3,000-Year-Old Bird-Shaped Vessel Placed in Burial Urn Found in Bulgaria’s Baley in Crucial Thracian Bronze Age Necropolis
Archaeologists have discovered 15 new graves from the 2nd millennium BC, the Middle Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age, near the town of Baley on the Danube, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria, in a necropolis from the earliest Ancient Thracians testifying to the transition to the Iron Age, and containing numerous urns and other “encrusted” ceramic vessels, including a bird-shaped vessel.
The more than 3,000-year-old bird-shaped ceramic vessel from Baley, which reminds of a duck or another water bird species, has been one of the most remarkable newly discovered artifacts on display in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition. The exhibition in question is an annual event of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, whose present edition was opened in February 2021.
The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age settlement and necropolis from the period between 2,000 BC and 1,000 BC near Baley belongs to the so called “Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube.”
It has also been referred to as part of the Orsoya – Baley Culture, including another Bronze Age site in Northwest Bulgaria, on the Danube River – Orsoya near today’s town of Lom.
Baley and its adjacent Bronze Age archaeological site are located in Bregovo Municipality, in Bulgaria’s very northwestern “corner”, between the Danube River and the Bulgaria – Serbia border.
The early Ancient Thracian site from the Middle and Late Bronze Age period at Baley has been researched for more than 40 years now but keeps yielding new impressive Bronze Age finds.
The 15 newly discovered graves with their the numerous cremation burial urns and other encrusted pottery vessels and other artifacts from the Baley necropolis, about 2 kilometers southwest of the Danube River, date back to the 2nd millennium BC.
“This is a time which we can associate with the [Ancient] Thracians because it is from this period that we have our earliest data about them,” archaeologist Kamen Boyadzhiev who authored the official catalog of the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, has told BNR.
“The Baley Bronze Age necropolis is offering [us new] information about the burials rites of the [earliest Ancient] Thracians and their beliefs and aesthetic sense. [The archaeological team] has found very richly decorated vessels. They were used simultaneously as burial gifts and urns in family tombs. The remains of adults and children were placed next to one another,” says Boyadzhiev who was not part of the 2020 Baley field research team.
“A finely crafted vessel in the shape of a bird with rich encrusted decoration has made a very strong impression [from among the newest Baley necropolis finds],” he emphasizes.
The 2020 archaeological excavations of the Late Bronze Age necropolis near Baley, Bregovo Municipality, close to the Danube River and the Bulgaria – Serbia border, were funded by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
A team of archaeologists including Tanya Hristova, Stefan Alexandrov, and Georgi Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Nikolay Kazashki from the Vidin Regional Museum of History excavated the crucial Bronze Age site.
In 2020, the archaeologists discovered at Baley a total of 15 archaeological structures – all of them cremation graves, the archaeological team informs in the official catalog and poster of the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology exhibition.
The 15 newly discovered cremation burials from the 2nd millennium BC have brought the total number of excavated graves in the early Thracian necropolis close to the Danube River and the Bulgaria – Serbia border at Baley to 132. (The site has been excavated at a roughly similar annual rate in the past few years. For example, a total of 10 new burials were unearthed in 2015.)
The Ancient Thracians are best known from the “Classical” Antiquity: the Iron Age, the Hellenistic Era, and their inclusion in the Roman Empire. Their earlier history is lesser known despite of their mention, for example, by Ancient Greek poet Homer as allies of Troy who took part in the Trojan War ca. 1,300 – 1,200 BC.
The origins of the Ancient Thracians are traced to tribes which arrived to the Balkan Peninsula from the northeast ca. 3,200 – 3,000 BC. Those are often referred to as proto-Thracians, and are known for wiping out the pre-existing sophisticated prehistoric civilization of the Danube – Black Sea region. Europe’s first civilization ever itself goes back the 6th – 5th millennium BC (Neolithic (New Stone Age) and Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age)), and is referred to by some Western scholars as “Old Europe”.
Two of the 15 newly discovered graves from the Baley necropolis are dated to the Middle Bronze Age (i.e. the first half of the 2nd millennium BC), while the remaining 13 date to the Late Bronze Age, namely, the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.
A total of 8 of the newly found Late Bronze Age graves were fully intact, whereas the other graves were preserved to a varying degree, the archaeological team informs in the official catalog and poster for the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition.
“Two of the structures are impressive with the quantity and characteristics of the artifacts laid in the respective burial pits,” the archaeologists remark.
