hypocaust (underfloor heating) of a large public Roman building, among a number of other finds.

In 2015, the archaeologists found that the Roman fortress of Ad Putea was burned down twice during Goth invasions.

The 2016 excavations of Ad Putea brought the rather exciting discovery that the Roman fort had been built on top of a Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) settlement dating back to ca. 5,000 BC, with the most intriguing find being a ceramic vessel fragment with what appear to be signs of pre-alphabetic writing.

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