8 Marvelous Artifacts from Exotic Places Discovered by Archaeologists in Bulgaria Recently and How They Got There
Some of the most stunning archaeological finds are artifacts which were discovered at a certain location but originated in distant, and, to put it that way, exotic places, having somehow made their way thousands of kilometers or miles away in the Middle Ages, Antiquity, or even Prehistory!
The mind of the 21st century person often boggles at the thought of such amazing exchanges in ancient times, long-before the advent of Modern Era and now Global Era technology.
A number of archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria in recent years offer cases in hand:
how did high intriguing artifacts which originated in China, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Armenia, or possibly even Sub-Saharan Africa or the coast of the Arctic Ocean make their way to the lands of today’s Bulgaria in the Prehistory, Antiquity, or Middle Ages?
Not to mention the discovery in Bulgaria’s Black Sea waters of the world’s first well-preserved pre-Columbian round ship (cog) from the Western Mediterranean, of the type Columbus used to cross the Atlantic and reach America. (At least, it is clear how the cog made it to Bulgarian waters: by sea!)
Beware: the notion of “exotic places” in this context is used to denote places that are faraway both geographically and often culturally when viewed from Bulgaria’s perspective; it is not meant to demean them, or express disrespect in anyway, to the contrary!
Under this understanding of the exotic places notion, for example, Bulgaria itself would be deemed an exotic place. Therefore, the reference to “exotic places” here is meant to underscore how unbelievable the respective archaeological discoveries are!
Following is a list of 12 ancient inscriptions found by archaeologists in Bulgaria since 2014.
The list is not exhaustive, and the selection features inscriptions whose discoveries we at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com have covered so far in our news articles.
#8. Spondylus Mollusk Shells from the Mediterranean Discovered in Prehistoric Graves across Bulgaria
5th millennium BC, Kamenovo Chalcolithic Necropolis; Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, in Northeast Bulgaria; Damyanitsa Neolithic Settlement in Southwest Bulgaria
Discovered: 2015; 1970s; 2017 + others
The Spondylus mollusk was harvested in the Mediterranean in prehistoric times but beads from its shell have been discovered in a number of Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) burials in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, hundreds of kilometers north of the Mediterranean.
For example, Spondylus mollusk beads have been found in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis from the 5th millennium BC, which has been recognized as the source of the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure.
More recently, Spondylus mollusk beads have been discovered during the excavations of a Chalcolithic necropolis alongside a flint tool workshop, also from the 5th millennium BC, in Kamenovo, Razgrad District, in the middle of Northeast Bulgaria.
That may have been the world’s first advanced prehistoric civilization (referred to as Old Europe by some scholars) judging by its usage of gold and the existence of Europe’s oldest town, the Provadiya – Solnitsata (The Salt Pit) Settlement in Bulgaria’s Provadiya.
The town was a huge producer of rock salt which seems to have been used as the currency of the time, while gold was a mere status symbol.
The presence of Spondylus mollusk beads has been interpreted as a testimony to the commercial ties that it had with the Mediterranean coast during the Copper Age.
In 2017, shells of Spondylus mollusk, including some made into bracelets, were discovered during rescue digs in the Late Neolithic settlement of Damyanitsa in Southwest Bulgaria.
#7. Obsidian Artifact from Armenia Found in 8,000-Year-Old Neolithic Settlement Ohoden in Northwest Bulgaria
6th millennium BC, Ohoden Neolithic Settlement, Northwest Bulgaria
The 8,000-year-old Early Neolithic settlement near Ohoden in Northwest Bulgaria is one of Bulgaria’s many impressive prehistoric archaeological sites.
It belongs to the so called Gradeshnitsa-Karcha Early Neolithic Culture which developed in today’s Northwest Bulgaria and Southwest Romania.
One of the obsidian artifacts appears to have originated on the territory of modern-day Armenia based on its raw material characteristics.
According to the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Vratsa, the discovery of an obsidian item from Armenia in the Ohoden prehistoric settlement “is another piece of evidence of the highly developed commercial relations [that existed] 8,000 years ago in today’s Northwest Bulgaria.”
With the three obsidian items in question, the Vratsa Museum now possesses the richest collection of prehistoric obsidian artifacts in all of Bulgaria.
Learn more here!
#6. Various Ivory Items Such as Medieval Icons and Crosses Found in Bulgaria Which May Be of Elephant, Mammoth, or Walrus Ivory
Antiquity, Middle Ages, places such as Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria, and Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo) in Northern Bulgaria
Discovered: Most recent finds from 2016-2017
Ivory is not an extremely infrequent find in Bulgaria’s archaeological sites, but it isn’t very common, either, as it obviously was a prized possession in ancient times.
