Yet Another 7,000-Year-Old Slab with Likely Proto-Writing Found in Bulgaria, in Transitional Stone-to-Copper Age Settlement
Bulgarian archaeologists have found one more prehistoric clay slab with possibly pre-alphabetic writing or proto-writing carvings, this time in a large 7,000-year-old settlement near Panagyurishte in South Central Bulgaria, which is from the transition period between the Late Neolithic (New Stone Age) and Early Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age).
While not proven, it seems plausible that the newly found Neolithic – Chalcolithic pottery slab with its carved signs could feature a type of proto-writing in the sense of having been a very early form of conveying information by written means.
The newly discovered pre-alphabetic writing or proto-writing ceramic slab from ca. 5,000 BC, this time from the vicinity of the town of Bata (or Buta), Panagyurishte Municipality, Plovdiv District, is at least the sixth or seventh discovery of this kind in Bulgaria alone, depending on how they are classified.
Similar prehistoric pre-alphabetic writing or proto-writing ceramic artifacts from 8,000-7,000 years ago, many of them with the same elliptical shape, have been found on both sides of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina), that is, in both North and South Bulgaria.
One such artifact is a small ceramic slab from the 6th millennium BC with written signs found in 2017 near Nova Zagora in Southern Bulgaria.
Another similar find is a 7,000-year-old ceramic fragment with pre-alphabetic writing from the end of the Neolithic, which was found in 2016 in a prehistoric settlement from the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) underneath the Ancient Roman road station Ad Putea at the town of Riben in Northern Bulgaria.
A nearly 7,000-year-old ceramic prism with what might be pre-alphabetic writing was discovered near the Black Sea city of Burgas in 2008 in an Early Chalcolithic settlement mound but was unveiled to the public only in 2016.
One of the most famous archaeological artifacts with pre-alphabetic writing so far have been the so called Gradeshnitsa Tablets, discovered in 1969 near the town of Gradeshnitsa, Vratsa District, in Northwest Bulgaria. Artifacts comparable to the Gradeshnitsa Tablets have also been found in today’s Romania, i.e. north of the Danube River.
Also famous artifacts with potentially pre-alphabet writing are round clay slabs or seals with seemingly proto-writing carvings found the Karanovo Settlement Mound in Sliven District, Southeast Bulgaria, which are from the Late Chalcolithic, more precisely the second half of the 4th millennium BC.
From roughly the same period, there is also a set of nine 6,000-year-old loom weights engraved with what could be proto-writing signs. The prehistoric loom weights are kept at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History.
Another relevant example is a 7,000-year-old Chalcolithic settlement in Telish, Pleven District which has yielded an altar and ceramic vessels with possibly proto-writing signs.
The latest prehistoric ceramic slab with possible proto-writing to have been discovered in Bulgaria has been presented in the “Bulgarian Archaeology 2020” annual exhibition at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, which was opened in February 2021.
Its finding came as part of the discovery and excavation of a large settlement from the transition between the Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic in the area of Varbishki Dol, town Bata (Buta), Panagyurishte Municipality, in Central South Bulgaria.
The site has been excavated by archaeologists Yavor Boyadzhiev and Kamen Boyadzhiev from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Valeri Petrov from the Ethnology and Folklore Studies Institute in Sofia.
“The prehistoric site is a dispersed spacious settlement with an area of at least 150,000 square meters (150 decares or 37 acres) dating from the end of the Late Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the beginning of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age or Copper Stone Age) – about 5,100 – 4,800 BC,” informs the official poster for the site at the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology exhibition and the official catalog.
The large prehistoric settlement was located on terrace on both sides of a small river, which is a left tributary of the Banska Luda Yana River.
The 2020 excavations were rescue digs carried out on a plot for the construction of a local natural gas pipeline to the towns of Panagyurishte and Pirdop.
The archaeologists have found two archaeological layers, noting that more may have existed as the uppermost ones were likely destroyed by farming.
In different spots within the Neolithic-Chalcolithic settlement, the researchers have stumbled upon concentrations of archaeological artifacts such as brick plasters, pottery vessel fragments, and animal bones. Some of those heaps probably resulted from the destruction of buildings.
The archaeologists have found three hearths and numerous pits, with some of the pits measuring 0.4-0.6 meters in diameter, leading the researchers to hypothesize those pits had to do with the architecture of the buildings, and were probably used for erecting massive wooden poles as supporting structures. In other pits, the prehistoric people who inhabited the site would place large storage vessels.
In the southern part of the prehistoric settlement near Panagyurishte, the archaeologists found an area with a high concentration of flint cores and micro lamellas.
“Particularly interesting is the situation in the northern part of the site where [we] have established three parallel moats running in northwest-southeast direction,” the archaeological team says.
They found that the southern moat was the widest as it was up to 4.5 meters wide, and 1.5 meters deep against the then ground level ca. 5,000 BC.
About 2 meters to the south of the moat in question and parallel to it, we have found a stone structure (the foundation of a wall or a dike) with preserved two rows of stones, 1.5 meters in width. On the outer side they have an even façade,” the archaeological team writes.
It adds that the wall and the moat limit and protect the settlement from the north. Two linear ditches with a northwest-southeast orientation have also been established in the southern part of the site.
“More than 1,500 artifacts have been discovered. Particularly remarkable are the diverse anthropomorphic figurines, some of which are with detailed craftsmanship, and distinguishable facial features and even “hairstyles”. Two ceramic artifacts with sign engravings have also been found,” the archaeological team concludes.
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Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author of the book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.
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