“One of them consists of five urn vessels containing preserved cremated remains from human bones. Each one of the urns is covered with lid bowls,” they explain, noting that the urns had been laid in a rectangular pit which was 1 meter long, and 0.7 meters wide.
Among the vessels in the pit, the researchers found an animal bone “which demonstrates to us an element of the burial ritual – the laying of an animal part.”
The archaeological team explains that the remarkable bird-shaped encrusted ceramic vessel, which seems like a duck, has been found inside an urn.
“The other [impressive burial] structure consists of three urn vessel preserving the remains of the dead [which were] covered with lid bowls. Among the urns the ancient people had placed three vessels with tall handles and another bowl. In one of the urns, [we] discovered a vessel in the shape of a bird and a bone needle, and in another one – two bronze hair pendants,” the researchers elaborate.
They further emphasize the significance of the Baley excavations in Northwest Bulgaria by revealing their true scope and crucial chronology, plus the fact that they target both a Bronze Age settlement and a necropolis which appears to have belonged to that settlement.
“At the present moment the necropolis near the town of Baley is the only Bronze Age necropolis in Bulgaria which can unequivocally be connected with a nearly Bronze Age settlement,” the research team states.
“The supposed total of number of its burial and memorial complexes has turned it into the largest known necropolis from the 3rd – 2nd millennium BC in the Lower Danube region,” the archaeologists add.
“Its research is painting the picture of the early history of the Thracians and the question about the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the northern parts of the Balkan Peninsula,” the researchers conclude.
Learn more about the Bronze Age settlement near Bulgaria’s Baley from the Lower Danube Encrusted Ceramics Culture in the Background Infonotes below!
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The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age settlement and necropolis near the town of Baley, Brevogo Municipality, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria, represent the remains of a unique Bronze Age culture that thrived in the western part of the Lower Danube Valley (the area between the towns of Bregovo and Oryahovo) between 1,600 and 1,100 BC.
The Bronze Age settlement near Baley was discovered in 1970, and was excavated for 18 years by Bulgarian archaeologists Rumen Katincharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Ana Yotsova from the Vidin Regional Museum of History.
The culture that the settlement belonged to is known as “The Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube” because of the large number of ceramic artifacts found there which are encrusted with ornamental motifs made with white paste.
The decorative paste was produced by mixing crushed animal bones with glue. The Bronze Age pottery of this river civilization is unlike the ceramics of any other culture. The encrusted ceramic artifacts in question include household vessels, idols, artifacts used by women, and zoomorphic child toys.
Even though in the 1970s and 1980s the archaeologists unsuccessfully looked for the settlement’s necropolis, it was discovered only in 2010, exactly 40 years after the original discovery of the settlement. It was found by accident in the yard of a local home during the digging of a pit for a traditional “outside toilet” by local resident Lyubo Petrov. Petrov stumbled upon ceramic vessels, and alerted the archaeologists from the Vidin Regional Museum of History; the necropolis of the Bronze Age settlement near Baley has been excavated ever since.
The settlement near Bulgaria’s Baley is the latest Bronze Age settlement in the Lower Danube Valley. During its excavations, the archaeologists found over 60,000 archaeological artifacts, including 60 intact ceramic vessels, and lots of bone artifacts, household items, and tools.
Other settlements and necropolises that belonged to the Bronze Age Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics of the Lower Danube have been found near the towns of Vrav, Novo Selo, Yasen, Kutovo, Antimovo, and Archar.
However, the one near Baley is the only one to have been fully excavated. Most of the settlements from the extinct Bronze Age culture were located right on the bank of the Danube, and have been found when the river level decreases.
The necropolis of the Bronze Age settlement near Baley found in 2010 is located 400 meters from the settlement itself, and 2 km away from the bank of the Danube River. Inside the excavated graves, the archaeologists have found single, double, and triple funerals.
The Bulgarian archaeologists have found that the Culture of the Encrusted Ceramics on the Lower Danube was an agricultural civilization which raised plants and livestock but which also did a lot of hunting of deer, wild boars, and especially of beavers.
Since 3,500 years ago, the western part of the Lower Danube Valley had a huge beaver population, it has been proven that the people from the Bronze Age culture in question hunted beavers for food. They also had horses from the “European breed” which were only about 1.3 meters tall.
The people from the settlement near Baley also used flint tools which are found to have originated from a flint deposit located near the town of Muselievo, some 200 km to the east, which apparently made it to Baley through trade.
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