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A skeleton with an arrow in or at the chest has been discovered in a burial from the 11th-12th century AD during rescue excavations at the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Medieval Tomb Including a Skeleton and an Arrow Unearthed in Plovdiv


A team of archaeologists working at the Odeon site in Bulgaria’s second largest city Plovdiv, have announced the discovery of a mediaeval tomb that includes human remains and an arrow.

Tomb Includes Human Skeleton and an Arrow

A medieval tomb from the 11 th or 12 th century has recently been unearthed by archaeologists at the start of rescue excavations at the Antiquity Odeon, an ancient performance facility in the city of Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria. The grave contains human remains, while an arrow was found to be placed next to the buried person. “Early on, in the uppermost layers, we have discovered lots of pottery and a burial, a medieval one. We found it yesterday. It is interesting that we have found an arrow at the chest [of the buried person]. The burial dates to the 11th-12th century," lead archaeologist Martinova told Archaeology in Bulgaria .

A skeleton with an arrow in or at the chest has been discovered in a burial from the 11th-12th century AD.

A skeleton with an arrow in or at the chest has been discovered in a burial from the 11th-12th century AD. (Image: archaeologyinbulgaria)

The excavation works in Plovdiv’s downtown launched in order to clear up the area for the construction of a ticket center and other cultural tourism facilities for the Ancient Roman and Thracian ruins which are being exposed and restored in order to be exhibited in situ.

Plovdiv’s Rich History

Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria behind the country’s capital, Sofia, with a population of about 700,000 in the greater metropolitan area. The earliest signs of habitation in the territory of Plovdiv date as far back as the 6th millennium BC, a fact that makes Plovdiv one of the oldest cities in Europe. Plovdiv has settlement traces including necropolises dating from the Neolithic era, roughly 6000-5000 BC, like the mounds Yasa Tepe 1 in Philipovo district and Yasa Tepe 2 in Lauta park.  Archaeologists have discovered fine pottery and artifacts of everyday life on Nebet Tepe from as early as the Chalcolithic Era, showing that at the end of the 4th millennium BC, there was already an established settlement there which was continuously inhabited from then on.

Hills of Plovdiv, as viewed from Nebet Tepe

Hills of Plovdiv, as viewed from Nebet Tepe. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Thracian necropolises dating back to the 2nd-3rd millennium BC have also been discovered, while the Thracian town was established between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC.

In 516 BC during the rule of Darius the Great, Thrace was included in the Persian Empire. In 492 BC, the Persian general Mardonius subjected Thrace again, and it became nominally a vassal of Persia until 479 BC and the early rule of Xerxes I. The town was eventually conquered by Greek king Philip II of Macedon, from whom it got the name Philippopolis.

In 72 BC, the city was seized by the Roman general Marcus Lucullus but was soon restored to Thracian control. In 46 AD, the city was finally incorporated into the Roman Empire by Emperor Claudius and it served as capital of the province of Thrace and gained city status in the late 1st century. The city was an important crossroad for the Roman Empire and was called "the largest and most beautiful of all cities" by Lucian. Although it was not the capital of the Province of Thrace, the city was the largest and most important center in the province.

The Odeon of Philippopolis

The Odeon of Philippopolis ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Roman times were a period of growth and cultural excellence. The ancient ruins narrate a story of a colorful, growing city with numerous public buildings, shrines, baths, theaters, a stadium, and the only developed ancient water supply system in Bulgaria. The city had an advanced water system and sewage. In 250 AD, the city was burned down by the Goths who were led by their ruler Cniva. Many of its citizens, 100,000 according to Ammianus Marcellinus, died or were taken captive. It would take more than a hundred years and hard work to recover the city. However, it was destroyed again by Attila's Huns in 441-442 AD and again by the Goths of Teodoric Strabo in 471 AD.

Arrow Probably Killed the Buried Person

Back to 2017, experts speculate that the buried person in the grave was either murdered by the arrow, or maybe it was positioned in the grave as a funeral gift for the afterlife. In the case that the arrow served as a funeral gift, archaeologists suggest that the buried person – whose gender hasn’t been revealed yet – was most likely was a warrior. “Yet, there is also a custom of placing arrows [in graves] as burial gifts when the person in question is a warrior," Martinova tells Archaeology in Bulgaria . “We cannot say for sure yet which one it is – whether they were killed by the arrow or whether it was put in the grave – because the bones are not properly arranged," she adds.

The reason the arrow is at the burial site has not yet been ascertained.

The reason the arrow is at the burial site has not yet been ascertained. (Image: archaeologyinbulgaria)

Scientists from the Plovdiv Medical University currently are cooperating with the archaeological team in order to help find out whether the buried person was killed by the arrow or not. The anthropological investigation is also expected to reveal the individual’s gender and age.

Top image: A skeleton with an arrow in or at the chest has been discovered in a burial from the 11th-12th century AD during rescue excavations at the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv (Image: archaeologyinbulgaria)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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