Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Chalcolithic Civilization from 7,000 Years Ago Was the Height of Southeast Europe, Bulgaria (Interview, Part 1)

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Chalcolithic Civilization from 7,000 Years Ago Was the Height of Southeast Europe, Bulgaria (Interview, Part 1)

Archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov seen here during the filming of German documtary “Dug” at the Ad Putea Roman road station near Riben in Northwest Bulgaria, which has also been found to have been a Chalcolithic settlement, Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Ventsislav (“Ventsi") Gergov is a Bulgarian archaeologist. He was born in Iskar, Pleven District, in 1946. He majored in archaeology at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius", and joined the team of the Pleven Regional Museum of History in 1970. He has specialized in the study of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) in Southeast Europe. After 1999, Gergov became what he calls a “private archaeologist", i.e. an archaeologist that is not affiliated with any institution but works on excavation and research projects assigned to him by different museums, including his former employer. Gergov is best known for the excavations of Chalcolithic settlements in Telish, the Devetashka Cave, Sadovets, and other sites in Northwest and Central North Bulgaria. He is also known for his reconstructions and small scale open-air museums recreating the homes and lifestyle of the prehistoric people from 5,000 BC. Not unlike so many other Bulgarian archaeologists, Gergov is an outspoken critic of the rampant treasure hunting which keeps destroying Bulgaria’s enormous archaeological heritage on a massive scale. He has starred in two international documentaries on the issue, “Plundering the Past" (2009) by Australian journalist David O’Shay, and “Dug" (2017) by German artist and film maker Jan Peter Hammer.

Part 2 of Ventsislav Gergov’s interview for ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com is available here.

 

How did you become an archaeologist?

I’ve always been fond of antiques and ancient sites, and my hobby became my profession. Because of that, I’ve always gone to work with pleasure, I’ve never had work tasks that I dislike.

I started participating in archaeological excavations as early as my sophomore year at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius". That was in 1968, I took part in digs in the Tsarevets Fortress (one of the citadels of medieval Tarnovgrad, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185 – 1393 – editor’s note) in Veliko Tarnovo.

I worked on those excavations for two years. In 1970, I was hired as an archaeologist by the Pleven Regional Museum of History on April 1 of my senior year, even before I had graduated. There was a job opening at the museum in Pleven, and one of my professors, Prof. Stancho Vaklinov (1921 – 1978), directed me there. I started working, and graduated subsequently, and that’s how my career as an archaeologist started.

In 1999, I had a conflict with the then director of the Pleven Regional Museum of History. I was fired but I have continued to work as an archaeologist and carry out excavations – I became the first “private" (that is, independent or unaffiliated) archaeologist in Bulgaria

“Private archaeologist" doesn’t mean that I dig for myself, but that I don’t work for any museum. But under the Bulgarian legislation, I am entitled to carry out research and excavations by signing a project contract with a respective museum – such as the Pleven Regional Museum of History or the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. Once the respective excavations are completed, I turn in the artifacts that I have discovered to the museum that is my contractor.

You focus on prehistory, and especially the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age). How did you come to specialize in those subfields?

Indeed, the very beginning of my career as an archaeologist, I began specializing in prehistory, and especially in the Chalcolithic (Copper Age, Aeneolithic).

Sometimes specialization results from external factors, that is, the specialization chooses you, rather than the other way around. In my case, in the Pleven Regional Museum of History, the all openings in the Antiquity and Middle Ages departments had been filled, and Prehistory was what was left for me.

However, I quickly fell in love with this subfield, and I’ve never been sorry for specializing in it because prehistory is the least researched archaeological field in Bulgaria, and it has always been extremely intriguing for me because of the many unknowns that it poses.

And, what is more, it reveals, including through my own work, a marvelous prehistoric civilization with a very high culture, which was in fact the height of Southeast Europe – but I am going to get to that in a bit.

A pottery vessel depicting a human head from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

You are best known for the excavations of the 7,000-year-old Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Pleven District, in Central North Bulgaria, and the peculiar artifacts you have discovered there.

What kinds of archaeological sites have you excavated and researched?

I’ve worked on many archaeological sites. At first I first started working on the Storgosia Fortress in the Kaylaka Park in Pleven.

