Megaliths of Bulgaria

In this post we present information sourced from research papers on Megaliths found in Bulgaria.

NovoScriptorium: See also the following, directly related, posts (1, 2)

From the paper titled “Observations upon the constructional connections of the dolmens in Bulgaria“, by Stanislav Iliev (2008), we read:

“Most of the dolmen researchers have discussed the architectural solutions applied at such megalithic constructions, but the question about the constructional connections and others fittings are not well described. Generally it has been accepted that the building techniques of the stone-master, are unified, of one type, and probably that is the reason why this problem has not been discussed in the scientific literature (Venedikov, Aladjov, 1976). The aim of this research is to compare chronologically the building techniques on the base of the study of the cut surfaces of the stone slabs.”

Figure 1

“The first type construction is by grooves in the stone slabs, which are arbitrary called “P”-type (Fig. 2-2). Two opposite one to other straight grooves were cut in the front inside part of the longitudinal slabs of the construction – they fit together with the front “entrance” slab. In this variant the connection chamber – fore-chamber was realized by making additional “P”-type grooves on the face on the front slab (they fit to the back parts of the slabs of the fore-chamber) (Fig. 1; dolmen 7). Examples of such type of connection can be found among the dolmens in the Sakar Mountain and Eastern Rhodopes area – at the villages of Ostar Kamak and Hlyabovo (Peyov Kladenets) (Aladjov, 1997; Nekhrizov, Iliev, 2006; Iliev, 2007).

The second type of connection, which functionally is identical with the first one (chamber – fore-chamber), is linked to
another technology with the help of fitting of “G”-type shaped grooves in the slabs (Fig. 2-3). In this case, part of the inner edges of the longitudinal slabs of the chamber is cut in such a way, that they fit the front slab. In a similar way are cut the back inner edges of the corresponding slab of the forechamber – they fit also the front slab of the chamber (Fig. 1; dolmen 6). Examples of such type of connection are a larger in number dolmens – at the villages of Hlyabovo (Nuchevi Chairi), Bulgarska Polyana (Byalata Treva) and Vaskovo (Bayamluka) (Panayotov, 1976; Delev, 1982; Nekhrizov, Petrov, 2005).”

“Regarding the changes in the plan of the dolmens and especially in the plan of the fore-chambers, a tendency toward
increasing of the dimensions (volume) of the structures is recorded.”

Figure 2

From the very informative paper titled “Bulgarian Megaliths – Present state and future research directions“, by L. V. Tsonev and D. Z. Kolev (2012), we read:

“In the beginning of XX c. the menhirs were about 800. Today not more than 150 are preserved, mostly thrown down and/or moved from the original positions (our expeditions, 2009). We observed 3-4 individual menhirs (2 near Svishtov, and 1-2 in Sakar mountain). Several irregular and ordered groups are situated mainly around Shumen. The ordered groups are very curious – the menhirs are arranged on the terrain as 2D-rectangular grids (Shkorpil 1905). Such arrangement is extremely rare. Similar structure is known from the literature to be located in Brittany, France (Bernardini 2005). At least two cromlechs survived till now in Bulgaria: 1 near Plovdiv (discovered by G.Kitov in 2002, today half-destroyed already) and 1 in East Rhodope mountain (discovered by G. Nehrizov in 1998, still preserved in good condition). Four megalith-like stone circles (they are not cromlechs!) are known in Bulgaria today: 1 north from Varna (Hristov 2009), 1 near to Yambol, 1 in Sakar mountain and 1 in East Rhodope. These circles are built not by layer-over-layer dry masonry but by vertical planting of big stone plates which come in contact by their lateral edges only. The most impressive example of such kind of objects is the famous Grave Circle in Mycenae.”

No attempts have been made so far for direct dating of the Bulgarian menhirs, e.g. C-14 or luminescence, to mention the major of the absolute dating methods available.”

“According to Bonchev 1901 and Shkorpil 1925 more than 800 dolmens are observed in the beginning of XX c. Unfortunately, our expeditions in 2006 and 2008 (Kolev et al 2008, Tsonev et al 2009, Gonzalez-Garcia et al 2009) concluded that no more than 120 of them survived in a relatively acceptable condition. Most of them are concentrated in three typical regions: Strandzha Mountain (about 50), Sakar Mountain (about 40) and East Rhodope Mountain (about 20). Another 5-6 dolmen-like objects are spread out over some non-typical regions: East Balkan (Kotel, Omurtag, Kazanlak) and Central Sredna Gora mountain (Strelcha, Kazanlak) (…) No attempts for direct (physical) dating of these objects have been ever made.”

The only direct method suitable to date the megaliths seems to be the luminescence technique as developed and applied by I. Liritzis and colleagues either by thermoluminescence (TL) (Liritzis et al., 1997) or more recently by optically stimulated luminescence use (OSL) (Liritzis et al 2007; see also a review by Liritzis, 2011). The dolmens in Bulgaria are built mostly from granite and gneiss plates – both are quartz bearing rocks (Kostov 2008), and rarely from schist or marble plates. Therefore luminescence dating can be used for studying the underground surface of the in situ survived stone blocks. As a result we expect Thracian megaliths to be incorporated into the pan-European megalithic framework in a satisfactory precise manner.”

From the very informative paper titled “Megalithic Structures and Dolmen Orientation in Bulgaria“, by Lyubomir Tsonev and Dimiter Kolev (2013), we read:

“The first cult places were the rock-cut sanctuaries. Accumulating technological skills the ancient people in the Balkan Peninsula passed from the rock-cut to megalithic monuments: menhirs (individual, alignments, cromlechs, grids) and then dolmens (single camera, two cameras, eventually with dromos etc.).”

