Early Iron Age, Late Roman Settlement with Bi-ritual Necropolis Discovered in Rescue Digs in Southwest Bulgaria

A large Late Roman settlement near Bulgaria’s Moshtanets, which was also inhabited earlier, ca. 1,000 BC, has been excavated for several months. Photo: Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History

A large settlement which was inhabited during the Early Iron Age (ca. 1,000 BC), possibly by Ancient Thracians, and then again in the Late Roman period (2nd-4th century AD), has been discovered and fully explored in rescue excavations near the town of Moshtanets, Blagoevgrad District, in Southwest Bulgaria, as part of the construction of the Struma Highway.

The rescue archaeological digs and urgent research of the ancient settlement near Blagoevgrad were carried out in May and then again in August-November 2017 in order to clear the site for the construction of the Struma Highway running from Bulgaria’s capital Sofia to the border with Greece.

The excavations of the likely Thracian and Roman settlement near Moshtanets have been led by Assist. Prof. Galina Grozdanova and Assist. Prof. Tanya Hristova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History has announced, as cited by Darik Blagoevgrad.

The archaeologists have found that the settlement located on a high terrace overlooking the Struma River was inhabited in both the Early Iron Age period of Ancient Thrace, more specifically, the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, and in the Late Roman period.

The Early Iron Age structures have been discovered in the southeast and central parts of the ancient settlement.

From that time period, the archeologists have studied the ruins of two homes and seven pits. One of the homes has been found to have a well-preserved rectangular shape.

The building was built using a technique that was typical for its time: it was built of wooden poles intertwined with rods, and plastered with clay. It was destroyed in a fire. A number of ceramic items have been found in the two Early Iron Age homes.

An aerial view of the newly discovered ancient settlement on the route of the Struma Highway in Southwest Bulgaria. Photo: Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History

A much greater number of structures have been found from the Late Antiquity / Late Roman period, mostly from the 3rd and 4th century AD.

At the time of the Roman Empire, the ancient settlement near Bulgaria’s Moshtanets emerged as a significant one because of its size.

Part of what was the necropolis of the settlement has also been discovered, and excavated.

Thus, from the Late Roman period, the archaeological team has unearthed a total of 9 buildings, 16 pits, and 70 graves.

The earliest Roman Era structures have been found in the southeast part of the settlement. They date back to the 2nd-4th century AD.

The central part of the settlement has revealed mostly structures used for agricultural purposes. They date from the 4th-5th century AD.

The Early Iron Age and Late Roman settlement was located on a terrace overlooking the Struma River. Photo: Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History

The necropolis of the Late Roman settlement dates to the 3rd-4th century AD. It was located in its northwest part, and was fenced off from the buildings with a straight stone wall.

The Late Roman buildings discovered by the archaeologists have been found to have well preserved floor levels presenting evidence of numerous reconstructions.

“The buildings are organized in complicated terraced chain complexes in accordance with the slope of the terrain," the Blagoevgrad Museum of History says.

Many of the Roman Era walls have survived up to a height of 1.1-1.2 meters which is seen as a testimony to the quality construction.

“The wealth of this settlement is also indicated by the evidence of water drainage facilities, and the numerous archaeological material discovered in the buildings," the Museum adds.

The discovered artifacts include varied decorated pottery, fragments of glass vessels and bracelets, as well as adornments such as fibulas, rings, earrings, and coins and tools.

The archaeologists have found that the Late Roman necropolis of the settlement near Blagoevgrad was a bi-ritual one, i.e. it includes corpse burials as well as cremated human remains.

Most of the 70 excavated graves contain funerals by cremation. Photo: Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History

Several types of graves have been found, including “regular grave pits", “pits covered with stone slabs", and pits covered with tegulae (Roman flat tiles).

The bottoms of some of the graves were paved with stone slabs or tegulae. Cremations were performed on site in the respective graves, and many of the graves containing cremated human remains were surrounded with stones.

“The number of graves without cremation is much smaller. It can be alleged that the corpse burials were preferred in child funerals, although some adults were also buried this way," the Blagoevgrad Museum says.

The artifacts discovered in the graves include pottery and glass vessels, rings, and coins.

A total of over 1,300 archaeological artifacts have been found in the rescue excavations of the Early Iron Age and Late Roman settlement near Moshtanets in Southwest Bulgaria, which have cleared the site for the construction of the Struma Highway.

Rescue excavations along on the route of the Struma Highway have led to the discovery of a large number of exciting archaeological sites such as the Early Neolithic settlement near Mursalevo and the Late Neolithic settlement near Damyanitsa.

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