Wooden Coffin Burials, Glass Jewels Discovered in Vast Medieval Necropolis near Bulgaria’s Radnevo
A large number of glass jewels and remains of wooden coffins in some of the burials among dozens of newly excavated graves have been discovered by archaeologists in a large necropolis from the 12th century, the High Middle Ages, near the town of Radnevo in Central South Bulgaria.
The medieval necropolis in question was part of a medieval settlement built on top of a site near Bulgaria’s Radnevo which was also consistently inhabited in the Neolithic (New Stone Age), Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age / Ancient Thrace period.
In the 12th century AD, the area of today’s Radnevo, Stara Zagora District, was still part of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire). Even though towards the end of the end of the century, medieval Bulgaria was restored as the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422). So the graves in question would refer to the period of medieval Byzantine occupation of Bulgaria (11th – 12th century) but it is very likely the local population belong to the medieval Bulgarian ethnicity.
The finds from the 2020 archaeological excavations of the medieval necropolis from what is referred to as a “multilayered” settlement due to its having been inhabited for thousands of years have been presented in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition open in February 2021.
Massive necklaces of glass beads from burials from the 12th century necropolis are among the top exhibits from the annual exhibition at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, which traditionally showcases to the public the most intriguing archaeological discoveries and finds from the preceding year.
Before the 2020 large-scale digs of the 12th century necropolis, the “multilayered” settlement which is located in an area called “Gerena” near the town of Znamenosets, Radnevo Municipality, in Central South Bulgaria, and which goes back to the Neolithic 7,000 years ago, had previous been excavated by archaeologists in 2013 and 2015.
A team led by archaeologist Plamen Karailiev, Director of the Maritsa East Archaeological Museum in Radnevo, has been researching the site.
In the official catalog of the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, the archaeological team emphasizes the discovery of what were wooden coffins in some of the 12th century Christian burials in the necropolis near Radnevo and Znamenosets as well as the variety of glass jewelry, alongside some bronze and silver jewels found in women’s graves.
The researchers explain that during their initial discovery of the multilayered settlement back in 2013, they found a total of 24 ritual and refuse pits from almost all periods when the site was inhabited, namely, the Neolithic (New Stone Age), the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Middle Ages.
Back then they also discovered an “economic” building from the Late Neolithic, and the ruins of 16 buildings from the Middle Ages. They managed to fully excavated 14 of those, while the other two were only partially researched.
In addition, also back in 2013, the archaeological team unearthed a total of 164 graves from the 12th century necropolis adjacent to what was a medieval settlement.
Subsequent excavations in 2015 led to the discovery of 72 more 12th century graves on a plot of only about 100 square meters. The medieval Christian graves were found to be 1.2 meters deep.
Back then, the archaeologists also found a mud plastered wall and mural fragments leading them to conclude they had found the ruins of a medieval cemetery church.
During their excavations of the 12th century necropolis near Znamenosets and Radnevo in Southern Bulgaria, the archaeologists discovered 90 more graves, bringing to 326 the total number of medieval burials found on the site over a total of three archaeological seasons.
The archaeologists note that many of the skeletons in the necropolis were destroyed by a two-meter-wide irrigation canal passing through the site.
“With some small discrepancies, the individuals were buried almost one on top of the other. There are sectors [of the cemetery] of which we can presume that they were family or clan [burial] plots,” the archaeological team reveals.
It further emphasizes the discovery of several burials in wooden coffins put together with large iron nails.
“During the past archaeological seasons, [we] have established that seven burials (out of a total of 90 news found graves – editor’s note) were made in coffins. Massive nails from their structures have been found on the stop,” the archaeologists inform.
They explain further that three of the wooden burial coffins from the 12th century had a rectangular shape, while four had a trapezoid shape.
The researchers disclose further that back in 2015 they found 18 wooden coffin burials – back them out of a total of 72 excavated graves.
Thus, of the 25 wooden coffin 12th century graves, out of a total of 326 graves excavated so far, 15 have been in rectangular coffins, and 10 in trapezoid coffins.
All graves from the 12th century medieval necropolis near Bulgaria’s Radnevo have west-east orientation, with some slight deviations to the west and north.
The archaeological team says the burial inventories found in the site include “material that [can be considered] rich for the respective age.”
They have discovered burial gifts in a total of 27 graves from the 2020 excavations of the medieval necropolis.
A total of 4 necklaces made of glass beads have been found in them. Round glass bracelets have been the second most numerous type of adornments found in the graves in question. The most numerous have been earrings made of copper wire.
Other accessories discovered as burial gifts in the 12th century necropolis near Radnevo are bronze bracelets, silver temple pendants, bronze rings, and bronze buttons.
The richest grave of all was Grave No. 292, in which the archaeologists have found glass bead necklaces, glass bracelets, bronze bracelets, and silver temple pendants. Precisely finds from this grave have been displayed in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition.
Larger and even more ornate glass bead necklaces have been found in graves in other sites around Bulgaria from the High and Late Middle Ages, the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (13th – 14th century).
Perhaps the most impressive of those have been necklaces made up of more than 10,000 glass beads belonging to a young woman whose grave has been found in the Hotalich Fortress near Sevlievo in Central North Bulgaria.
After three-and-a-half centuries of wars, Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) managed to subdue the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018 AD, and occupied medieval Bulgaria for 167 years. The Second Bulgarian Empire emerged in 1185 AD following an uprising by brothers, later Tsars, Petar and Asen, and saw its height in the 13th century.
The town of Radnevo in Central South Bulgaria is the site of the Maritsa East mining complex, a vast state-owned coal mining operation which frequently years very intriguing archaeological discoveries such as previously unknown settlements and an Athena statuette in 2020 or an Ancient Thracian clay altar in 2015.
Also check out these articles about finds from the Maritsa East coal mining operations near Bulgaria’s Radnevo:
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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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