Thursday, September 3, 2015

Archaeologists unearth marble sarcophagus from ancient Thracian burial mound

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia in Bulgaria have discovered a massive ancient marble sarcophagus in the south east of the country. It once belonged to an aristocrat in Thrace, a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe, centered on the modern borders of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
The mound (tumulus) in which the tomb was found can be dated to the third century AD in the Roman period, and is located near the town of Boyanovo in Bulgaria’s Elhovo Municipality. The sarcophagus is 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) long and 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) wide with walls that are 15 centimeters (6 inches) thick and archaeologist Daniela Agre and her team have estimated its weight at around 6 metric tons (2,200 pounds).
The ancient Thracian marble sarcophagus once housed a coffin and a body, as well as numerous artifacts. It’s thought to date to the third century AD.
The ancient Thracian marble sarcophagus once housed a coffin and a body, as well as numerous artifacts. It’s thought to date to the third century AD. Credit: ElhovoNews
The archaeologists have also discovered a colonnade, and a second tomb constructed of brick masonry which has murals painted on its walls. However, the mound has been raided on several occasions by treasure hunters, over at least the past couple of centuries, meaning that many artifacts that the tomb may have contained are now lost. One of the raiders was a local Turkish Bey (a governor during the period when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire). Nevertheless, the archaeologists managed to recover a number of minor items that the treasure hunters overlooked.
The Romans conquered much of the area south of the Danube in 46 AD. The Thracian rulers were subsequently absorbed into the Roman provincial aristocracy. Thrace itself was named after the Thracian tribes by the Ancient Greeks. The word may also refer to a mythological character who was a sorceress and daughter of Oceanus and Parthenope. Her sister was Europa, after whom the continent of Europe was named. Thrax, an ancestor of the Greeks who was a son of the war god Ares, was also said to reside in Thrace. In Homer’s Illiad, the Thracians allied themselves to Troy during the Trojan War and the city-state is also mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Painting depciting the legend of Europa and the White Bull, Zeus. The sorceress ‘Thrace’ was said to be daughter of Oceanus and sister to Europa.
Painting depciting the legend of Europa and the White Bull, Zeus. The sorceress ‘Thrace’ was said to be daughter of Oceanus and sister to Europa. Public Domain
“We have an exceptional archaeological site here” said Ms. Agre, speaking to The ElhovoNews, in turn reported by the Archaeology in Bulgaria website. “This mound also presents interesting events from Bulgaria’s more recent past. Its ‘excavation’ began in the middle of the 19th century by the bey of Boyanovo who, in his search for treasures, had the local peasants dig up the mound. They found a very interesting sarcophagus, crushed its lid, and found inside a golden vessel, and several silver and bronze vessels.”
Agre added that these events were recorded at the end of the 19th century by two Czech-Bulgarian brothers called Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are widely considered to be the founders of modern Bulgarian archaeology following the liberation of the country from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The treasure in the sarcophagus inspired the locals to start talking about the King’s Mound, which had been unknown until the present discovery.
When the archaeologists investigated the site, they found that the mound had been raided in 2000. Indeed, the investigation itself was triggered by reports of more digging by treasure hunters earlier this year. The local people heard that they had reached the sarcophagus and that’s when they alerted the authorities. Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture decided a rescue mission was in order.
“Our goal has been to unearth the sarcophagus, and to prepare it for its moving to the Elhovo Museum of Ethnography and Archaeology” Agre continued. “In the course of time, the sarcophagus had filled up [with earth]. Inside it, we have found a very interesting fragment from an alabaster vessel, several fragments of glass vessels, a bronze buckle. All of these are item demonstrating the wealth of the buried Thracian aristocrat who lived during the Roman Age. Based on the materials that we have found, our estimation is the beginning of the third century AD.”
The occupant of the tomb was placed in a coffin inside the sarcophagus. Archaeologists have discovered fragments of its lid, which means it could be restored by a skilled craftsman.
The brightly painted murals inside the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, at Haskovo Province, South-Eastern Bulgaria. Representational image only.
The brightly painted murals inside the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, at Haskovo Province, South-Eastern Bulgaria. Representational image only. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
The colonnade dates to the Roman period and may have been constructed in front of a fa├žade, with columns on both sides. This may be related to the second tomb, built of masonry, and decorated with murals in a number of colors, including yellow, green, blue and shades of red. The murals also incorporate floral and geometric motifs. Unfortunately, this tomb has also been raided, first in the Antiquity period and also more recently.
Ruins of an ancient colonnade were found at the recently unearthed King’s Mound in Boyanovo, Bulgaria.
Ruins of an ancient colonnade were found at the recently unearthed King’s Mound in Boyanovo, Bulgaria. Credit: ElhovoNews
Bulgaria is home to hundreds of such rich burial mounds, such as the Thracian tombs of Sveshtari and Kazanlak, UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is thought they might represent royal burials.
Beautiful friezes are found within the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria.
Beautiful friezes are found within the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Featured image: The commanding stone walls and doorways of the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak in Bulgaria. Such Thracian tombs are found across Bulgaria, such as the King’s Mound and marble sarcophagus as unearthed by archaeologists at Boyanovo recently. Representational image only. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
By: Robin Whitlock


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