Celtic Shrine Discovered in Bulgaria’s Sboryanovo Showing Celts Mixed with Ancient Thracian Getae Tribes

Lead archaeologist Prof. Diana Gergova showing the ritually bent romphaia (ancient iron sword) found in the pits surrounding the newly discovered Celtic shrine in Bulgaria’s Sboryanovo Preserve. Photo: Radio Shumen

An ancient Celtic shrine has been discovered during archaeological excavations in the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve known as the “Holy Land of the Getae”, a powerful group of Ancient Thracian tribes who inhabited today’s Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania and were either the same as or closely related to the Dacians.

The discovery of the Celtic shrine has been made by the team of Prof. Diana Georgova, an expert in Ancient Thrace and long-time researcher of the Getae (Gets) and the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve near Bulgaria’s Isperih.

The Sboryanovo Preserve is home numerous archaeological monuments from different historical periods such as the Sveshtari Tomb inside the Ginina Burial Mound (discovered in 1982, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, possibly the tomb of Getic King Dromichaetes), the Great Sveshtari Mound (another Antiquity mound which is also known as the Mound of Khan Omurtag, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in 814-831 AD because of legends he was buried there), the ruins of what likely was the capital of the Ancient Getae, Dausdava (i.e. “City of Wolves), and / or the Hellenistic city of Helis, and the 16th century Muslim Alevi shrine Demir Baba Teke (from the Ottoman Turkish period).

More recently, archaeologist Diana Gergova’s excavations in Sboryanovo made international headlines with the 2012 discovery in the Great Svetshari Mound of the impressive Sveshtari Gold Treasure, which may have belonged to 4th century BC Getic King Cothelas.

Another major discovery which came in 2013 was a two-wheeled ancient chariot with two fully-preserved horse skeletons uniquely set to appear as if the horses were still in motion.

The newly discovered Celtic shrine, which was found during the 2016 summer excavations in Sboryanovo, has a rectangular shape and was surrounded with a moat, Gergova has told the BTA news agency.

It is inside these pits that her team has found ancient arms, including a “ritually bent” sword, a romphaia. A Celtic warrior’s buckle has been discovered inside the ritual pit in the middle of the shrine.

The artifacts from the newly found Celtic shrine in Northeast Bulgaria are dated to ca. 300-250 BC.

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The newly found ancient Celtic shrine is dated to the beginning – middle of the 3rd century BC. Students and volunteers from six European countries participated in the excavations. Photos: Radio Shumen

“For us, this is an extremely important new discovery. We have come across a shrine, a typically Celtic ritual spot, which the Celts probably built near the Great Sveshtari Mound. This is of great satisfaction for me because I have also stated that research that this place warrants very in-depth research,” Gergova has told Radio Focus – Shumen.

The archaeologist notes that the earliest evidence of the settlement of Celtic tribes in the Balkans come precisely from the lands of the Ancient Thracian Getae in Northeast Bulgaria.

“This new discovery doesn’t have the luster of gold and silver but it provides us with additional information about the Celts’ presence in Sboryanovo, and [the fact that] probably accepting that this was a holy territory, they left their mark digging in a shrine with a typically rectangular shape such as the ones found in the Celtic world,” Gergova elaborates, expressing hopes that further excavations will probably provide more Celtic finds in the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve.

Gergova says the iron romphaia is of an unknown variety although a similar one has been found near Dobrich, further to the east in Northeast Bulgaria, and that the Celtic warrior’s buckle is a modest one but very precious from a scientific point of view because it provides further evidence about the presence of the Ancient Celts in the lands of the Getae.

A skeleton of a person buried in the fetal position has been found in one of the pits surrounding the Celtic shrine, with the lead archaeologist hypothesizing that it belonged to a female. The skeleton is yet to be subject to anthropological analysis.

Gergova has pointed out that the new finds of armaments and munitions, all of which have been discovered around the likely burial mound of Getic King Cothelas, provide previously unknown evidence about the presence of the Celts in today’s Bulgaria and their relations with the Ancient Thracian tribes of the Getae.

The archaeologist says her findings indicate that the Celts and the Getae seem to have enjoyed peaceful and cooperative relations.

She has found no evidence of battles between them but, rather, of intermarriage of Celts and Getae. This hypothesis is partly based on discoveries of small Celtic adornments indicating that Celtic women married Getic men.

“We are finding extremely precious, sensational evidence that the Celts, in their apparently peaceful cohabitation with the Getae, could afford, and, I would say, felt comfortable enough to build this Celtic shrine,” Gergova says, as quoted by Radio Shumen.

“We have no data of battles but of the penetration of Celts and Celtic women, there probably were mixed marriages with the Getae since small Celtic adornments have been found. It is also apparent that there were political relations as well, as indicated by the Celtic chariot with two horses found in the nearby burial mound a couple of years ago,” she has told local news site Top Novini Razgrad.

The newly found shrine provides further evidence about the presence of Celts in today’s Northeast Bulgaria who seem to have been closely allied with the local Getae in the 3rd century BC. Photo: Top Novini Razgrad

The discovery of the Celtic shrine was made during the 2016 summer archaeological excavations in the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve in Northeast Bulgaria, which focused on studying three destroyed ancient burial mounds located near the Great Sveshtari Mound.

The digs featured international participants from Geneva University in Switzerland, and Erasmus program volunteers from six European countries with the support of the Hope Foundation, a Bulgarian NGO.

In all of her public and media appearances dedicated to the discovery of the Celtic shrine, lead archaeologist Diana Gergova has raised alarm about the dismal condition of most of the extremely valuable archaeological monuments in the Sboryanovo Preserve such as the Iron Age Thracian shrine at Kamen Rid (“Stone Ridge”) and medieval Bulgarian Christian monuments urging the Bulgarian institutions to intervene in order to rescue the preserve from abandonment and notorious treasure hunting raids.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

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The Getae (or Gets) were Thracian tribes inhabiting the regions on both sides of the Lower Danube in today’s Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania. They were either the same as, or closely related to the Dacians north of the Danube, and are sometimes collectively referred to as Getae-Dacians or Thraco-Getae.

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The Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex is an archaeological preserve located near the town of Sveshtari including over 140 archaeological and cultural monuments – from prehistoric and Thracian necropolises to medieval and modern-day Christian and Muslim shrines.

It includes the Iron Age Thracian shrine at Kamen Rid (“Stone Ridge”); the Sveshtari Tomb inside the Ginina Burial Mound (discovered in 1982, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, possibly the tomb of Getic King Dromichaetes); the Great Sveshtari Mound (another Antiquity mound which is also known as the Mound of 4th century BC Getic King Cothelas or the Mound of Khan Omurtag, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in 814-831 AD because of legends he, too, was buried there); the ruins of what likely was the capital of the Ancient Getae, Dausdava (i.e. “City of Wolves), and / or the Hellenistic city of Helis; medieval Bulgarian Christian monuments; the 16th century Muslim Alevi shrine Demir Baba Teke (from the Ottoman Turkish period).

The Sboryanovo Preserve has been excavated by archaeologist Prof. Diana Gergova whose 2012 excavations made international headlines with the discovery in the Great Svetshari Mound of the impressive Sveshtari Gold Treasure, which may have belonged to Getic King Cothelas.

Another major discovery which came in 2013 was a two-wheeled ancient chariot with two fully-preserved horse skeletons uniquely set to appear as if the horses were still in motion.

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