It is primarily known as an Ancient Roman fortress but underneath the Roman layers there are Early and Late Chalcolithic (Copper Age) layers. Then come the Roman Era layers, and layers from the First Bulgarian Empire and Second Bulgarian Empire.

After that I worked on a late medieval Bulgarian monastery near the town of Sadovets whose tower was restored in 1970 (and has since been abandoned and has partly collapsed).

I have also worked on the medieval fortress of Nikopol, in the Danube town of Nikopol in Northern Bulgaria.

For a long time I worked in a cave near Muselievo, Nikopol Municipality, where there is a rich Paleolithic site, with an important place in the prehistory of Southeast Europe. It yielded a lot of finds, and I published a paper on those digs in 1976, it is a very interesting site but one that has been damaged a lot by the treasure hunters.

I’ve also researched the prehistoric dwellings in the Devetashka Cave, which is a famous natural landmark, in Lovech District, and Lepitsa in Pleven District.

In addition to the decades I’ve spent excavating the three prehistoric sites in Telish (Telish – Redutite, Telish – Laga, and Telish – Pipra), I’ve also researched three Copper Age sites near the nearby town of Sadovets (Golemanovo Kale, Sadovsko Kale, and Ezeroto (“The Lake").

Archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov (left) seen here with archaeologist Sergei Torbatov (right) during the filming of German documtary “Dug” at the Ad Putea Roman road station near Riben in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov (left) seen here with archaeologist Sergei Torbatov (right) during the filming of German documtary “Dug” at the Ad Putea Roman road station near Riben in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

What was this prehistoric civilization of the Chalcolithic like? You have explored a number of settlements from it in Central North Bulgaria. What were its most notable characteristics?

Human prehistory, especially the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, sometime from the 7th millennium BC until the end of the 5th millennium BC, is a really dynamic age.

I say this to experts and non-experts alike, every time somebody wonders when the territories of Bulgaria or Southeast Europe (the Balkans) saw their height – this was the zenith of these territories in terms of development and high culture.

Some argue the apogee was in the Roman Era, or Ancient Thrace, or the First and Second Bulgarian Empire.

In my view, and according to many of my colleagues, the height in the development of Bulgaria and all of Southeast Europe was the Chalcolithic and particularly in the Late Chalcolithic, in the 5th millennium BC.

That was when the Neolithic Homo sapiens who were already on a steady development path – with the rise of sedentary agriculture, stock-breeding, and metallurgy – got a fruitful ground for the manifestation of their creative nature and achieved remarkable productivity.

The lands of Bulgaria and the Balkans had a very favorable climate back then, more favorable than today’s, and the Neolithic people used these prerequisites to build a brilliant civilization with a high culture, which keeps startling Europe and the entire world to this day.

This prehistoric civilization’s top achievements include the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, for instance.

The benchmark sites such as the Karanovo Settlement Mound in Southern Bulgaria, and the Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit") Settlement Mound (known as the first town in Europe), the settlements that I have excavated in Telish, Sadovets, the Devetashka Cave – all of these sites and many others testify to an exceptional high culture.

That has been proven and documented not only by us, Bulgarian archaeologists, but also by a large number of international experts. This has been acknowledged at numerous international and local symposiums in which I have participated.

This prehistoric Chalcolithic culture developed in Bulgaria, Northeast Serbia, Southwest Romania, in the entire Oltenia region, and all the way down to the Aegean (Mediterranean) Sea.

I recall, for example, back in 1980, at the Archaeological Institute in Bucharest, Romania, two leading Romanian experts saying, “You are the face of this culture, and we are the right year and the left year."

They were referring to the fact that the territories of today’s Bulgaria were not just the geographic center but also the actual center of this civilization, and the numerous finds that testify to that.

A painting reconstructing the prehistoric homes discovered by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The front side and entrance of the prehistoric home built by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov based on his discoveries at the cultural community club in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A reconstruction model of the prehistoric homes discovered by Ventsislav Gergov in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, exhibited at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

Why is the Chalcolithic settlement in Telish so special?

I’ve registered a total of 25 prehistoric settlements in Pleven District, some discovered for science for the first time, and I’ve excavated several of them. All of them are wonderful, rich Prehistory archaeological sites: Telish – Redutite, Telish – Laga, Telish – Pipra, Sadovets – Ezeroto, Golemanovo Kale, Sadovsko Kale, Lipitsa, Devetashka Cave.

