Latest Finds in Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria Imply Coexistence of Early Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria from the time of the transition from Middle to Late Paleolithic: 7) Bone ornaments; 8) Tooth from early Homo sapiens. Photo from the display of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The findings from the latest archaeological excavations at the Bacho Kiro Cave near Dryanovo in Central Bulgaria, a Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) site, have led to the conclusion that early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted in the area.

The Bacho Kiro Cave contains some of the oldest remains of Homo sapiens in Europe, and is known as an archaeological site demonstrating the transition from the Middle Paleolithic to the Late Paleothic.

Among other things, it is a popular cultural tourism site because of the archaeological finds but also because of the marvelous karst formations inside, and in 1937 became the first cave in Bulgaria to be equipped for tourist visits.

The first full-fledged archaeological excavations in the Bacho Kiro Cave were carried out in the 1970s by a Polish – Bulgarian team (even though in 1938, an Anglo-American expedition found there a skeleton of a cave bear now kept at the British Museum in London).

In 2015, the excavations in the Paleolithic cave in Central Bulgaria have been renewed by the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The latest wide range of flint and bone artifacts discovered in the Bacho Kiro Cave have been presented for the first time during the Bulgarian Archaeology 2017 exhibition at the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

On the Bulgarian side, the archaeological team has been led by long-time renowned researcher of Prehistory, Nikolay Sirakov, who has also dedicated decades to the research of the Kozarnika Cave in Northwest Bulgaria.

With the renewal of the digs in the Bacho Kiro Cave, the Bulgarian – German team had set out to update the data collected in the 1970s, and to fill the blanks in it with new discoveries and interpretations.

The archaeologists have established the archaeological layer demonstrating the transition between the Middle and the Late Paleolithic. It dates back to between 44,000 – 43,000 and 39,000 BC.

The latest excavations at the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave near Dryanovo in Central Bulgaria. Photos by the archaeological team. Photo from a poster of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition

“Especially interesting is the series of flint spear tips," the archaeological team has pointed out.

“They combine Middle and Late Paleolithic technical and typological characteristics; production following training through speech communication using abstract concepts," it explains.

The discoveries of bones of animals hunted by the prehistoric people at the transition between the Middle and Late Paleothic has also provided valuable information.

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Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: 12) End-scrapers, retouched blades; 13) Flint flakes and blades; 14) Flint blades and tips. Photo from the display of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: 9) Retouchers; 10) Rib fragment with parallel incised lines; 11) Animal skin polisher. Photo from the display of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: 4) Lower jaw (mandible) from the now extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus); 5) Lower jaw (mandible) and molar from West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica); 6) Pleistocene fauna: teeth from wild horse (Equus ferus), cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), and a herbivore (likely the now extinct wild cattle aurochs (Bos primigenius). Photo from the display of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

“The nature of the rich hunting prey shows exceptional hunting skills developed also through social relations, [as well as] perfect knowledge of the fauna and the environment with their climate changes," the researchers conclude.

The newly discovered bone and tooth artifacts from the Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria are said to be mostly of the Late Paleolithic type.

“The personal adornments among them reflect the development of art, and the personal and group identification [reflects] the beginnings of ethno-linguistic differences," the archaeologists say.

They point out that a human tooth found during the latest digs in the Bacho Kiro Cave proves “the participation in these processes of early modern-day Homo sapiens newcomers to Europe."

“Even without direct anthropological data, there are reasons to assume the coexistence in the area and participation in the [Middle to Late Paleolithic] transition of Neanderthal groups as well," the researchers conclude.

Among the Paleolithic artifacts discovered in the Bacho Kiro Cave near Bulgaria’s Dryanovo are flint spear tips, a knife-shaped lamella, a scraper, flint lamellas, a penchant of cave bear teeth, a bone disc, and a rib from an ungulate mammal decorated through incisions.

Bone finds from the Pleistocene fauna include a molar from the now extinct cave bear, a molar from a West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica), a molar from Homo sapiens, a lower jaw from the now extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus), a lower jaw from a West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica), molars from a wild horse (Equus ferus), and molars from a herbivore (likely the now extinct wild cattle aurochs (Bos primigenius).

Learn more about the Bacho Kiro Cave near Bulgaria’s Dryanovo in the Background Infonotes below!