A number of ivory discoveries made by Bulgarian archaeologists in recent years are examples in hand.
In 2017, Bulgarian archaeologists found a rare 10th century ivory icon, which is believed to have belonged to Byzantine Emperor or at least a member of the Byzantine imperial family, and to have been made in Constantinople. It was discovered in the Rusocastro Fortress, the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria.
Also in Veliko Tarnovo, but back in 2009, archaeologists found an ivory chess piece.
And, as far as Antiquity Era examples are concerned, the Regional Museum of History in Dobrich, Northeast Bulgaria, possesses a decorated hand of Thracian and Phrygian god Sabazios made of ivory.
Perhaps the most interesting question with respect to the ivory archaeological finds in Bulgaria is where the ivory came from. It could be elephant, mammoth, or walrus ivory.
Elephant ivory might have originated in Africa (in both Sub-Saharan or North Africa, which used to be the home of the now extinct North African elephant, the species Hannibal used in Carthage’s campaign against Rome during the Second Punic War), or on the Indian subcontinent.
Mammoth ivory might have even been extracted in Bulgaria since it has some of Europe’s richest deposits of fossils of prehistoric mammals. Or it could have been mined at scores of other locations across Europe or Asia.
And walrus ivory might have made its way to Bulgaria from the Arctic Ocean via what is now Russia.
Perhaps further research will give more answers as to the origin of the ancient and medieval ivory artifacts discovered in Bulgaria.
#5. Coins of Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt Found in Kastritsi Fortress on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast
13th – 15th century, Kastritsi Fortress, Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast
Coins from the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (Cairo) (1250-1517 AD) have been discovered a number of times in the Late Antiquity and medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress Kastritsi, which is located in the Euxinograd Residence of the Bulgarian government near the Black Sea city of Varna.
The Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo was a dynasty of Cumans, a medieval people who inhabited the steppes north of the Black Sea in the Middle Ages, ruled Egypt and the Levant for more than two centuries in the Late Middle Ages, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517 AD.
The Mamluk coins discovered in the fortress of Kastritsi near Bulgaria’s Varna were most probably brought by merchants trading in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Alongside the Egyptian Mamluk coins, in Kastritsi the archaeologists have also found medieval Bulgarian, Byzantine, Wallachian, Ottoman, Mongol (Tartar), and Venetian coins.
Learn more here!
#4. Amphorae from Tunisia Found in Byzantine Fortress Talaskara on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast
6th – 7th century AD, Talaskara Fortress, Cape of Chervenka (Chrisosotira), Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast
At least two out of some 50 amphorae discovered in 2015 in a Late Antiquity building in the Byzantine fortress Talaskara on Bulgaria’s Cape of Chervenka, also known as the Chrisosotira (“Golden Savior, Golden Christ”) Peninsula, were made in today’s Tunisia, according to researchers.
The Tunisian amphorae in question are said to be typical for the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century AD. The North African vessels have been recognized by their inscriptions.
In addition to Tunisia, some of the other intact amphorae found by the Bulgarian archaeologists in the Byzantine fortress of Talaskara on the Black Sea Cape Chervenka (Chrisosotira Peninsula) originated on the western coast of Asia Minor.
Learn more here!
#3. 12th Century Lusterware Pottery from Medieval Egypt Discovered in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv
12th-13th century, ancient Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Southern Bulgaria
A very rare piece of lusterware pottery which was made in medieval Egypt in the 12th – 13th century AD was discovered in April 2018 a medieval building richly decorated with colorful murals in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis.
The piece of pottery from medieval Egypt is a fragment from a plate with a human depiction. It is dated to the end of the 12th – beginning of the 13th century. This is roughly the time of the re-emergence of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422) which had been part of Byzantine Empire prior to 1185.
According to the archaeologists, it is an extremely rare find for Bulgaria because of the fact that it was produced in North Africa, and it does stand out compared with the pottery vessels that were widely spread at the time.
Learn more here!
#2. 14th Century Gold Coin from Delhi Sultanate in India Found at Medieval Bulgarian Fortress Urvich near Sofia
14th century, Urvich Fortress near Bulgaria’s capital Sofia
An intriguing coin find was discovered in 2014 in the Urvich Fortress located some 20 km southeast of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia: a large gold coin minted by the Dehli Sultanate in India in the 14th century AD.
