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Newly discovered Thracian pit sanctuary in Burgas, Bulgaria  Source: RHM Burgas

Ritual Thracian Pit Sanctuary Found in Bulgaria

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A new pit sanctuary has been uncovered in Bulgaria during construction work. This site is up to 2500 years old and is thought to have been used by Thracian tribal groups, for ritual purposes. The newly discovered pit sanctuary can help experts to better understand this culture and society, who were often the enemies of the Greeks and later the Romans.

The site was located during the construction of an apartment complex in Burgas which is on the Black Sea coast. It came to light when a reporter from the Bulgarian News agency BTA ‘noticed apparently ancient objects at the site and had alerted the Interior Ministry regional directorate in the city’ according to The Sofia Globe . It is possible that without the correspondent’s intervention the pit sanctuary complex would never have been found.

The site was found in land between two apartment blocks in Burgas. (RHM Burgas)

The site was found in land between two apartment blocks in Burgas. ( RHM Burgas )

Ancient pit sanctuary

Archaeologists investigated the site and concluded that it was a Thracian pit sanctuary. Pit sanctuaries are a series of pits where people made ritual sacrifices to the gods to win their favor and protection. Archaeology News Network reports that ‘currently, 14 ritual pits are being studied and at least 10 more have been found’. Of the pits which have been identified ten are in the shape of a bell and others are pear shaped.

Pottery fragments found at the new Burgas pit sanctuary (Burgas Municipality)

Pottery fragments found at the new Burgas pit sanctuary ( Burgas Municipality )

Archaeologists from the Regional Historical Museum in Burgas found a wealth of important historical artifacts at the pit site. They found a large quantity of earthenware pottery fragments, as well as evidence of amphorae and bowls. A number of human skeletons and the remains of animals were also found in the pits. It is likely that the animal bones were originally sacrifices. Also uncovered were layers of charcoal which indicates that fires were lit at the site, as part of the ceremonies.

A number of human and animal skeletons have been found. (RHM Burgas)

A number of human and animal skeletons have been found. ( RHM Burgas )

A 2500-year-old sanctuary

No metal objects, such as weapons, have been uncovered to date at the new pit site. However, it was possible to date the materials unearthed using scientific techniques. It was established that the artifacts date to the 5 th and 4 th century BC. Miroslav Klasnakov of the Regional Historical Museum is quoted by Archaeology News Network as saying that ‘Probably the fragments of the amphorae will expand the chronology to the third century BCE.’

Closeup of the pottery fragments found at the new pit sanctuary in Burgas, Bulgaria. (Burgas Municipality)

Closeup of the pottery fragments found at the new pit sanctuary in Burgas, Bulgaria. ( Burgas Municipality )

A study of the items found at the new pit sanctuary has helped archaeologists to establish that the site was probably sacred to the Thracians. Heritage Daily reports that ‘Some of the materials excavated include handmade ceramic vessels such as bowls, which correspond to local Thracian tribal design and form.’ Some of the items appear to indicate that the locals engaged extensively in crafts. Klasnakov stated ‘that close to 80 per cent of the pottery found at the site was handmade and was certainly the work of local inhabitants’ according to Archaeology News Network.

The find is providing more evidence on the rituals and beliefs of the Thracians, an Indo-European people who dominated much of the northern Balkans and even had a presence in Anatolia. They were a tribal people who were very warlike and are first mentioned by Homer. Many Thracians were unified under the Odyrsian Kingdom, which became part of the Macedonian Empire , but later reasserted its independence after a Celtic invasion of the Balkans (3 rd century BC). The Thracian culture was deeply influenced by Persian and Greek cultures.

Enemies of Rome

Another group of Thracian people, the Dacians, established a powerful kingdom and were among the most formidable enemies of Rome in the first century AD. They were later defeated and conquered by the Romans, who also vanquished the Odrysian Kingdom. Perhaps the best-known Thracian is Spartacus, who led the most successful slave revolt in the Classical World.

Items from later periods were also found at the pit site, including a coin ‘which depicts Apollonius, son of Eptaykent and strategist of the Thracian king Remetalk II’ dated to the first century AD, according to Heritage Daily . This may indicate that the sanctuary was used for many centuries by the local culture. Investigations at the site are ongoing and they will be analyzed in relation to objects that were uncovered near the location, over 100 years ago, to better understand this Thracian pit sanctuary.

Top image: Newly discovered Thracian pit sanctuary in Burgas, Bulgaria  Source: RHM Burgas

By Ed Whelan

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