3,400-Year-Old Encrusted Ceramics Discovered in Bronze Age Necropolis at Bulgaria’s Danube Town of Baley

Some of the newly discovered 3,400-year-old vessels from the Bronze Age necropolis in Bulgaria’s Baley. Photo: BNT

A large number of uniquely decorated ceramic vessels from ca 1400 BC have been described during archaeological excavations in the necropolis of a Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age settlement near the Danube town of Baley, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria.

The settlement near Bulgaria’s Baley belongs to the so called “Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube", and has been researched for over 40 years now but keeps yielding new impressive Bronze Age finds.

Every single one of the newly discovered encrusted pottery vessels from the Baley necropolis is truly unique in that none of the same shapes and decoration patterns is seen more than once, the archaeologists point out, as cited by BNT.

The very necropolis of the settlement of the “Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube" in Northwest Bulgaria was discovered only several years ago by accident when local residents where building a shaft and dug up a Bronze Age grave.

“By pure accident digging up a shaft revealed what we came to call Grave A. [Back then the locals] had cleaned up rather professionally the pottery that they had discovered, and brought it to the Regional Museum of History in Vidin," narrates lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Stefan Alexandrov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

In 2015, 10 unknown graves from the Late Bronze Age were discovered there by archaeologists.

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The in situ discovery of some of the Bronze Age encrusted pottery in Bulgaria’s Baley. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The encrusted pottery vessels from the Baley necropolis found during the 2017 summer archaeological excavations are 3,400 years old. The settlement itself was inhabited for about 400 years during the Bronze Age. It was among the largest settlements of the people from the Encrusted Ceramics Culture of the Lower Danube.

“Actually, that culture, those people who left behind the necropolis and the settlement near Baley, [covered the area] from the [Danube gorge] Iron Gates [between Serbia and Romania] all the way to [Bulgaria’s Danube town of] Oryahovo, with this wonderful pottery," Alexandrov says.

“That’s how we refer to them – as the Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics," he emphasizes.

“None of the vessels has a replica in terms of shape and decoration. They are all unique," explains restorer Ekaterina Ilieva.

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Each of the Bronze Age ceramic vessels is unique with its shape and decorations. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

During the excavations near Bulgaria’s Baley, the archaeologists have also come across several adornments but have not discovered any gold finds – even though gold was mined as early as the Chalcolithic (Copper Age, Aeneolithic) in today’s Bulgaria which boasts the world’s oldest gold finds and treasures.

“No gold adornments have been found in both the settlement and the necropolis. I don’t know if that’s unfortunate or not since if any had been found, perhaps the necropolis wouldn’t exist," Alexandrov says, possibly referring to the constant raids by modern-day treasure hunters.

The human bones discovered in the latest digs at Baley are to be studied by anthropologists, and the archaeological team plans to have a DNA analysis in order to find out how the people buried in the Bronze Age necropolis of the Encrusted Ceramics Culture were related.

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Learn more about the Bronze Age settlement near Bulgaria’s Baley from the Lower Danube Encrusted Ceramics Culture in the Background Infonotes below!

Archaeologist Stefan Alexandrov (left) and restorer Ekaterina Ilieva (right) with the new finds. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Background Infonotes:

The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age settlement and necropolis near the town of Baley, Brevogo Municipality, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria, represent the remains of a unique Bronze Age culture that thrived in the western part of the Lower Danube Valley (the area between the towns of Bregovo and Oryahovo) between 1,600 and 1,100 BC.

The Bronze Age settlement near Baley was discovered in 1970, and was excavated for 18 years by Bulgarian archaeologists Rumen Katincharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Ana Yotsova from the Vidin Regional Museum of History.

The culture that the settlement belonged to is known as “The Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube" because of the large number of ceramic artifacts found there which are encrusted with ornamental motifs made with white paste.

The decorative paste was produced by mixing crushed animal bones with glue. The Bronze Age pottery of this river civilization is unlike the ceramics of any other culture. The encrusted ceramic artifacts in question include household vessels, idols, artifacts used by women, and zoomorphic child toys.

Even though in the 1970s and 1980s the archaeologists unsuccessfully looked for the settlement’s necropolis, it was discovered only in 2010, exactly 40 years after the original discovery of the settlement. It was found by accident in the yard of a local home during the digging of a pit for a traditional “outside toilet" by local resident Lyubo Petrov. Petrov stumbled upon ceramic vessels, and alerted the archaeologists from the Vidin Regional Museum of History; the necropolis of the Bronze Age settlement near Baley has been excavated ever since.

The settlement near Bulgaria’s Baley is the latest Bronze Age settlement in the Lower Danube Valley. During its excavations, the archaeologists found over 60,000 archaeological artifacts, including 60 intact ceramic vessels, and lots of bone artifacts, household items, and tools.

Other settlements and necropolises that belonged to the Bronze Age Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube have been found near the towns of Vrav, Novo Selo, Yasen, Kutovo, Antimovo, and Archar.

However, the one near Baley is the only one to have been fully excavated. Most of the settlements from the extinct Bronze Age culture were located right on the bank of the Danube, and have been found when the river level decreases.

The necropolis of the Bronze Age settlement near Baley found in 2010 is located 400 meters from the settlement itself, and 2 km away from the bank of the Danube River. Inside the excavated graves, the archaeologists have found single, double, and triple funerals.

The Bulgarian archaeologists have found that the Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics on the Lower Danube was an agricultural civilization which raised plants and livestock but which also did a lot of hunting of deer, wild boars, and especially of beavers.

Since 3,500 years ago, the western part of the Lower Danube Valley had a huge beaver population, it has been proven that the people from the Bronze Age culture in question hunted beavers for food. They also had horses from the “European breed" which were only about 1.3 meters tall.

The people from the settlement near Baley also used flint tools which are found to have originated from a flint deposit located near the town of Muselievo, some 200 km to the east, which apparently made it to Baley through trade.

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