Yet, Telish is my greatest love as an archaeologist for a wide range of reasons. Every archaeologists thinks that their site is major, even central – even though I’ve also excavated other sites in the region where the metallurgy and pottery finds are the same or even better in some cases.

Telish – Redutite is the only fully excavated and research site in Southeast Europe from that particular time period.

Yet, the fact of the matter is that Telish – Redutite is only fully excavated and researched Chalcolithic site on a huge territory from this period, from the so called Krivodol – Salcuta – Bubani Culture – encompassing Central and Northwest Bulgaria, Southwest Romania (the entire Oltenia region), Northeast Serbia down to Nish (Nis), and all the way to the region of Thrace, and today’s Blagoevgrad and Sofia regions.

By the end of the period the Krivodol – Salcuta – Bubani Culture penetrated the Pazardzhik region, the Upper Thracian valley (today’s Southern Bulgaria), and they colonized the region all the way to Stara Zagora – the pottery is basically one and the same everywhere. (Keep in mind that they had no writing during that age, and the main way to prove anything is to research their everyday life, homes and households, especially the pottery.)

In Telish – Redutite (and also the other settlement, Telish – Laga), I have also come across a period which is the so called blank spot in the Prehistory of Southeast Europe, the so called transitional period (though in my view there was no actual transition).

This was about 3,200 – 3,000 BC when this flourishing agricultural civilization with its high culture, its abundance of buildings and sophisticated pottery was wiped out by an invasion from the steppes of Southern Russia by people whom we refer to as proto-Thracians. (Learn more about the invasion and the demise of the original Chalcolithic civilization in the second part of the interview.)

A dog statuette from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

A female statuette from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

What was the Telish – Redutite settlement like?

It was the settlement of a tribal, clan-based community which covered an area of 4 decares (1 acre) densely developed with rectangular homes oriented in the north – south direction, with entrances always on the southern site, with proper streets which have been well preserved. Over 9,000 unique artifacts have been discovered there.

Of major importance for the emergence of settlements and homes in this large territory was the existence of water sources. There is a huge underground water source on the spot which has been used for the needs of the modern-day population of the town of Telish even today.

This vibrant Chalcolithic community thrived thanks to sedentary agriculture and stock breeding. It was during this age that the soil met the plow for the first time.

Not only did this community develop a high spiritual and material culture some 7,000 – 8,000 years ago but in anthropogenic terms these people were exactly like us.

I tell everyone this: the people from the Chalcolithic (and those from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc.) had exactly the same feelings as the people of today – love, hate, fear, hope. In that regard, nothing has changed since then.

These people’s homes were massive, with thick clay walls, which were 10-12 times more robust, for example, than the concrete slab buildings (Plattenbau) from the communist period. These homes were safe with respect to earthquakes, and were decorated with colorful dyes and ornaments.

Our settlement in Telish shows that this Chalcolithic civilization’s population lived in clan-based communities or communes – of about 30 – 40 houses each. One home could house 7 – 8 people, so a settlement had about 220 – 230 inhabitants.

This helps draw a demographic picture of the region. Which was densely populated – just about 7 – 8 kilometers (4 – 5 miles) away, there were other similar settlements – Telish – Pipra, Pisarovo, Sadovets – Ezeroto, etc.

So these Copper Age settlements were just 7 – 8 kilometers (4 – 5 miles) from one another which shows that they were often in contact. They had common clan holidays. This was a synchronous development of the Chalcolithic settlements across Southeast Europe (the Balkan Peninsula) at the time.

What’s intriguing is that the Rositsa River in Central North Bulgaria marked somewhat of a border between the western part and the eastern part of this prehistoric culture – there are certain differences in the ceramics from the regions on both sides of this small river which isn’t even very well-known in today’s Bulgaria. The pottery differences aren’t huge but they are there.

So the Rositsa River was some kind of a border, whereas much more formidable natural barriers, namely, the Balkan Mountains and the Danube River seem to have played no such role.

It was still one and the same Chalcolithic culture that inhabited the regions east and west of the Rositsa River in today’s Central North Bulgaria.