The gold coin from India found at the Urvich fortress weighs 11 grams. It was minted by Indian Muslim ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, Muhammad bin Tughluq.
Muhammad bin Tughluq was the Turkic Sultan of Delhi from 1324 until 1351 AD. He was known to have been under the tutelage of Al-Hakim II, Caliph of Cairo between 1341 and 1352 AD, and very close to the Sufis, the practitioners of Muslim concept of Sufism.
The coin might have made it from India to Bulgaria in the 14th century with Mongol Empire troops as they were invading Asia Minor at the time. Or it may have been brought by an Indian merchant.
The discovery of the Delhi Sultanate coin at the fortress of Urvich right outside of Sofia is construed by Bulgarian researchers as a testimony to the international significance of Urvich in the 14th century, in the last decades of the Second Bulgarian Empire. As a fortified town it was supposed to protect the city of Sofia, back then known by the name of Sredets, especially by the invasion of the Ottoman Turks.
The Indian coin bears a scratch which according to the archaeologists was most likely made by Bulgarians in the Middle Ages as they probably tried to check whether the coin was indeed gold.
Learn more here!
#1. 14th Century Nephrite Amulet Buckle Made in China Found in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Kaliakra Cape Fortress
14th century, Kaliakra Fortress on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Cape of Kaliakra
The 2017 archaeological excavations in the fortress on the picturesque Black Sea Cape of Kaliakra in Northeast Bulgaria yielded a marvelous find: a medieval amulet buckle of white – green nephrite made in China but influenced by the Mongols.
The Chinese nephrite belt buckle from the Kaliakara Cape Fortress dates back to the 14th century. According to the lead archaeologist for the site, the artifact has been “the most unique archaeological discovery in the Kaliakra Fortress for this season, and all previous archaeological seasons so far”.
The amulet is a “brilliantly crafted” buckle featuring a scene of a duck hunt with falcons. The symbolic meaning of the depicted scene has to do with success and prosperity, and is typical of the culture of the Mongols. At the same time, white nephrite is also known as imperial nephrite, and is very revered in China.
The Bulgarian researchers believe the 14th century nephrite amulet buckle from China is certainly a symbol of power, and probably made its way all the way to the Kaliakra Fortress on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast as a gift.
The Chinese-made artifact may have been brought from the Golden Horde, a Mongol (Tatar) khanate in Eastern Europe and Western Asia founded in the 13th century, as a present some of the rulers of the so called Dobrudzha Despotate.
The Dobrudzha Despotate, also known as the Principality of Karvuna, was located in the region of Dobrudzha, today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southeast Romania. It was one of the parts of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) which seceded in the mid and late 14th century, and included the Black Sea fortress of Kaliakra.
The Despots of the Principality of Karvuna were the first Bulgarian rulers to build a major (Black Sea) navy. The Dobrudzha Despotate itself was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD, although it was later briefly liberated by the Wallachians, the Bulgarian allies north of the Danube.
The impressive find was chosen as one of the symbols of the annual Bulgarian Archaeology exhibition showing the most intriguing items from the past research season.
Learn more here!
Bonus #1: Influence from Syria in Early Christian Church Building in Today’s Bulgaria
4th – 6th century AD, Montana, Northeast Bulgaria; St. Ivan Island, Sozopol, Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast
In the Early Christian period, the Roman and then Byzantine province of Syria appears to have been a direct influence on some churches built at the time in today’s Bulgaria.
A total of three Syrian-type Early Christian basilicas have been found in the country: in the city of Montana in today’s Northwest Bulgaria, in the Black Sea city of Varna, and in an Early Christian monastery on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol where monks from Syria seem to have brought the relics of St. John the Baptist which were discovered there.
Bonus #2: First Ever Pre-Columbian Western Mediterranean Round Ship Found in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Zone
13th – 14th century, Bulgaria’s Black Sea zone
In one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries of all time (and not just in Bulgaria!), the world’s first ever well preserved sunken “round ship”, a medieval Mediterranean ship, which was a precursor to the Age of Discovery vessels such as the ones on which Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, has been discovered in Bulgaria’s Black Sea zone by a large-scale underwater archaeology project, the Black Sea M.A.P.
The sunken “Western Mediterranean, possibly Venetian” ship (as it has been described) from the 13th-14h century is said to be a “discovery of global significance” because the round ship type (also known as a “cog”) had been known from historical sources but a fully preserved one had never been seen since the Late Middle Ages – until its recent discovery in Bulgaria’s Black Sea waters.
Learn more here!
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