Archaeologists Find Medieval Grave with Skeleton with Arrow in Chest at Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Archaeologists Find Medieval Grave with Skeleton with Arrow in Chest at Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

A skeleton with an arrow in or at the chest has been discovered in a burial from the 11th-12th century AD during rescue excavations at the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Pod Tepeto

A medieval grave from the 11th-12th century with an arrow in or at the chest of the buried person has been discovered by archaeologists at the start of rescue excavations at the Antiquity Odeon, an ancient performance facility, in the city of Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria.

The excavations at the said spot in Plovdiv’s downtown have started in order to clear up the area for the construction of a ticket center and other cultural tourism facilities for the Ancient Roman and Thracian ruins which are being exposed and restored in order to be exhibited in situ.

Back in 2015, Plovdiv Municipality won a court battle against local merchants allowing it to link the Roman Forum of Philipopolis with the already restored Antiquity Odeon.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, which is also considered “Europe’s oldest city“ because of the prehistoric settlement and fortress on the Nebet Tepe hill, is the successor of the Ancient Thracian and then Roman city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva / Philipopolis, which was also known as Trimontium in the Roman period (1st-4th century AD).

The archaeological team from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology excavating the spot at the Antiquity Odeon is led by long-time researcher of the city’s Antiquity archaeology and history, Maya Martinova.

The archaeologists have found the grave from the High Middle Ages, the 11th-12th century, at the very start of the rescue digs at the Odeon, local news site Pod Tepeto reports.

In the 11th – 12th century, Plovdiv was part of the Byzantine Empire, after it conquered most of the territories of the First Bulgarian Empire south of the Danube in 1018 AD. The Second Bulgarian Empire reemerged in 1185 AD regaining Bulgaria’s original territories south and partly north of the Danube within a matter of a couple of decades.

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It remains unknown for the time being whether the medieval person was killed by the arrow found at the chest, or whether it was a burial gift for a warrior’s afterlife. Photos: Pod Tepeto

The newly discovered grave has been found at the spot of a known medieval necropolis which was first discovered several decades ago.

Yet, the latest discovery at Plovdiv’s Antiquity Odeon is intriguing not only because it was made right underneath the modern-day surface but because an arrow has been found at the chest of the buried person.

The archaeologists have hypothesized that the person was either killed by the arrow, or it was placed in their grave as a funeral gift for the afterlife.

In the latter case the person, whose gender has not been established for sure yet, would have been a warrior.

“Early on, in the uppermost layers, we have discovered lots of pottery and a burial, a medieval one. We found it yesterday. It is interesting that we have found an arrow at the chest [of the buried person]. The burial dates to the 11th-12th century,” lead archaeologist Martinova has explained.

She notes that it is possible that the person in question was killed by the discovered arrow.

“Yet, there is also a custom of placing arrows [in graves] as burial gifts when the person in question is a warrior,” the researcher cautions.

“We cannot say for sure yet which one it is – whether they were killed by the arrow or whether it was put in the grave – because the bones are not properly arranged,” she adds.

“Archaeology is unpredictable. We may stumble upon surprises in every single layer going down from here. Actually, this [place] is a necropolis which was registered decades ago during the research of the entire [archaeological] complex… We have now found one more grave from that period,” Martinova elaborates.

Researchers from the Plovdiv Medical University have joined the archaeological team in order to help figure out whether the burial person was killed by the arrow found in their chest.

Their anthropological study is also supposed to establish the medieval person’s gender, age, and other details.

A large amount of medieval pottery has been discovered in the same layer as the medieval burial. Photos: Pod Tepeto

The lead archaeologist points out that the discovery has been made at the spot of commercial pavilions which have recently been removed by Plovdiv Municipality in order to clear the area for the archaeological digs and restorations, and for connecting the space from the Antiquity Odeon to the northern part of Plovdiv’s Roman Forum.

In 2018, the archaeological excavations in downtown Plovdiv are expected to go to the west of the Odeon where other public buildings from the Antiquity period might be discovered.

The archaeological team hopes for good weather but the winter excavations at Plovdiv’s Odeon will likely continue well after New Year’s.

At the end of 2016 and in early 2017, Plovdiv archaeologists discovered the earliest aqueduct of Philipopolis and also found a Roman inscription revealing that the first de facto “mayor” of Roman Philipopolis was a man named Titus Flavius Cotys (also spelled Kotys), son of Rhescuporis, an aristocrat who was a descendant of the royal family of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st AD).

An unknown Roman Era residential quarter in the outskirts of ancient Philipopolis has recently been discovered by accident during construction works.

In 2015, the excavations of the the western part of the Ancient Roman Forum of Plovdiv were completed, and the exposed ruins were even flooded.

In the summer of 2014, local archaeologists discovered there a marble statue of a male and a marble bust of a female on a pedestal dating to the height of the Roman Empire – the 2nd-3rd century AD.

The local authorities in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv are now moving to buy back a property containing the southern part of the Ancient Roman Forum of Philipopolis, a property that was perplexing sold by Plovdiv Municipality to a private firm back in 2003 for four times less money.

In addition to its Roman Forum, Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has already restored its Antiquity Odeon and Ancient Roman Stadium (which was restored between 2009 and 2012), while its best known landmark is its Antiquity Amphitheater.

Background Infonotes:

Odeon is the name for a public Ancient Greek or Roman building built for musical and poetry shows and competitions. The word comes from Ancient Greek, and means “singing place” or “building for musical competitions”. The first Odeon was built in Ancient Sparta around 600 BC. Three Ancient (Roman) Odeons have been discovered in Bulgaria so far – in Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Nicopolis ad Istrum in Northern Bulgaria. It is believed that the Plovdiv Odeon was first used as a bouleuterion, a building for the council of citizens (boule) in ancient city-states (poleis) but was later used as a space for theatrical performances.


The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta“, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them,Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerfulAncient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire makingPhilippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria underKhan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnelwhich, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.



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