Thracian tomb of a princess, child, and a spiritual man saved from looters at last minute
Treasure hunters have plundered many of Bulgaria’s thousands of archaeological sites, but the tomb of an ancient Thracian family containing the remains of a princess, a child and what researchers call a spiritual man has been spared. In the man’s tomb, archaeologists found a clay vessel that had once contained balsam upon which was written, apparently accidentally, a fragment of Solon’s poem “Prayer to the Muses.”
The tomb has been under emergency excavation since looters were at work on tunnels leading into it as recently as June 2015. Archaeologist were able to retrieve artifacts and record data before plunderers got into the tomb. The tumulus mound, 60 meters (196 feet) in diameter and 12 meters (40 feet) high, is in Tatarevo.
Part of the poem was accidentally printed on the balsamarium vessel because it was wrapped in parchment upon which the verse had been printed. The fragments of the poem are in bold:
“[Grant me from the blessed gods prosperity, and] from all mankind the possession ever of good repute; [and that I may thus be a delight to my friends, and an affliction to my foes, by the first revered] , by the others beheld with dread.” (The full text may be read here .)
Fifteenth century painting “Parnassus” with the Muses below Mars and Venus, by Andrea Mantenga ( Wikimedia Commons )
Archaeology in Bulgaria quotes lead archaeologist Kostadin Kostadinov as saying the find is unique as it is the first parchment with ancient literary text on it ever found in Bulgaria. Most of the parchment has disintegrated. It is further distinctive because the letters are backwards, he said.
The spiritual man was buried in the fourth and deepest tomb, 9 meters (30 feet) below the surface of the earth. In addition to the child and the woman identified as a Thracian princess, buried on the first level, was a Christian burial.
The story of the excavation includes some drama. Looters recently had already dug into and plundered the tunnels leading into the mound while apparently searching for Thracian tombs.
Archaeology in Bulgaria states illegal trafficking of antiquities has been rampant for many years in Bulgaria, and some say it is the second-most profitable crime for the mafia there after narco-trafficking. Thousands of what the blog calls “low-level diggers” apparently are involved in the looting, which may generate around 260 million euros ($292 million) per year for crime groups.
Another Bulgarian tumulus that escaped looting was of an Odrysian aristocrat whose grave goods included this armor and helmet. (Photo by Ann Wuyts/ Wikimedia Commons )
It is not just in Bulgaria that looting is a problem. The site SavingAntiquities.org says:
Every day, somewhere in the world, looters are busy destroying archaeological sites and ancient monuments large and small, both famous and undiscovered, in search of marketable artifacts so they can be smuggled and purchased by antiquities dealers, private collectors and museums. Political conflicts and unrest only exacerbate this problem. ... Ancient objects are not just beautiful to look at. Uncovered in their original contexts, properly interpreted, they provide insight into the way our ancestors lived, their societies and their environments. They complete our view of ancient life and enrich our understanding of our own selves on many levels. Among the few survivors of early cultural history, antiquities comprise an essential part of our global cultural heritage.
Kostadin Kisyov, director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, said the balsamarium was in what was likely the main grave of what researchers call the Great Ancient Thracian Mound, in Tatarevo.
The man’s burial had few other grave goods, but archaeologists did find an iron spear point and three other pottery vessels. The man’s body had been cremated. His people placed his body in the grave and covered it with firewood and burned it. The princess and child also were cremated.
“Apparently, the buried [man] was not a warrior because there were no armaments or expensive decorations, which shows he was a spiritual figure. In the Antiquity, people like him were the most erudite,” Kostadinov is quoted by Archaeology in Bulgaria.
He said he believes the learned man was of the Odrysian tribe, who were the most powerful among the ancient Thracians and who founded the Odrysian Kingdom. Kostandinov believes the man was probably able to read Solon’s poem, which was written in ancient Greek even though around that time, 90 AD, the Thracians had been absorbed by the Roman Empire, Archaeology in Bulgaria says.
Featured image: The clay vessel that contained balsam and had written on a fragment of Solon’s poem “Prayer to the Muses.” ( Photo by Parvomai.net )
By Mark Miller