Smallest Ancient Thracian Brick Tomb Found near Bulgaria’s Rozovo, Thoroughly Looted by Treasure Hunters

The entrance of the newly unearthed Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo, Kazanlak Municipality, in Central Bulgaria, which has turned out to be Bulgaria’s smallest Thracian brick tomb. Photo: Kazanlak Museum of History

The smallest Ancient Thracian brick tomb, out of a total of 14 Thracian tombs made of bricks that have been excavated so far in Bulgaria, has been found by archaeologists near the town of Rozovo near the town of Kazanlak, Stara Zagora District.

The newly found tomb is notable for a number of reasons, in addition to being the smallest known brick tomb in Bulgaria from the time of Ancient Thrace.

It has now become the second known beehive tomb or tholos (tholus) – referred to in Bulgarian as a “dome tomb” – after the world famous Kazanlak Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage site – whose “dome” has survived. Unlike it, however, the Rozovo Tomb contains no murals or frescoes.

In addition the Rozovo Tomb is known to have been fully looted by ruthless modern-day treasure hunters back in 2010, long before the Bulgarian archaeologists managed to study it.

Nonetheless, the rescue excavations carried out by Assoc. Prof. Georgi Nehrizov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and Meglena Parvin from the Kazanlak Museum of History “Iskra” have exposed a rather valuable archaeological and historical monument from Ancient Thrace seemingly dating to the first half of the 3rd century BC.

Tombs of Ancient Thracian rulers and nobles are usually hidden underneath burial mounds (tumuli) dotting the landscape in much of Southern and Northeast Bulgaria.

Made of stone or brick, these tombs date from the height of Ancient Thrace in the 4th – 3rd century BC up to the Late Roman period in the 3rd century AD, after the Thracians were conquered by the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD.

The Kazanlak Valley in Central Bulgaria, also known as the Rose Valley, is particularly rich in terms of the number of Ancient Thracian burial mounds and tombs found there (with an estimated 1,500 mounds, of which some 300 have been explored), and has become known as the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings, as it was the power center of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD).

Many of the Thracian burial mounds and the tombs they hide get looted by the numerous modern-day treasure hunters roaming the Bulgarian countryside, not to mention that some were actually looted back in the Antiquity.

Unfortunately, the smallest Ancient Thracian brick tomb in Bulgaria was totally looted by treasure hunters back in 2010. Photos: Kazanlak Museum of History

The burial mound that coevred the Rozovo Tomb. Photo: Kazanlak Museum of History

The Kazanlak Museum of History managed to secure funding from the Bulgarian government for the rescue excavations of the Rozovo Tomb – located about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the tomb of Kazanlak – only in 2018, eight years after it was raided and partly destroyed by treasure hunters.

With the rescue digs ending on September 21, 2018, lead archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov has told local news site Kazanlak.info that his team has been pleasantly surprised by what they have found in the Ancient Thracian beehive brick tomb near Rozovo, which is clearly from the Hellenistic Era.

“It is curious that the treasure hunters’ digs were illogical and even a little. One of them was outside the burial chamber, and exposed its outer wall, which is totally pointless. Another dig came from the west, reached the burial chamber, and pierced its wall, which is also totally useless, destroying part of the dome room,” Nehrizov says.

He explains that the Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo is of the type of the Kazanlak Tomb, with a burial chamber and a small antechamber.

“This Hellenistic Era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome. Several other such brick tombs have been found in the Kazanlak Valley [the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings] but they are less preserved, and material from them was used for other structures in later periods,” Nehrizov explains.

A view from the inside of the surviving “dome” of the Rozovo Tomb, which was completed with a stone slab on top. Photo: Kazanlak Museum of History

Damage in the walls of the Rozovo Tomb caused by treasure hunters who wiped clean the Ancient Thracian funeral inventory in 2010. Photo: Kazanlak Museum of History

“This is the smallest tomb of this kind to have been discovered so far. The dome’s top is covered with a stone slab. It consists of 23 rows of bricks of various shapes and sizes. There are rectangular, square, and sectoral bricks, and some of them are very thick. Our excavations lead to the conclusion that the bricks were baked here on the spot depending on the detail that the architect and builder needed, and everything was made to fit together,” the archaeologist elaborates.

In front of the burial chamber and the antechamber, there was a shed covered with Laconian – type roof tiles, large flat tiles which were pieced together with curved tiles.

“Apparently, the shed was a wooden structure. Such sheds have been found in other Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley such as Shushmanets, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, but here the shed seems better preserved. The treasure hunters didn’t dig from the south,” Nehrizov adds.

On the outside, the Rozovo Tomb was plastered with river stones shaping what the Bulgarian archaeologists refer to as a “coat”, which both solidified the structure and prevented atmospheric water from penetrating the tomb.

“Unfortunately, after the treasure hunters’ raid, there is nothing left inside the tomb [in terms of funeral inventory]. We’ve found scattered bones from a human skeleton, including a skull, on the floor but there is no archaeological material, not even pottery. This is not a hurdle to dating the monument because all 14 similar Thracian tombs studied [by archaeologists] so far date to the first half of the 3rd century BC. This one is no exception,” Nehrizov reveals.

“I underscore again that in comparison with the [Ancient Thracian brick] tombs discovered around [the Odrysian Kingdom capital] Seuthopolis (now submerged under water) and around Maglizh, this tomb is a miniature one, and was built much more sloppily. [For instance], unlike the Kazanlak Tomb, the soldering here is clay, not mortary,” the lead archaeologist points out.

