Hellenic Cosmos

3 October 2023


Foundation of the Hellenic World
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The excavation of FHW and NAIM-BAS in Halka Bunar
(Excavation period 2011)

The collaboration project between the Foundation of the Hellenic World and the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences continued for the third consecutive year in June and July 2011. The program includes a joint excavation at the location Halka Bunar in Central Bulgaria (region of Stara Zagora), the conservation, the study and the publication of the findings.  The very interesting conclusions of the last excavation period were presented a few weeks ago at the annual conference of the Bulgarian Archaeological Association by the co-directors of the excavation, Dr. Athanasios Sideris and Dr. Milena Tonkova, stirring the interest of the scientific community.

At Halka Bunar overlaying cultural layers have been detected and the archaeological stratigraphy reveals several different periods. Among them the most important are three: the Late Neolithic period (5500-5300 BC), the Classical period (480-323 BC) and the Early Hellenistic period (323-270 BC).

Grey ware lekane (bowl) from the pit in the sector VI, Classical period.

Clay strainer from the Neolithic house 2, sector VI, Late Neolithic period.

Upper body of a Greek trade amphora from a pit in the sector IX, Classical period.

In the Neolithic period belong two large houses with wooden poles belonging to the "Karanovo III" culture. During the excavation a large number of stone tools were unearthed, pottery of exceptional quality and of rare shapes, but also other objects of ritual usage. Halka Bunar is, so far, the westernmost known location of the expansion of the "Karanovo III" culture, which is characterised by its brief duration, the rarity of its installations and the high technological and aesthetical quality of its artefacts. The findings are contemporary with others, of analogous cultures located in Macedonia and Thessaly, but also in Aegean Thrace, and allow us to draw a better and more complete picture of the first cultivators in the Balkans and Europe. During the last excavation period the holes left by the wooden posts, which supported the walls of one of the two Neolithic houses, were found, allowing us to draw its plan and to perceive its size and arrangement.

Grey ware oenochoe (jug) and pyramid-shaped loom weight on the find spot in the house of the sector VII, Early Hellenistic period.

Iron spur from the sector V, Early Hellenistic period.

Clay eschara (altar/hearth) with stamped decoration in the center of the house of the sector VII, Early Hellenistic period.

The findings of the Classical period are mainly offering pits (ritual pits) of pottery and other objects. Among them several red-figured potsherds from Attica dated from the 5th and 4th centuries BC, parts of Greek trade amphorae of various cities and silver coins of the city Parion in Propontis. Apart from the obvious abundance of commercial transactions between central Thrace and the Hellenic world, these findings, according to the excavators, suggest the existence of an outdoor sanctuary (or "pit sanctuary" as the archaeologists usually call it).

However, this year the most important findings belong in the Early Hellenistic Period. At least four buildings have been located, possible residencies, as well as some ritual or offering pits. Black glazed pottery of exceptional quality from Athens and areas of Northern Greece was unearthed, several coins of Philip II and Alexander the Great, but mainly of the Diadochoi (the successors to Alexander) and the king of Thrace, Seuthes III, iron weapons and agricultural tools, clay artefacts related to textile manufacture, such as flywheels and loom weights, and a large quantity of trade amphorae (for transporting wine), mainly from Thrace and several cities of Asia Minor (from Erythrae to Cnidus). In several potsherds local names are engraved in the Greek alphabet.

Details of the ornaments of the eschara, Early Hellenistic period.

The post-holes allowing to trace the plan of the Neolithic house 2, sector VI, Late Neolithic period.

Milena Tonkova and Athanasios Sideris unearthing the skeleton of the human sacrifice in the sector X, Early Hellenistic period.

In each of these building a central clay altar (eschara) was located. During the last excavation period the best preserved and most lavishly decorated clay altar of Halka Bunar was unearthed, which at the same time it is one of the most important in Bulgaria. It bears decoration of linear designs, which were pressed with a rope on the soft clay before it was baked, and stamped motives which include swastikas, rosettes and ivy branches. The combination of the designs, their variety but also their quality make this altar unique, and this is why, with the care and expenses of the Foundation of the Hellenic World, it was detached from the floor, restored, and presented to the public in the Archaeological Museum of Sofia last month.

Maria Dawson participates in the restoration process of the eschara.

The members of the Greek mission Ioannis Georganas, Christophoros Fousteris, Athanasios Sideris and Giorgos Sofianopoulos.

The other significant finding of the last excavation period was … a skeleton! But not an ordinary one. The location of the body that was found in a pit (not a tomb) with the face towards the ground, hands wide open and feet on a higher level than the torso, reveal that this was not an ordinary burial. The fact that it was ritually covered with pottery shards, broken pieces of other altars and a large carved stone, demonstrate a careful ritual which does not comply with a simple murder. The anthropological examination revealed that it was a man, around 35 years old, in good health and unusual tall for that period of time (approximately 1.80 meters). According to the excavators, his presence very close to the rest of the buildings with the altars, the ritual elements and the combination of the above with the testimonies of the ancient sources, allow us to assume that it was a human sacrifice. Although the idea of human sacrifice in the ancient world causes intense debate amongst the experts, it seems that even after the era of Alexander the Great, this ritual has not been abandoned completely, at least in some areas of the Balkans. According to Dr. Sideris the elements of the decoration of the clay altar (Apollonian and Dionysian elements combined) and the human sacrifice are possibly indications of the Orphic cult, or even a ritual re-enactment of the murder of Orpheus, who according to the myth was dismembered by Thracian women or Maenads and was thrown into the river Hebrus. As a matter of fact, even today the river still flows just a few kilometres to the south of Halka Bunar and in the antiquity it was navigable up to this point, making it the easiest and possibly the likeliest route of communication of the Greek merchants and the people of Central Thrace.

The Greek-Bulgarian research project will continue this summer (2012) as well aiming at revealing even more elements regarding this special case of commercial and cultural contacts of the ancient Greeks with their neighbors.