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: Flint artifacts from the transition from Middle to Late Paleolithic (1-4, 6-8: blades, flakes (spear tips); 5: blade; 9: end-scraper). Photo from a poster of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: Bone and flint artifacts from the transition from Middle to Late Paleolithic (1-5: flakes and lamellas/blades; 6: cave bear tooth penchant; 7: bone disc; 8: rib from a hooved animal decorated with incisions). Photo from a poster of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: Bone tools, hunting trophies, and remains from early Homo sapiens from the transition from Middle to Late Paleolithic (1-2: retouchers; 3: animal skin polisher; 4: cave bear molar; 5: molar from West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica); 6: molar from early Homo sapiens). Photo from a poster of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition

Latest artifacts discovered in the Paleolithic Bacho Kiro Cave in Central Bulgaria: Hunting prey remains from the transition from Middle to Late Paleolithic (1: lower jaw from the now extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus); lower jaw from a West Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica); 3: molars from a wild horse (Equus ferus); molars from a herbivore (likely the now extinct wild cattle aurochs (Bos primigenius). Photo from a poster of the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Caves and Speleology in Bulgaria

The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science Is Rewriting Their Story (Revised and Updated Edition)

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

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Background Infonotes:

The Bacho Kiro Cave is a Prehistory archaeological and cultural tourism site located near the town of Dryanovo and the Dryanovo Monastery in Central North Bulgaria.

It contains contains some of the oldest remains of Homo sapiens in Europe dating from the Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age).

It is also known for its marvelous karst formations and for being the first cave in Bulgaria to have been equipped for tourism purposes.

The Bacho Kiro Cave is located 300 meters away from the Dryanovo Monastery, one of the most famous and largest Bulgarian Orthodox Christian monasteries.

It was equipped for tourists as early as 1937 become the first cave in Bulgaria in that respect. It was named after Bacho Kiro (Kiro Petrov) (1835-1876), a Bulgarian revolutionary leader during the Bulgarians’ 1876 April Uprising against the Ottoman Empire who was captured and hanged by the Ottomans.

In 1962, the Bacho Kiro Cave was declared a natural landmark, and in 2002 its lighting and alleys were renovated. The cave is about 3,5 km (app. 2.1 miles) long, making it the 13th longest cave in Bulgaria. The permanent temperature inside is 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees F).

The guided tours inside the Bacho Kiro Cave offer two routes, a short one (350 meters) and a long one (900 meters).

Many of the fabulous karst formations inside the cave have been named. These include the Jellyfish, the Bear Slide, the Throne, the Potato Slide, the Cave Eagle, the Dough, the Fountain, the Cave Ear, and the Lonely Stalactite. The cave’s most distant hall, dubbed “The Reception Room" features a giant stalactite which is 8 meters (25 fee) tall, and has a circumference of 1.5 meters (5 feet).

The Bacho Kiro Cave was formed about 1.8 million years ago by the waters of the Dryanovska River. The area used to be the bottom of a sea, and fossils of crabs can still be seen today inside the cave.

The first archaeological research inside the Bacho Kiro Cave was carried out in 1890 by Czech-Bulgarian high school teacher in Gabrovo, Stepan Jurinic (later a professor at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski"). In 1895, it was visited by the fathers of Bulgarian archaeology, Czech-Bulgarian archaeologists Karel and Hermann Skorpil (the Skorpil Brothers).

In 1937, the Bacho Kiro Cave was researched by paleontologist Rafail Popov, and in 1938 by an Anglo-American expedition led by Prof. Dorothy Garrod, which had done research of Paleothic sites in Palestine before that.

One of their most interesting finds was a 3-meter-tall (10 feet) skeleton of a cave bear, which is kept today at the British Museum in London. The place where the cave bear was found is 300 meters inside the cave, and is known today as the Bear Lawn.

The first full-fledged archaeological excavations in the cave were carried out between 1971 and 1975 by a Polish – Bulgarian team led by Janusz Kozlowsky, Boleslaw Ginter, and Nikola Dzhambazov. The team discovered bone and flint tools, decorations, and human remains. One of the finds was a bone with an engraved geometric motif, said to be the earliest of its kind in Europe.

The archaeological excavations in the Bacho Kiro Cave have been resumed in 2015 for a total of three seasons with a joint project of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Another nearby cave, Andaka, is also part of the renewed excavations.

The archaeological finds in the Bacho Kiro Cave near Bulgaria’s Dryanovo have led to the establishing of the so called Bacho Kiro Culture standing for a transitional phase between the Middle and Late Paleolithic (Stone Age) in Europe. It is characterized by the usage of new materials and techniques, and the emergence of the first adornments such as tooth pendants.

The Bacho Kiro Culture is deemed to be connected with local transitional cultures, rather than with the Middle East.

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