Menhirs and their combinations

About 10 individual menhirs survived in Bulgaria. In South Bulgaria: 1 in Sakar Mountain, 4-5 near the town of Haskovo, 1 near the town of Blagoevgrad (South Bulgaria). In North Bulgaria: 4 near the town of Pleven, 1 near the town of Silistra.

About 150 menhirs arranged in disordered groups or in rectangular grids are preserved near the town of Pliska (North East Bulgaria) – the so called “devtash” menhirs (devtash = evil-stone):

Several similar menhir groups exist north from the towns of Edirne and Lalapasa (North Turkey) close to the Bulgarian border. 5 cromlechs are registered in Bulgaria today. The most impressive are two of them: (1) the cromlech at the village Dolni Glavanak (East Rhodope Mountain, found by G.Nehrizov in 1998); (2) the cromlech at the village Staro Zhelezare (North from the town of Plovdiv, found by G.Kitov in 2002, practically destroyed today). Both cromlechs include about 50 menhirs.”

“The dolmens have different constructions expressed mainly in the plan of the stone blocks supporting the big covering plate.

In Thrace only “camera type” dolmens have been built with a great diversity of constructions.”

Dolmen 1, vill. Golyam Dervent, West part of North Strandzha Mnt. Carved front plate.
Biggest dolmen in Strandzha Mnt.

Stone plates circles

This kind of megalithic structure is probably specific for the Balkan Peninsula. Cromlech represents several crude pillars forming a circle which are vertically fixed in the terrain at certain distance between them. Stone plates circle means a compact circular fence (around a dolmen or a tomb or a cist burial) which is formed of numerous big stone plates, vertically fixed in the terrain and contacting tightly at their lateral edges.”

Quasi-megalithic monuments

We introduce the notion “quasi-megaliths” for objects representing simultaneously megalithic (spatial combinations of big and crude stone pillars and plates without any layer-over-layer masonry) as well as non-megalithic building techniques (dry masonry of small stone blocks, cyclopic walls or objects partially hewn in rocks). We ascertained 9 quasi-megalithic objects in Bulgaria today.”

An example of quasi-megalithic monument: Underground well-temple at Garlo village, near the town of Breznik, West Bulgaria (40 km from Sofia)

Classic Thracian temples under tumuli

The Thracian classic temples are concentrated in three basic regions: (1) around the town of Kazanlak, Central Bulgaria, (2) north-west from the town of Plovdiv, South Bulgaria, and (3) near the town of Isperih – Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve, North East Bulgaria. The groups (1) and (2) are connected historically with the kingdom of Odryssian and the group (3) – with the kingdom of Getae. Their horizontal planning is similar to some of the most complicated Thracian dolmens, but the coverage – false cupola and vaults – reminds the monuments in Mycenae.”

Orientation of megalithic objects

Orientation is basically a geographic characteristic. It obtains an archaeo-astronomical significance only in the cases where the axis of the archaeological object is proved to be connected with the position of some celestial body (Sun, Moon, star, constellation) or with some astronomic phenomena (rise, set or culmination of the mentioned objects).”

“…in the megalithic epoch: (i) the astronomic orientation principle is not universal in time and in space; (ii) it acts in combination with other considerations; (iii) the orientation process has been technically not very precise.”

Orientation of dolmens in Bulgaria

A special study of the dolmens‟ orientation in Bulgaria, based on published data and schemes only, was undertaken by N. Dermendzhiev in his PhD thesis. He analyzed about 60 dolmens from archaeo-astronomical point of view to verify if they are oriented to some astronomical events (mainly sunrises or sunsets) or not. Hе concluded that the Thracian dolmens are most frequently oriented towards South in a very wide angular interval and are definitively not directed to sunrise or sunset points. He supposed that this fact reflects some taboo funeral practices.”

“Absence of a strongly expressed and astronomically important direction is obvious. It seems not likely that the dolmens have been built according to astronomically noticeable directions (risings or sets of Sun, Moon or some stars). There is only a tendency towards South but it is in no way a binding rule. All dolmens are oriented roughly to the South semi-horizon, i.e. the dolmen builders have tried to keep at least a weak connection with the Sun (Sun-God) when it is relatively high over the horizon.”

“The maximum in the azimuthal distribution is generated mainly by the contribution of the Strandzha dolmens and it is connected with the Sun highest daily position rather then with Sunrise and Sunset. The orientations of the dolmens in the other two regions (Sakar and Rhodope Mnt.) are spread more or less uniformly between South-East and South-West, without a clearly expressed maximum. In this sense the orientation tendencies in the three geographic regions are different.”

“Examining particular objects we observed drastically different orientations of several very closely located dolmens. This situation cannot be a result of one and the same orientation principle.”

the North semi-horizon is excluded by the dolmen builders in principle. The purely east orientation is demonstrated very rarely – only by several dolmens in East Rhodope.”

“…the astronomical orientation of the dolmens in Bulgaria is not categorically expressed.”

NovoScriptorium: It is extremely annoying that in an era where the sciences which are used for calculating the antiquity of the various old objects, fossils and monuments have reached a very advanced level (in comparison to the Past -not many decades ago), the Megalithic monuments, of yet another European country, still remain undated. The same picture stands for Greece and, as far as we know, for (the European side of) Turkey, too. Moreover, things in Greece are even worse for the Megalithic monuments; they are nearly tottaly ignored! There had been only a few scientific articles about the Megaliths of Thrace and Samothrace and that’s about it, while it is known that such monuments exist nearly all around the Greek peninsula and the Aegean. We believe that you would be interested to read the following related posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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