Yet, the pottery differences show that there was a division of different tribal, clan-based unions. They did not go to war with one another, they had communication with each other but they also had some distinctions. That is what stands out against the backdrop of the base of the then material culture.

It is notable that this culture was very rich both materially and spiritually – a single home possessed 80, 100, or even 150 ceramic vessels. And even though a ceramic vessel is an everyday household item, these were actually works of art.

All of them are richly decorated, each one is unique, no two of them are the same. They are decorated with white, red, and ocher dyes. In some settlements such as the one in Krivodol (in Northwest Bulgaria), there are vessels decorated with gold paint. The pottery testifies to the craftsmanship and creativity of the people who produced and preserved it.

There is one vessel that really stands out – it is decorated with colorful images of snakes. It is a marvelous ceramic vessel, about 80 centimenters in diameter, well baked, polished, decorated with white and red paint, with the images of two possibly poisonous snakes. It is perhaps the best example of the awe-inspiring pottery art from this age and this region. I found it in a home alongside 18 other vessels but away from the regular kiln – this might suggest that it had a ritual function.

A pottery vessel decorated with snake images from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, as exhibited at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A display at the Pleven Regional Museum of History shows the pottery vessels discovered in one of the prehistoric homes in the Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement, including the vessel decorated with snake images. Photo: archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

A lot of artifacts connected with labor have also been discovered in the Telish – Redutite settlement: tools made of stone, flint, bones, and horns, and of copper – especially in the Late Chalcolithic.

The first usage of copper by the Chalcolithic humans is indicative of the development of metallurgy, logging and lumbering, woodworking, the construction of homes, textile production based on the growing of flax and the wool of sheep and goats. There are many pottery vessels with imprints from mats on which they were placed before being baked.

Some of the idols, i.e. ceramic figurines and statuettes – show that the women wore their hair in braids. Many of the idols are decorated with geometric ornaments and with colors.

It is also very interesting that the people didn’t just wear puttees, they had shoes and boots. In Telish – Redutite, we have discovered the largest clay shoemaking mold in Europe, it is size 43 (European size – 10 US size, 9.5 UK size). It is the same as the ones from the shoemaking molds from the Middle Ages. There are also small ceramic models of shoe found in Bulgaria, not in Telish, but they also speak of the high material culture of the Chalcolithic population.

A clay mold for shoemaking (43 (European size, 10 US size, 9.5 UK size) from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica displayed in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

What is remarkable about the spiritial culture of prehistoric people? What were their beliefs?

They had a robust clan-based community with a sustainable religious cult – with the Mother Goddess as their main deity.

What they produced in terms of cult pottery figurines and statuettes several thousand years ago is especially impressive: anthropomorphic figurines, zoomorphic figurines, vessels, sacrificial altars – which reflect the essence of their religious cult and their beliefs.

Probably the most interesting artifacts I have discovered in the Chalcolithic settlement in Telish (Telish – Redutite) are the statuettes of the sitting goddesses. Similar statuettes have been discovered in other sites as well but the goddesses from Telish sit not just on chairs but also on thrones. And they are more numerous than any other similar find.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov in his home in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. A replica of one of the Copper Age sitting goddesses from Telish is visible in the foreground. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A replica of one of the sitting goddesses discovered by Ventsislav Gergov in the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, shown by Gergov on his kitchen table in his home in Telish during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

One of the sitting goddesses discovered by Ventsislav Gergov in the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, as displayed at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

The goddesses are depicted in solemn, god-like positions. The backrests of their chairs or thrones are pentagonal. Their heads are roughly triangular, and their pelvises are enlarged. Each statuette of a Chalcolithic goddess is about 25 – 30 centimeters tall (appr. 1 foot).

In Telish, I have found over 20 intact statuettes of these Chalcolithic goddesses, and fragments from about 20 more. Every household of the Copper Age settlement Telish – Redutite possessed such a goddess, there was one in every home. This reveals these Mother Goddesses were used and worshiped by all in this age. They were household deities.

Up until my discoveries in Telish, there usually was one statuette discovered per settlement, and it was believed the entire settlement had only one.

So the collection of the sitting goddesses from Telish – Redutite is the single richest collection of prehistoric goddesses discovered in a single prehistoric settlement in the entire world.

