2,500-Year-Old ‘Metallurgical Plant’ at Ancient Copper Mine Discovered near Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Sozopol

A large number of kilns have been found at the site of the “Copper Ridge” Antiquity copper mine outside of ancient Apollonia Pontica, today’s Sozopol on the Black Sea coast in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Bulgarian National Television

An ancient metallurgical plant from the 6th century BC located at an Antiquity copper mine has been discovered by archaeologists during rescue excavations near the Black Sea town of Sozopol in Southeast Bulgaria, the successor of the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica.

While the ancient copper mining near Sozopol has been well researched, for the first time archaeologists have discovered ceramic kilns for melting the copper ore right on the edge of the mine in what resembles an Antiquity metallurgy facility.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Sozopol, ancient Apollonia Pontica / Sozopolis, is known for its extremely rich archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage – both on the mainland (where an Attica red-figure pottery krater depicting the myth about Oedipus and the Sphinx was discovered recently), and on the nearby St. Ivan (St. John) Island.

The island is best known for the discovery of the relics of St. John the Baptist in 2010 by Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov. The excavations there keep yielding new finds such as the 2015 discovery of a tomb possibly containing the bones of the monastery founder, a Syrian monk who brought the relics.

Another intriguing recent find from Sozopol is a 3rd century decree of Apollonia Pontica’s assembly testifying to the city’s ties to Heraclea Pontica, another Ancient Greek colony on the Black Sea coast, today’s city of Karadeniz Eregli in the Asian part of Turkey.

The newly discovered Antiquity metallurgical plant near the copper ore deposits close to Sozopol dates to the second half of the 6th century BC, namely, shortly after the founding of the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica.

“The [metallurgy plant] demonstrates the highly developed and specialized organization of copper ore extraction and processing within the very mine,” says Dimitar Nedev, Director of the Sozopol Museum of Archaeology, as cited by the Bulgarian National Television.

Two types of 6th century BC furnaces have been found on the site outside Sozopol to process the extracted ore: for “frying” and for melting. Photos: TV grabs from the Bulgarian National Television

Photo: Darik Burgas

The copper melting ceramic kilns have been found in an area known as Medni Rid (“Copper Ridge”) by a team of Bulgarian and German archaeologists led by Petar Leshtakov and Krasimir Nikov.

The digs there started as rescue excavations in October 2018, after the end of the summer archaeological season, after tree logging trucks compromised the terrain, Nedev reveals.

“This discovery is of extreme significance for Bulgarian archaeology, and perhaps one of the major archaeological events of 2018,” the local museum director says.

The discovery of the kilns demonstrates that the Antiquity metallurgical plant would extract the metal from the copper ore right on the spot of the mine, and then would transport the raw material in the form of copper slabs to the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica on the Black Sea coast nearby.

From there, the extracted copper would be exported around the ancient Mediterranean world.

The discovery marks the first time ancient metallurgy furnaces have been found near Bulgaria’s Sozopol but outside the territory of the ancient polis.

What is more, the archaeologists have come across archaeological material allowing them to figure out their precise dating such as ceramic vessels originating elsewhere in Ancient Greece.

“These are amphorae from [the Mediterranean islands of] Chios and Samos, which were used by the ancient miners, and provide a very nice dating benchmark,” Nedev says.

Fragments from amphorae from the Aegean Sea islands of Chios and Samos found at the ancient “metallurgical plant” near Bulgaria’s Sozopol. Photos: TV grabs from the Bulgarian National Television

The discovered ceramic kilns were terraced and close to one another so as to generate higher temperatures with relative ease.

The archaeologists have exposed their main stone poles, traces of plaster, malachite, azurite, and melted metal on the inner side of the furnaces.

The researchers expect to discover three more group of 2,500-year-old kilns, and hope they will also be able to find the location of miners’ settlement nearby.

Their findings so far are construed as testimony to the fact that Sozopol (Apollonia Pontica) was one of the largest copper extraction and metallurgy centers in the Antiquity world.

The copper ore in the “Copper Ridge” area was extracted in an open-air mine, without any tunnels, with a diameter of about 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles).

“These discoveries show that the intensive development of the copper deposits in the “Copper Ridge” region began as early as the Archaic Period [of Ancient Greece – 800 – 480 BC],” Sozopol Museum of Archaeology Director Nedev has told Darik Burgas.

The furnaces have been found on the northern slope of the ridge, and are two types: the first time was used for “frying”, that is, removing the sulfur from the copper ore concentrate; the second type were the melting kilns.

The unearthed ancient ceramic kilns have well preserved central stone poles and traces of metal processing. Photos: TV grabs from the Bulgarian National Television

Nedev points out that using their copper extraction and metallurgy technology, the inhabitants of Apollonia Pontica were able to cast in a mold the large ancient statue of god Apollo that was its symbol for several centuries during the Antiquity period that has been compared to the Colossus of Rhodes.

The 13-meter bronze statue of Apollo was the work of ancient Athenian sculptor Calamis, and cost 400 talents of gold. It stood on the Black Sea coast in ancient Apollonia Pontica for roughly 400 years before it was taken by the Roman conquerors to Rome.

In 2016, Sozopol voiced plans to restore the 5th century BC statue of Apollo from Apollonia Pontica.

Back in 2012, archaeologists discovered in Sozopol two ancient foundries underneath a necropolis from the 6th – 7th century AD.

