Ancient Bulgar Strap Decorations, Dugouts from Medieval Bulgarian Empire Found in Debnevo Fortress near Troyan
A wide range of archaeological structures and artifacts with a dating range from 5,000 BC until the 14th century AD – including Ancient Bulgar strap decorations and dugouts from the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire – have been discovered by archaeologists in the Debnevo Fortress near Troyan in Central North Bulgaria.
The Late Antiquity and medieval fortress in Debnevo, Troyan Municipality, Lovech District in Central North Bulgaria was part of a local string of outposts protecting passes in the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
It is referred by the locals as “Kaleto”, “kale” being an old Ottoman Turkish word meaning “fortress” often used in today’s Bulgaria to denote fortresses whose real name has been lost and remains unknown.
The results from the 2020 archaeological excavations of the Debnevo Fortress have been presented in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition opened in February 2021. The annual exhibition at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia traditionally presents the most intriguing archaeological discoveries and finds from the preceding year.
A team led by archaeologist Stiliyan Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences led the 2020 digs in the Debnevo Fortress for a second season in a row. The Late Antiquity and medieval site’s excavations were restored in 2019, after a nearly 40-year lapse.
“The archaeological excavations conducted [in 2020] have clearly shown that the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress in Debnevo is a significant multi-layered site harboring great scientific potential,” the archaeological team says in the official catalog and poster of the site in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition.
Some of the most intriguing finds discovered in the 2020 digs include Ancient Bulgar bronze decorations for leather straps from the 9th – 10th century, the height of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD).
Within the excavated plot, the archaeologists have found the ruins of one dugout from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire and two dugouts with stone masonry from the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).
“[Inside the dugout from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire] we have found a stone stove in its northwestern corner, and a stone hearth made up of vertically erected stone slabs in its northeastern corner,” the archaeological team reveals.
“From the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, [we have found] two partly excavated dugout homes with a one-front stone structure,” the archaeologists add.
Artifacts and structures discovered in the 2020 digs in the Debnevo Fortress near Bulgaria’s Troyan have not been limited to the medieval period and the First and Second Bulgarian Empires.
Some of the finds such as a Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) stone ax go back to 5,000 BC.
The research team has also found structures from the Late Iron Age, respectively the time of Ancient Thrace, and from the Late Antiquity, i.e. Late Roman – Early Byzantine period.
“From among the earliest 2020 discoveries, among those worthy of attention is a round hearth plastered with clay from the Late Iron Age period (4th – 3rd century AD),” the archaeological team says.
“Right on top of the layer with earlier material lie the foundations of Late Antiquity structures. Among them, we have partly unearthed the ruins of two rooms from either a single building or two separate buildings,” the researchers elaborate.
“The Late Antiquity structures in question were compromised from the building of [the above-mentioned] dugout from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire [in the same spot],” they note further.
From the Late Antiquity period, the archaeologists have also found coins of Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527 – 565 AD).
Newly discovered artifacts from the Second Bulgarian Empire from the Debnevo Fortress near Troyan include fragments from sgraffito pottery bowls from the 14th century AD, a technique for pottery decoration using overlapping layers of colors.
The ruins of the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress in Bulgaria’s Debnevo are located on a tall “dome-shaped” hill inside the modern-day town of Debnevo, on the left bank of the Vidima River.
The hill itself towers at a height of 354 meters (above sea level). The ancient and medieval stronghold had a fortified area of 18 decares (app. 4.5 acres).
The large-scale archaeological site, whose structures are mostly from the Late Antiquity, Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, and from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire and the Second Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages, was excavated for at least 10 archaeological seasons back in the 1970s and 1980s. The present archaeological excavations, however, were restored only in 2019, after a nearly 40-year pause.
In its account of the 2020 digs, the archaeological team notes that parallel to the excavations, there have been efforts to clear up the preserved archaeological structures on a plot with an area of 5 decares (app. 2 acres) in order to restore geodesy exploration and access to the site.
Most of the tall surviving structures of the Debnevo Fortress are from the 12th – 14th century, i.e. the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
The Kaleto Fortress in Bulgaria’s Debnevo near Troyan had two parallel concentric fortress walls with rectangular towers, two fortress gates that could fit carts, and a smaller gate for pedestrians.
Archaeologists have found the ruins of at least 17 different buildings in the northeastern part of the fortified area, and a necropolis from the time of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331 – 1371) and Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371 – 1395) of the Second Bulgarian Empire in its northwestern section.
Previous excavations have yielded a large number of agricultural tools, metal processing tools, and leather processing tools, indicating the presence of the respective crafts, and an arms production workshop. Ancient weapons such as arrow tips, spear tips, stone projectiles, maces, and knife blades have been found.
In the Middle Ages the Debnevo fortress protected the Troyan Pass in the central part of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina). The Troyan Pass has been part of an ancient route between the Danube River and the Mediterranean (Aegean) Sea coast. That is attested to, for example, by the nearby Ancient Roman fortress and road station Sostra.
In the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the Debnevo Fortress formed a collective outpost for the defense of the Balkan Mountain passes in the area together with a fortress in the town of Gradnitsa near Gabrovo, and another fortress in Ostrets near Troyan.
Also check out these other stories about dugout discoveries from the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire:
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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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