The sitting Chalcolithic goddesses from Telish project confidence, independence, solemnity. They seem to be connected with the idea of fertility, and the origin of everything existing on earth and in the sky.

I can safely say that they have their own deserved place in the material and spiritual treasury of the Chalcolithic Age, and are looking at us from the threshold of eternity.

Replicas of some of the sitting goddesses’ statuettes from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. These replicas are on display in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the originals belong to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

Have you found any male figurines or statuettes, so to say, in the Telish settlement?

Male idols, you mean. They are more of a rarity from the age, the Mother Goddess and other female idols were much more prominent in the Chalcolithic. However, some of the most interesting figurines from Telish are three male idols notably depicted with erect phalluses.

In the Telish – Redutite settlement, you have also discovered an entire clay altar with decorations – what is the meaning of this find? Is its decoration an example of early writing?

Before we made this discovery in Telish, there had been many known fragments from such prehistoric clay altars as well as miniature ceramic models of such altars. Such have been found in Polyanitsa, Ovcharovo, and many other prehistoric settlements in Bulgaria.

But in Telish we have found an entire intact clay altar which was placed in a shrine – it is 1.20 meters (4 feet) tall, and 60 centimeters (2 feet) wide.

It surface was smoothened and decorated with red and yellow dye, depicting various geometric motifs and ornaments.

A replica of the prehistoric clay altar with pictographic signs from the Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement exhibited in the prehistoric home built by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. The original of the altar is kept at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The ornaments painted on the altar resemble those from a large number of ceramic vessels discovered in Telish, and their repetitive patterns are interpreted by some researchers as being connected with the notion of proto-writing or pre-alphabetic writing.

These signs, characters, various shapes and ornaments could be connected with the religious cult and probably have written meaning. They may have passed on information, for example, from one priest to their successor.

However, I personally think that these characters are far from proto-writing because there are many conditions that have to be met for such a form of expression to be classified as some kind of writing.

These so called pictographic characters emerged as early as the 6th millennium BC, and underwent great development in the ensuing ages. They were responsible for conveying some minimal quantity of information connected with the cult and life itself, with the social notions which developed during that period.

In the deep political and social structures their presence is an important moment in the development of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) culture and the spiritual life of those prehistoric tribes.

The best known slabs with pictographic writing are the tablets from Gradeshnitsa in Northwest Bulgaria, Tatariya in Romania, and Karanovo and the Karanovo Settlement Mound in Southern Bulgaria.

Before them it is hard to speak of proto-writing. So the clay altar and the ceramic vessels from Telish – these are probably some kind of characters giving information to those who understand them, probably the priests of the respective religious cult.

A prehistoric clay model of a kiln from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

A pottery vessel from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

A pottery vessel from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

A pottery vessel from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, an askos, a vessel with a specific shape used for pouring small amounts of liquids. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

A pottery artifact for making smoke from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown in the museum at the Telish cultural community club, the original belongs to the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Chitalishte Razvitie (Telish cultural community club)

What other artifacts discovered during your research of the Telish – Redutite settlement are indicative of the life of the people in the Chalcolithic?

Another emblematic find is a copper ax, actually a pickax. There are many similar finds from Southeast Europe but this one was discovered for the first time in its context, in a specific home, which shows how it was used.

We also have found a ceramic model of a baby cradle decorated with red paint. This cradle and the other ceramic models of everyday life items – such as tables and chairs – demonstrate that the prehistoric people had no abstract thinking. They depicted what they saw before their eyes.

The miniature ceramic models, figurines that they created were of furniture items that they had made of wood.

The model of the cradle and of the chairs actually show the clinches connecting their parts. You don’t need to show that in a ceramic figurine but they depicted it nonetheless because these were exact models of actual items, and they represented them exactly as they saw them.

The decorations of the altar and the pottery vessels show that there was a cannon in the art of these prehistoric people in that – with the exception of the snake vessel – all of them are decorated only with geometric motifs, albeit in different colors. There are no other motifs, and seemingly the geometric motifs were the leading ones in the lives of the Chalcolithic people of this region.

Of course, there is that one single exception of the vessel with the two snakes but apart from that all the other decorations, from the entire age show no depictions of a human or animal. (This does not refer to the actual anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines but to the decoration motifs). This seems like a canon in art.

