Ancient Thracian Gold Treasure Discovered in Rescue Digs of Burial Mound near Bulgaria’s Primorsko
An Ancient Thracian gold treasure “from the time of Alexander the Great” has been discovered by archaeologists during the rescue excavations of a Thracian burial mound near the Black Sea resort of Primorsko in Southeast Bulgaria.
The treasure consists of a total of 37 gold appliques which decorated the harness of the horse of an Ancient Thracian dynast (i.e. ruler) during parades and formal religious ceremonies, Primorsko Municipality has announced.
It has been discovered in a tomb during the rescue excavations of an Ancient Thracian burial mound located in an area known as Silihlyar, about 7 km away from the town of Primorsko, near the Black Sea coast.
The gold appliques are dated to the end of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd century BC, more precisely, to ca. 320 – 280 BC.
What has already been dubbed the “Primorsko Gold Treasure” has been presented at a news conference at the Primorsko Museum of History in the Black Sea town by its discoverers, archaeologists Assoc. Prof. Petar Balabanov from New Bulgarian University in Sofia and Daniel Pantov, Director of the Primorsko Museum. Primorsko Mayor Dimitar Germanov also participated in the presentation.
The presentation has emphasized that appliques for horse harnesses of Ancient Thracian dynasts (rulers) are rare and intriguing finds.
The newly found Ancient Thracian treasure consists of a total of 8 large and 29 small appliques. The top applique is made up of two round shields and a protome depicting an eagle’s head.
It has been noted that the Thracian rulers used the harness adornments for their horses only on very special occasions. The harness decorations were placed in their tombs as part of the burial inventories together with the horses who were sacrificed in order to follow their master into the afterlife.
The gold appliques from the Primorsko Treasure are believed to have been the work of a local Ancient Thracian goldsmith. Their decorative motifs are said to be typical of the Early Hellenistic Period.
The treasure has been discovered during rescue excavations of one of some 10 Thracian burial mounds situated in the Silihlyar area near Primorsko, after they were attacked by modern-day treasure hunters.
Immediately after it was found, the treasure was taken for safety to the Primorsko police department.
Interestingly, the archaeologists discovered that the tomb had already been looted in the Antiquity period. The golden appliques, however, had been deliberately hidden very well in order to be survive potential looting.
“We found the appliques on the last day of the [rescue] excavations. This was done with a metal detector, and was completely unexpected because we believe the [burial] chambers were already broken into in the Antiquity,” Primorsko Museum Director Daniel Pantov has revealed.
“Such sets of gold appliques were the property of the richest and noblest of aristocrats. The horse head decorations were used only for celebratory events in the life of the Thracians,” he adds.
The Ancient Thracian burial mound where the treasure has been found was probably erected after the burial of the local Thracian ruler to whom it belonged. It is the largest of the burial mounds in Silihlyar, being 6 meters tall, and measuring 110 meters in diameter.
It was also the first of all mounds in the area to have been excavated in rescue digs following the modern-day treasure hunting raids. Pantov says that the rescue excavations became possible after five-year efforts.
“The treasure is unique because it features a clearly expressed style of a local craftsman. It is a notable illustration of the local Thracian culture, and a testimony to the richness and lifestyle of the Thracian dynasts. It is worth a lot because this is not just gold but an exquisite work of art, and is also of great historical value because nobody had expected to discover a find of such scale in this region,” he adds.
“Up until now, such finds had been discovered in Northern Bulgaria, not here. Most of the similar finds have either been made of silver, or just single appliques,” elaborates the archaeologists, apparently referring to the Ivanski Gold Treasure found in 1986 near the town of Ivanski, Shumen District, in Northeast Bulgaria, and the especially impressive Sveshtari Gold Treasure found in 2012 in the the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve, Razgrad District, also in Northeast Bulgaria, which also contains other jewelry in addition to harness decoration appliques.
The Sveshtari Gold Treasure belonged to a dynast of the Getae (Gets), a powerful Thracian group of tribes who inhabited today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southern Romania, and the Ivanski Gold Treasure belonged to a dynast of the Krobyzoi tribe which was part of the tribal union of the Getae.
The newly found Primorsko Gold Treasure is associated with a different group of Thracian tribes which inhabited today’s Southeast Bulgaria and Northwest Turkey, and especially the region of the Strandzha Mountain.
“A large Ancient Thracian kingdom was consolidated in the Strandzha Mountain [in that period], with its capital in Bizye, today’s Vize in Turkey. So the finds from the Strandzha Mountain indicate that the aristocrats of this Kingdom were rather wealthy and powerful. But since not much information has been preserved about it in written sources, only archaeological discoveries can help us shed light on this page of the history of Ancient Thrace,” archaeologist and historian Petar Balabanov has stated.
Primorsko Mayor Dimitar Germanov has revealed that the recent archaeological discoveries in the Black Sea municipality are the result of a deliberate policy for the promotion of its archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage designed to boost cultural tourism implemented since 2012.
Museum Director Pantov has made clear the plans to promote archaeological sites excavated in and around Primorsko in the past two years as a cultural tourism destination.
An entire previously unknown Ancient Thracian fortress, the Pharmakida Fortress, which was the fortified residence of a dynast in the 2nd-1st century AD. Primorsko Municipality is also famous for the Beglik Tash Thracian rock shrine.
Fortified homes of aristocrats from the Ancient Thracian tribe Asti have also recently been discovered and/or excavated near the towns of Brodilovo and Sinemorets in Tsarevo Municipality on the Black Sea, right to the south of Primorsko Municipality.
The newly discovered Ancient Thracian Primorsko Gold Treasure is to be exhibited in a secure window, and will become the focus of the collection of the Primorsko Museum of History.