Huge Roman Gravestone Found in Field Leads to Discovery of Tomb with Gold Amulet near Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni

The newly discovered Ancient Roman gravestone weights some 2 metric tons, and features a relief of the Thracian Horseman (Heros), the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians. Photo: Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

The newly discovered Ancient Roman gravestone weights some 2 metric tons, and features a relief of the Thracian Horseman (Heros), the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians. Photo: archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

A huge gravestone from the grave of a prominent Roman citizen has been found by accident in a field near the town of Pavlikeni in Central North Bulgaria spurring emergency excavations which led to discovery of a tomb containing golden amulet.

The Roman gravestone has been found by a local man, Valentin Savov, as he was plowing a field with a tractor near the ruins of an Ancient Roman ceramics factory and villa estate, archaeologist Kalin Chakarov, curator at the archaeology section of the Pavlikeni Museum of History, has told ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com.

The Ancient Roman ceramics production center near Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni has an area of 139 decares (app. 34.3 acres).

It was part of the villa estate of a Roman military veteran, and is dated to the end of the 1st century AD – the beginning of the 2nd century AD. It was destroyed at the end of the 2nd century AD in a barbarian invasion by the Goths.

Pavlikeni Municipality recently launched a project for the conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman pottery making center with an EUR 740,000 grant from the Norway Grants / European Economic Area (EEA) Grants, a development aid mechanism of the governments of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

The gravestone found in a field near the Ancient Roman ceramics factory in Bulgaria's Pavlikeni is huge, weighing some 2 metric tons. Photo: Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

The gravestone found in a field near the Ancient Roman ceramics factory in Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni is huge, weighing some 2 metric tons. Photo: archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

After stumbling upon the gravestone with his plow in late October 2016, the tractor driver notified the local museum leading archaeologist Kalin Chakarov to immediately examine the find, and start emergency digs as a result.

The ancient gravestone has been found to be 3 meters tall and 1.2 meters wide, and to weigh about 2 metric tons.

It features stone carved images of two women, one of them on an altar, and an image of a man as well as a relief of the Thracian Horseman, also known as Heros, the alleged supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians. (After the Romans conquered all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD, the local Thracian aristocracy became well integrated into the Roman society.)

The lower part of the gravestone, which probably collapsed face down, has a perfectly preserved inscription in Latin addressing the gods of the underworld.

It also reveals that the buried man was named Gaius Ursidius Senecionis, that he “lived with dignity for 40 years", and that his funeral and the erection of the gravestone were arranged by his wife Iulia Valentina.

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The inscription on the gravestone is the most detailed source of written information about the site of the Roman ceramics production center in Pavlikeni discovered to date. Photo: Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

The inscription on the gravestone is the most detailed source of written information about the site of the Roman ceramics production center in Pavlikeni discovered to date. Photo: archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov explored the site where the tractor driver found the Ancient Roman gravestone was discovered for several weeks carrying out four drillings around it.

His efforts were rewarded several days after the accidental finding of the stone when he discovered a tomb, or, rather, a grave built of brick masonry and mortar, which was covered with stone slabs sealed together with mortar solution.

Chakarov found out that one of the slabs in the southeast corner of the grave is missing, while two of the bricks have been displaced. This initially led him to conclude that the grave was robbed back in the Antiquity period, with the robbers extracting most of the precious funeral inventory through the opening they made in the corner.

His conclusion was confirmed later, after the opening of the grave, which revealed that the bones inside had been scattered, with only several teeth and a few bones surviving in a good condition, and with few remaining artifacts from the funeral inventory.

However, the archaeologist notes that the ancient treasure hunters failed to find and extract part of the afterlife inventory of the Roman man’s grave.

Thus, Chakurov has found inside the tomb a wooden toiletries box, a golden amulet in the form of Hercules’ (Heracles’) crook, as well as a bronze coin of Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD).

“One of the most interesting finds is the [surviving part of the wooden] box. Wood is very rarely found intact in the archaeological layers in Bulgaria. In the excavated grave [we] found an entire segment of a wooden box with relief decoration and a metal structure," Chakarov explains.

“Inside it, the relatives of the buried man had probably placed the valuable belongings that he was supposed to use in the afterlife," he adds.

The archaeologist says that even though the discovered coin of Roman Emperor Hadrian is from the early 2nd century, the grave most probably dates back to the end of 2nd – beginning of the 3rd century AD.

Underneath the huge gravestone, he found a clay pit which is 2.9 meters long and 3.6 meters wide.

The rescue excavations at the site where the gravestone was discovered led to the discovery of a masonry grave. Photo: Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

The rescue excavations at the site where the gravestone was discovered led to the discovery of a masonry grave. Photo: archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

Chakarov hypothesizes that at an earlier time, the site in question was probably used for as a clay quarry providing material for the nearby pottery workshops of the Ancient Roman ceramics center.

The pit was dug down through three geological layers, the lowest of which contains yellow clay. The researcher believes that this raw material was sought after by the Romans which explains the substantial depth of the pit.

“These finds are of great importance about the history of the Roman villa in the Ancient Ceramics Center near Pavlikeni. For the first time, we have reliable data about the location of the cemetery, and the usage of the site before that," Chakarov says.

“We have found the most detailed written monument about this place so far. Thanks to it, we now know two of the residents in the villa, Gaius Ursidius and Iulia Valentina, who were probably relatives of the founder of the estate," he elaborates.

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A bronze coin of Roman Emperor Hadrian and a golden amulet were missed by the ancient treasure hunters who robbed the Roman man's tomb. Photo: Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

A bronze coin of Roman Emperor Hadrian and a golden amulet were missed by the ancient treasure hunters who robbed the Roman man’s tomb. Photo: archaeologist Kalin Chakarov

The archaeologist emphasizes that the family name Ursidius was relatively rare in the Roman Empire, and that one other grave of a man named Gaius Ursidius is known in Perugia, Italy.

“Whether there was any connection between these two namesakes, it is yet to be found after the research is completely," Chakarov says.

The newly discovered Ancient Roman artifacts are yet to be studied in detail, while the bones found in the grave are to be subject to anthropological analysis which could provide further evidence whether a 40-year-old man, i.e. Gaius Ursidius, was indeed buried there.

The huge gravestone featuring the relief of the Thracian Horseman is to be displayed in the Ancient Roman Ceramic Center, while the artifacts have been added to the collection of the local Museum of History.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Roman ceramics factory and Roman military veteran’s villa near the town of Pavlikeni in Central Northern Bulgaria was found in 1971 by Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Sultov who excavated it for about a decade. It is the only known Ancient Roman ceramic factory in Southeast Europe. The Ancient Roman ceramic production center near Pavlikeni is located on a plot of 139 decares (app. 34.3 acres). It was part of the villa estate of a Roman military veteran, and is dated to the end of the 1st century AD.

The ceramic production started at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Archaeological excavations have revealed a total of 52 kilns for baking household and construction ceramics which was traded and sold in the entire region. The Ancient Roman villa estate with its ceramic factory was destroyed at the end of the 2nd century AD in a barbarian invasion by the Goths.

The excavations of the Roman ceramic center near Pavlikeni were terminated in the 1982, and were resumed only in the summer of 2014 with minor funding from Pavlikeni Municipality. In 2015, the Municipality and the Pavlikeni Museum of History won a EUR 736,000 grant for the partial restoration and rehabilitation of the site. In addition to Ancient Roman buildings and kilns, the excavations there have revealed numerous ceramic vessels, tools, jewelry, and even Ancient Roman child toys.

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