What is the weirdest artifact you have found in the Chalcolithic settlement of Telish – Redutite?

This is no doubt what I refer to as a clay model of a “rocket" or a “space ship", as in a human-made space ship or an alien made space ship, if you wish – but in quotes.

Yes, that’s right – neither I, nor anybody else knows what this small clay figurine actually represents so as a working title we, including the Pleven Regional Museum of History, refer to it as a “rocket" model or a “space ship" model.

This is not to say that it was brought or made by aliens or anything else of the sort – this is just an artifact which looks like a space rocket or shuttle, and since we have no explanation of its shape and function, we have assigned this conditional name to it. (It is featured in the official catalog of the Pleven Regional Museum of History as “a model of a ‘rocket’".)

A replica of the mysterious clay amulet resembling a spaceship rocket from the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. This is a replica shown by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov on his kitchen table in his home in Telish, the original artifact is exhibited at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A photo from an official calendar of the Bulgarian Telegraphic Agency (BTA) from 1998 shows archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov holding the prehistoric “space rocket” artifact from the Telish – Redutite settlement. Nobody really knows what the artifact depicts, and renewed research into prehistoric finds from Central and Eastern Europe has found nothing comparable to it. Photo. BTA

One of the sitting goddesses and the original of the mysterious “spaceship” or “rocket” artifact discovered by Ventsislav Gergov in the 7,000-year-old Telish – Redutite Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, as displayed at the Pleven Regional Museum of History. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

I discovered the “rocket" model in the Chalcolithic settlement in Telish back in 1983. We still have no idea what it really is, what it was used for, or whether in some bewildering way it might be a representation of an actual space ship.

Since then, whenever I have presented this odd artifact at archaeological conferences or symposia, nobody has really challenged or disputed its conditional name because nobody knows what it really is. This is just a conditional name after what the model looks like.

I have just completed my renewed research into the matter, and no records from Central, Eastern, and Southeast Europe show any prehistoric find that is even remotely similar to this “rocket" model from Telish. I wouldn’t dare speak of the entire world but I’ve never read or heard of anything similar from elsewhere.

I would like to underscore that sensational “archaeology", so to say, is on the rise in Bulgaria in recent years, and I would like to steer clear of that. This fake archaeology has several gurus – let me skip their names – but all of our colleagues know who they are and regularly have a good laugh with these individuals’ exaggerated discovery stories.

So in this particular case with the prehistoric “rocket" model from Telish we have an artifact that nobody can explain, and which appears to resemble a modern-day space ship more than it resembles anything else. Again, I am not saying that it means that it belonged to aliens, or that the prehistoric people were visited by aliens – just that it looks like a rocket.

Back in the days when there was a draft in Bulgaria, I actually served in a missile unit so I am familiar with what a ballistic rocket looks like.

This clay artifact has a conic shape with a rounded top. On the sides, it has six semi-spheres with openings. The bottom isn’t round but elliptical, and has three holes in a line.

The entire model is polished, and decorated with red paint. It has a hole in on the sides of its top which means that it was worn on a string as an amulet.

So it resembles a modern-day space rocket not just in its shape but also because of the holes in the six semi-spheres in the top part, which could be construed to depict stabilizing engines or auxiliary engines used to get a rocket beyond a planet’s atmosphere, and the three holes in the oval bottom could depict the main engines of the space ship.

This artifact is certainly of great interest to ufologists, but then, again, a “rocket" model is just a condition working title of an artifact with an unknown function. My renewed research has now shown that nothing of the sort has been discovered in the Chalcolithic sites in Central and Eastern Europe.

As an archaeologist, I don’t believe in anything before I’ve seen it. I do think that humans are not alone in the universe as far as intelligent life is concerned. And I do think that this artifact is really interesting, but I certainly don’t think it is any kind of evidence of alien presence on Earth.

Yet, the “rocket" model is especially intriguing against the backdrop of the prehistoric people’s lack of abstract thinking which I already mentioned. Namely, the presumption is that in order to depict anything, they must have seen it beforehand.

They never did anything abstract. They didn’t have that kind of thinking, abstract thinking hadn’t developed yet as evidence by everything that is left of their material and spiritual culture.