Nehrizov also notes that the newly found and smallest Ancient Thracian brick tomb in Bulgaria seems to be the second best preserved so far – even though it features no murals and frescoes.

Archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov (left) and Meglena Parving (right) show the newly excavated Ancient Thracian tomb from the 3rd century BC. Photos: Kazanlak Museum of History

“There are Thracian brick tombs from this period only in the Kazanlak Valley, the most distant one is in the town of Oryahovitsa near Stara Zagora to the east. There are two near Maglizh, several around Seuthopolis, two near Kran, and then the one known as Sarafova Mogila (Sarafov Mound), but its chamber is rectangular, not round. So is one of the Maglizh tombs, also rectangular, but with murals,” the archaeologist explains.

“So it is important for that, while the Rozovo Tomb has no murals, it is second [Ancient Thracian brick] tomb with a surviving dome,” he recaps.

The rescue excavations of the smallest Ancient Thracian tomb found near Rozovo in Central Bulgaria were completed on September 21, 2018. The fate of the tomb is to be decided by a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

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The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrysai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was one of the two most powerful states of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

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The Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings is a term used to describe the numerous Ancient Thracian tumuli (burial mounds) containing tombs and graves in the valley of the Central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, which was coined by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, a tracologist (an archaeologist specializing in Ancient Thrace). It is believed that over 1,500 Ancient Thracian burial mounds exist in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings alone, of which some 300 have been excavated by archaeologists. Not unlike the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Valley of the Odrysian Thracian Kings is where the Thracian rulers and high aristocrats were buried.

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The world-famous Kazanlak Tomb was discovered in 1944 (it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979). Between 1948 and 1954, Bulgarian archaeologists had the chance to explore one of the capitals of the Ancient Thracians, the ancient city of Seuthopolis. Unfortunately, those were only rescue excavations since the then communist dictatorship in Bulgaria decided it would be a good idea to submerge Seuthopolis on the bottom of the then constructed Koprinka Water Reservoir (present day initiatives for creating an underwater island to exhibit Seuthopolis for tourists have failed to be realized). The Thracian tombs in Maglizh and Kran were discovered in 1965. Thracian tombs from the Roman period (i.e. after Ancient Thrace (at least south of the Danube) was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD) were excavated near the towns of Tulovo and Dabovo in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the team of Dr. M. Domaradski explored a Thracian settlement and a necropolis near the town of Tazha. Between 1992 and 2006, late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov led his special archaeological expedition TEMP (Tracology Expedition for Mound Research) which explored over 200 Thracian burial mounds during the Iron Age and the Roman Age in the Kazanlak Valley. The expedition’s finds include over 15 tombs, 3 brick masonry graves, and a number of rich funerals. New discoveries after 2007 of funerals of Thracian aristocrats at Drumeva Mogila Mound near the town of Staro Selo, and Yakimova Mogila Mound near Krushare have extended the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings’ eastward along the Tundzha Valley to the city of Sliven. The traces of civilized life indicate that the Thracians continued many of the traditions of the prehistoric people who inhabited the region in today’s Central Bulgaria. This is evidenced by the Buzovgrad Megalith dating back to 1,800-1,600 BC, and the city of Seuthopolis, which was built on top of a previously existing settlement. More Thracian tumuili have been studied recently near Buzovgrad and Dolno Izvorovo.

Of all the Ancient Thracian burial mounds with their tombs and graves in the Valley of the Odrysian Thracians Kings, only the Kazanlak Tomb has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1979). However, in 2012, Kazanlak Municipality started preparing its application for seeking UNESCO World Heritage Status for several more of the most major Thracian tombs in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings’ – the Golyama Kosmatka Tomb, the Ostrusha Tomb, the Shushmanets Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, and the Griffins’ Tomb.

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The Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as the Helvetia Tomb is located near the town of Shipka, Kazanlak Municipality in Central Bulgaria. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC. It was discovered in 1996 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, and was named after the Swiss foundation Helvetia which supported Kitov’s excavations at the time. It is the second tumulus from the necropolis around the Shushmanets Mound. The stone funeral bed and stone benches found inside it indicate that the tomb was used as a mausoleum-shrine where Orphic Mysteries (connected with the cult for mythical Ancient Thracian poet Orpheus) were probably performed. The tomb had a mechanism for locking from the inside. A small furrow at its doorstep indicates that sacrifices were performed there, which is the first time this has been discovered in a Thracian tomb. The Helvetia tomb-shrine was emptied or robbed in the Antiquity period. Yet, the Bulgarian archaeologists have found there several silver artifacts including silver applications and buttons as well as two fully preserved horse skeletons.

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The Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as the Griffins’ Tomb is located near the town of Shipka, Kazanlak Municipality in Central Bulgaria. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC. It was discovered in 1996 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, and was named after the depictions of griffin heads discovered above its entrance. It is the third tumulus from the necropolis around the Shushmanets Mound, and the largest domed tomb from Ancient Thrace discovered to date. The door to the Griffins’ Tomb was found crushed in several pieces. The Bulgarian archaeologists have established that the tomb was robbed back in the Antiquity period. Inside its funeral chamber, there is a stone funeral bed and a small stone table in front of it. It was built with stone blocks connected with iron brackets. It is believed to have been built 1-2 decades after the Golyama Arsenalka tomb. Despite the ancient robbery, the archaeologists excavating the Griffins’ Tomb discovered two golden jewels, golden flakes, and small pieces of silver and bronze.

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