The site where the 2,500-year-old metallurgical plant has been discovered is on the northern slope of the “Copper Ridge” near Sozopol. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

The Greeks Overseas: The Early Colonies and Trade

Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece

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Background Infonotes:

The history of the resort town of Sozopol (ancient Apollonia Pontica, Sozopolis) on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast started during the Early Bronze Age, in the 5th millennium BC, as testified by the discoveries of artifacts found in underwater archaeological research, such as dwellings, tools, pottery, and anchors. In the 2nd-1st millennium BC, the area was settled by the Ancient Thracian tribe Scyrmiades who were experienced miners trading with the entire Hellenic world.

An Ancient Greek colony was founded there in 620 BC by Greek colonists from Miletus on Anatolia’s Aegean coast. The colony was first called Anthea but was later renamed to Apollonia in favor of Ancient Greek god Apollo, a patron of the setters who founded the town. It became known as Apollonia Pontica (i.e. of the Black Sea). Since the Late Antiquity, the Black Sea town has also been called Sozopolis.

The Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica emerged as a major commercial and shipping center, especially after the 5th century AD when it became allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. As of the end of the 6th century BC, Apollonia Pontica started minting its own coins, with the anchor appearing on them as the symbol of the polis.

Apollonia became engaged in a legendary rivalry with another Ancient Greek colony, Mesembria, today’s Bulgarian resort town of Nessebar, which was founded north of the Bay of Burgas in the 6th century BC by settlers from Megara, a Greek polis located in West Attica. According to some historical accounts, in order to counter Mesembria’s growth, Apollonia Pontica founded its own colony, Anchialos, today’s Pomorie (though other historical sources do not support this sequence of events), which is located right to the south of Mesembria.

Apollonia managed to preserve its independence during the military campaigns of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon under Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and his son Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC). Apollonia, today’s Sozopol, is known to have had a large temple of Greek god Apollo (possibly located on the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island, also known as the St. Cyricus Island), with a 13.2-meter statue of Apollo created by Calamis, a 5th century BC sculptor from Ancient Athens. In 72 BC, Apollonia Pontica was conquered by Roman general Lucullus who took the Apollo statue to Rome and placed it on the Capitoline Hill. After the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire, the statue was destroyed.

In the Late Antiquity, Apollonia, also called Sozopolis lost some of its regional center positions to Anchialos, and the nearby Roman colony Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium). After the division of the Roman Empire into a Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (today known as Byzantium) in 395 AD, Apollonia / Sozopolis became part of the latter. Its Late Antiquity fortress walls were built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anasthasius (r. 491-518 AD), and the city became a major fortress on the Via Pontica road along the Black Sea coast protecting the European hinterland of Constantinople.

In 812 AD, Sozopol was first conquered for Bulgaria by Khan (or Kanas) Krum, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in 803-814 AD. In the following centuries of medieval wars between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, Sozopol changed hands numerous times. The last time it was conquered by the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Todor (Teodor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300-1322 AD). However, in 1366 AD, during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), Sozopol was conquered by Amadeus IV, Count of Savoy from 1343 to 1383 AD, who sold it to Byzantium.

During the period of the invasion of the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century AD, Sozopol was one of the last free cities in Southeast Europe. It was conquered by the Ottomans in the spring of 1453 AD, two months before the conquest of Constantinople despite the help of naval forces from Venice and Genoa.

In the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Sozopol was a major center of (Early) Christianity with a number of large monasteries such as the St. John the Baptist Monastery on St. Ivan Island off the Sozopol coast where in 2010 Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov made a major discovery by finding relics of St. John the Baptist; the St. Apostles Monastery; the St. Nikolay (St. Nikolaos or St. Nicholas) the Wonderworker Monastery; the Sts. Quriaqos and Julietta Monastery on the St. Cyricus (St. Kirik) Island, the Holy Mother of God Monastery, the St. Anastasia Monastery.

During the Ottoman period Sozopol was often raided by Cossack pirates. In 1629, all Christian monasteries and churches in the city were burned down by the Ottoman Turks leading it to lose its regional role. In the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Sozopol was conquered by the navy of the Russian Empire, and was turned into a temporary military base.

After Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, Sozopol remained a major fishing center. As a result of intergovernmental agreements for exchange of population in the 1920s between the Tsardom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Greece, most of the ethnic Greeks still remaining in Sozopol moved to Greece, and were replaced by ethnic Bulgarians from the Bulgarian-populated regions of Northern Greece.

The modern era archaeological excavations of Sozopol were started in 1904 by French archaeologists who later took their finds to The Louvre Museum in Paris, including ancient vases from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the golden laurel wreath of an Ancient Thracian ruler, and a woman’s statue from the 3rd century BC. Important archaeological excavations of Sozopol were carried out between 1946 and 1949 by Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Venedikov.

The most recent excavations of Sozopol’s Old Town started in 2010. In 2011-2012, Bulgarian archaeologists Tsonya Drazheva and Dimitar Nedev discovered a one-apse church, a basilica, and an Early Christian necropolis. Since 2012, the excavations of Sozopol have been carried out together with French archaeologists.

In 2010, during excavations of the ancient monastery on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island in the Black Sea, off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol, Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov discovered a reliquary containing relics of St. John the Baptist. In 1974, the Bulgarian government set up the Old Sozopol Archaeological and Architectural Preserve.

A 2012 National Geographic documentary featuring the discovery of the St. John the Baptist relics in Bulgaria’s Sozopol can be seen here (in English and here in Bulgarian).

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