So I think that whatever this weird artifact represents, it is something that its creator had seen in some form in order be able to reproduce it as a clay figurine.

Of course, our modern-day imagination can go really far. So I’ve been asked if the triangle-shaped heads of the sitting goddesses from Telish shouldn’t be considered further evidence of the presence of aliens in human Prehistory, alongside the “rocket" model – you know, if the prehistoric humans didn’t actually meet aliens with triangular heads, and decide to worship them as gods.

There have been no plausible hypotheses about this artifact, this “rocket” or “space ship” model discovered in one of the prehistoric settlements in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria.

The only thing some of my colleagues have ventured as a guess is that it represents a phallus. My reply in such cases is somewhat cynical but it boils down to the fact that this artifact looks nothing like a phallus.

So how have other archaeologists reacted in general when you’ve presented this “rocket” artifact to them?

All of them listen carefully and nobody knows what it is. They don’t dispute the “rocket” in quotes title. Nobody has offered any other plausible explanation. So anybody is free to offer another explanation.

*** End of Part 1 ***

Also check out:

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Destruction of Europe’s Chalcolithic Civilization Shows the Stronger Triumps over the Smarter in World History (Interview Part 2)

 

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Appendix: Selection of Papers Published by Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

(Bibliographic reference by Vili Tomova, Hristo Smirnenski Regional Library, Pleven – 45 articles, Bulgarian, Russian, English, French, German, Romanian, drafted November 2016)

1. Разкопки в м. „Пипра" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1976 г. – София, 1977, с.24.

2. Разкопки в м. Чаира при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1977. – София, 1978, с. 33.

3. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1977 г. – София, 1978, с. 34.

4. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1978 г. – София, 1979, с. 29.

5. Праисторически находки от пещерата при с. Муселиево, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите от Северозападна България, 3, 1979, с. 35-55.

6. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1979 г. – София, 1980, с. 38-39.

7. Археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Окръжна археологическа конференция. – Плевен, 1980, с. 10-14.

8. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1980 г. – София, 1981, с. 29-30.

9. Праисторическото селище при с. Телиш и неговото място в етнокултурния комплекс Криводол – Салкуца – Бубани / Венцислав Гергов. // Научна сесия „История на Плевенския край" посветена на 1300 години от създаването на българската държава : Резюмета на докл. и науч. съобщения. – Плевен, 1981, с.17-19.

10. Epee de bronze du village Odarne, department de Pleven. / V. Gergov // Stud. Praehist., 5-6, 1981, p. 152-153 : с ил.

11. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1981 г. – София, 1982, с.17-18.

12. Разкопки на праисторическото селище при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1982. – София, 1983, с. 20.

13. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1983 г. – София, 1984, с. 29-30.

14. Праисторическо селище в местността Редутите при с. Телиш [Плевенско] / Венцислав Гергов. // Музеи и паметници на културата, 1985, №1, с.31-33.

15. Кремъчни оръдия от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов, Иван Гацов, Свобода Сиракова. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 10, 1985, с. 9-23.

16. Идолната пластика от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Юбилейна научна сесия на СНР [Съюз на научните работници] съвместно с ВМИ : Резюмета. – Плевен, 1985, с. 124.

17. Медни находки от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археология, 1987, №4, с. 44-54.

18. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1986 г. – Разград, 1987, с. 24-25.

19. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Ловешка област / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1987 г. – Благоевград, 1988, с. 33.

20. Праисторические исследования пещер в Центральной Северной Болгарии / Венцисла Гергов. // International congress of Speleologie, X. Budapest, 1989 : Proceedings-comminications. – Т.2. – Budapest, 1989, p. 340-343.

21. Мястото на селището Телиш – Редутите в проблема за Преходния период в България / Венцислав Гергов. // Археология, 1992, №2, с. 49.

22. Глинен олтар от праисторическото селище [в местността „Редутите"] при Телиш, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 18, 1992, с. 29-33 : 4 с. ил.

23. Доисторическое поселение Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Stud. Praehist., 11-12, 1992, с. 347-357.

24. Праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите и проблема за прехода между енеолита и бронзовата епоха в България / Венцислав Гергов. // Год. на Департамент Археология – Нов български университет, 1, 1994, с. 303-306.

