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Burnt skeletons found at excavations in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Three Burnt Skeletons: Gruesome Evidence of Gothic Fires that Razed a 3rd Century Bulgarian City


Everywhere they turned they saw flames. The two adults didn’t know where to seek safety…if not for themselves at least for the three-year-old child they desperately wanted to protect. Yelling, collapsing buildings, and shouts of pain rang out amongst Gothic war cries in Philippopolis. The two people looked at each other and knew the end was nigh…

This is just one possible scenario to explain the three burnt skeletons recently unearthed in Plovdiv, former Philippopolis, in Bulgaria. Elena Bozhinova, the head of the archaeological dig at the site, said the excavators believe the three people were killed and their home was set on fire around 250 AD. The Goths attacked the town that year and almost completely burnt it down.

The Goths were a prominent Germanic tribe in Europe who are most remembered for the sacking of Rome by King Alaric in 410 AD. Their origins are uncertain, but a 6th century writer named Jordanes claimed they came from the frigid island of “Scandza.” Goth life is something of a mystery before most of the (likely skewed) information on this group emerges, following violent contact with the Greeks and Romans. In 250 AD, the Goths, led by their ruler Cniva, burned down Philippopolis. According to Ammianus Marcellinus many of the 100,000 citizens were killed or captured in the attack.

To date, excavators have revealed the main street, the ruins of a large arch, and building foundations in the current dig at Plovdiv. Bozhinova has called the site “exceptional”, stating that burnt buildings are common discoveries, yet human remains are rare finds at the site.

Excavations at the site in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. (podtepeto)

Excavations at the site in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. (podtepeto)

The Sofia Globe reports the archaeologists found the child had been shot with an arrow, however, the cause of death for the adults has been more difficult to identify due to the heavy damage from the burning of their bones. The experts did note that the burnt skeletons were discovered in strange positions.

Some artifacts were also found with the human remains, such as a bracelet, a statuette which may represent Aphrodite, and some coins. Archaeologists have found 280 more coins at the site and plan to use those and ceramics to date the ruins of the buildings. Work is ongoing.

The statuette which is believed to depict Aphrodite. (

The statuette which is believed to depict Aphrodite. (

This is not the only recent archaeological discovery in Plovdiv. An 11th or 12th century tomb was found by archaeologists at the Odeon site in December 2017. A mysterious arrow accompanied that skeleton to the afterlife. As the bones had been jumbled, experts could not decide if the arrow was the murder weapon or a grave good.

Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and it has an extensive history of inhabitation stretching all the way back to the 6th millennium BC. Neolithic and Chalcolithic artifacts have been found and Nebet Tepe is one of the city’s oldest archaeological sites. After Thracian and Persian epochs, the town was eventually conquered by Philip II of Macedon, for whom it received its name Philippopolis.

Top Image: Burnt skeletons found at excavations in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Source:

By Alicia McDermott

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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