Archaeologists Find 7,000-Year-Old Male Figurines Wearing Ram Masks in Late Neolithic Settlement near Bulgaria’s Damyanitsa

One of the newly discovered figurines from the Late Neolithic settlement excavated near Bulgaria’s Damyanitsa. Photo: BNT

Archaeologists have discovered a large number of prehistoric “idols", i.e. cult figurines, including the very rare male figurines, some them “wearing” ram masks, dating back to the 6th – 5th millennium BC, in rescue excavations of a large Late Neolithic settlement near the town of Damyanitsa in Southwest Bulgaria.

For the first time, a team of 65 archaeologists and 250 support staff have carried out all-out excavations at the prehistoric settlement because of the upcoming construction of a new section of the Struma Highway, which is to connect Bulgaria’s capital Sofia with Greece to the south.

The Late Neolithic settlement near Damyanitsa, Sandanski Municipality, has a total area of some 200 decares (app. 50 acres), making it one of the largest prehistoric settlements in Bulgaria.

About half of the territory of the Late Neolithic settlement near Damyanitsa will be covered up by the new road.

Section 3 of the Struma Highway is to run between the city of Blagoevgrad in the north and the town of Sandanski in the south.

Rescue excavations along the route of the highway in Southwest Bulgaria have already led to the discovery of a number of previously unknown settlements from the Prehistory and Antiquity period, or to the speedy excavation and research of sites that had been known to the archaeologists but had not been explored.

One of the most impressive prehistoric settlement found along the Struma Highway route so far has been the Mursalevo Early Neolithic settlement where the Bulgarian archaeologists have found huge homes that were burned down deliberately by their inhabitants.

The most recently unearthed section of the Damyanitsa settlement has been a Late Neolithic home with a territory of 35 square meters which had been burned down back in the prehistoric period

Inside the 7,000-year-old home, the archaeologists have found hearths, preserved vessels, and other possessions of the settlement’s inhabitants.

“In this period of the Prehistory of [the territory of] Bulgaria, these were supposed to be kilns but in this case here we have hearths, open hearths," explains lead archaeologist Ivan Vaisov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, as cited by BNT.

“The fire might have been caused by accident, and the inhabitants of this home vacated it swiftly," he added.

“In the center of this home we can see a hearth, in which seven vessels have been preserved in situ, placed inside. On both sides, there are also several vessels, which are extremely beautiful. There is one jug with two handles and a square mouth, which is very typical of this period," Vaisov elaborated.

In his words, the latest archaeological excavations near Bulgaria’s Damyanitsa demonstrate that in the Late Neolithic period, i.e. the 6th-5th millennium, settlements developed as clusters of small neighborhoods.

According to the team, the artifacts discovered at Damyanitsa are of great historical value because many of them have to do with the religious life of the prehistoric people.

The newly found items include stone claw hammers, other stone and bone tools, part of a bracelet made of mollusk shells, among others.

The most valuable finds, however, include ceramic figurines depicting humans, including male figurines, which are a rarity.

“Here we have encountered a very interesting ritual. Part of the figurines – and male figurines, on top of that, which are extremely rarely found – have a ram masks on their heads," says Malgozhata Kulova, archaeologist from the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History.

“Those [male figurines with ram masks] are most probably connected with the fertility cult," she hypothesizes.

The rescue archaeological excavations of the Late Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Damyanitsa are set to continue until the end of 2017, and after that its territory will be vacated for the construction of Section 3 of the Struma Highway from Sofia to the Bulgarian-Greek border.

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