25. Каменни зооморфни скиптри от праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Експедиция „Марица-Изток" : Археологически проучвания. – Т. II. – София, 1994, с. 73-78.

26. Палеолитно находище при село Муселиево / Венцислав Гергов. // Плевен 95 : 90 г. археологически разкопки и проучвания : [Култ.-информ. бюл.]. – Плевен, 1995, с. 3.

27. Праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Плевен95 : 90 г. археологически разкопки и проучвания : [Култ.-информ. бюл.]. – Плевен, 1995, с. 4.

28. A Dwelling of Telish IV / Ventsislav Gergov. // Early bronze age settlement patterns in the Balkans (ca. 3500 – 2000 BG, Calibrated dates) : Reports of prehistoric research projects, V. 1, Nos. 2-4, Apr. – Dec. 1995 (1996) : Part 2 / Comp. and ed. by : Lolita Nikolova. – Sofia, 1996, p. 309-322.

29. Научна конференция „Археологически данни за ползата и присъствието на кучето в бита на човека от Югоизточна Европа" / Венцислав Гергов. (Из живота на музеите през 1996-1997 г.) / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 25, 1997, с. 407-408.

30. Керамични статуетки на седящи богини от Телиш-Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Тракия и съседните райони през неолита и халколита : Сб. докл. от V нац. конф. по праистория, Караново, 31 май-1 юни 1999 / Под ред. Васил Николов. – София, 2000, с. 101-106 : с ил.

31. Селища от късния неолит в Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Палеобалканистика и старобългаристика : Втори есенни междунар. четения Проф. „Иван Гълъбов". – В. Търново, 2001, с.397-413.

32. Catera date despre aserazlie neoliticului tarzin olin imprejurimite orasului Plevna-Bulgaria / Ventsislav Gherghov. // Oltenia Studii si comunicari Arheologie – Istorie. – Craiova, 2001, p.29-32.

33. Спасителни археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Езерото при с. Садовец, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов и др. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2003 г. : XLIII Нац. археолог. конф. : Резюмета. – София, 2004, с. 39-40.

34. Телиш – Редутите: синхронизация със селища в Тракия / Венцислав Гергов. // Праисторическа Тракия : Докл. от междунар. симпозиум в Стара Загора, 30.09-04.10.2003 / Ред. Васил Николов и др. – София-Стара Загора, 2004, с. 437-448.

35. Спасителни археологически разкопки в Деветашката пещера / Венцислав Гергов, М. Валентинова. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2004 г. – София, 2005, с. 60-62.

36. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. Стражица при с. Лепица, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2005 г. – София, 2006, с. 32-33.

37. Спасителни археологически разкопки в Деветашката пещера / Венцислав Гергов, М. Валентинова. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2005 г. – София, 2006, с.33-34

38. Археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Лъга – с. Телиш, община Червен бряг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2006 г. – София, 2007, с. 32-33 : с ил.

39. Die pastos bemalte Keramik aus der finalkupferzeitlichen Siedlung Telis-Redutite, Zentral-Nordbulgarien. / V. Gergov. // Prae Honorem Henrieta Todorova / Ed. M. Stefanovich, Ch. Angelova. – Sofia, 2007, p. 135-141.

40. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езеро" при с. Садовец, община долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2008 г. – София, 2008, с. 81-83.

41. Петрографска и типологична характеристика на каменни оръдия от халколитното селище Телиш, Плевенска област / Венцислав Гергов. // Геология и минерални ресурси, XVI, 2009, №1-2, с. 51-53.

42. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езерото" при с. Садовец, община Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2008 г. – София, 2009, с. 106-108 : сх.

43. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езерото" при с. Садовец, общ. Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2009 г. – София, 2011, с. 83-84.

44. Керамични тарамбуки от праисторическото селище Телиш-Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Златното Пето хилядолетие: Тракия и съседните райони през каменно-медната епоха : Докл. от межд. симпозиум, Пазарджик, Юндола, 26-30.10.2009. – София, 2011, с. 265-271.

45. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езеро" при с. Садовец, община Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2011 г. – София, 2012, с. 80-82.

Sources: Pleven Regional Library; Pleven Regional Museum of History; St. Cyril and St. Methodius National Library in Sofia; Library of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”; Library of New Bulgarian University in Sofia; personal archive.

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