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Geoarchaeology and Archaeomineralogy (Eds. R. I. Kostov, B. Gaydarska, M. Gurova). 2008.

Proceedings of the International Conference, 29-30 October 2008 Sofia, Publishing House “St. Ivan Rilski”, Sofia, 266-270.



Milena Tonkova

National Archaeological Institute and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1000 Sofia;

ABSTRACT. Archaeological evidence for the exploitation of gold ore deposits at the villages of Kolio Marinovo (Sarnena Gora Mountain) and
Babyak (Western Rhodopes) in antiquity are traced at the current study. The methodic of study consists in restoration of settlement system
established around ancient mining galleries where archaeological materials were found. According to archaeological researches made at the region
of the mines of Kolio Marinovo and near the sanctuary of Babyak there is many evidences that the mines were also used during the Pre-Roman
and Roman period.

The map of the ancient gold and silver deposits from Thrace unfortunately that was left without constant extension, for the
(from the territory of Bulgaria) (Fig. 1) is compiled on the basis exchange of knowledge between geologists and
of several studies. The most important are those from the First archaeologists on the problems of this boundary for both
International Symposium of History of Mining in Southeast scientific disciplines. The ancient gold mining data have been
Europe held in Bulgaria in the 80-es of the XX c. (First reviewed and discussed in relation to the localization of
Symposium on the History of Mining in South-East Europe, jewellery workshops, some of which are known to have exist in
1975) and the study of G. Georgiev on the traces of ancient the close vicinity (Tonkova, 1994, 183-188; 1999).
mining in our lands (Georgiev, 1987). It was a good beginning,

Fig. 1. Map of the ancient gold and silver deposits from the territory of Bulgaria

On the base of the published sources the conclusion can sometimes lead to very encouraging results. Some of them will
be drawn that for most known examples one can speak only of be presented bellow.
ancient gold mining without having data allowing chronological
decisions to be done from these findings. Only in certain cases The settlement system in the region of the
the archaeological chance has made possible discovery of Chirpan Heights from the V-I c. BC and gold
materials allowing more precise dating. Such are the cases
with the antique mines of Kolio Marinovo (Sarnena Gora
extraction in Sarnena Gora in Antiquity
Mountain) and Babyak (Western Rhodopes) which are the One of the gold-bearing occurrences is located in the
object of our study. The evidences refer mainly to Roman and South part of Sarnena Gora Mountain in the area of the
Medieval Ages although there are many indications that these villages Chekhlare, Kolio Marinovo, Slavjanin and Gorno Selo.
deposits were known in earlier periods. These suggestions are There was a claim for gold extraction at the mine ‘Golden
a result of a thorough study of the settlement system from the Fleece’ in the 20-es of the last century. Gold has been still
territory of the recorded ancient mining exploitations. The field panned in the Rakhmanlijska, Omourovska and Novoselska
observations combined with studies on adjacent sites, certain Rivers till now (Fig. 2). There are clear evidences for gold
historical facts and analyses of specialists from earth sciences extraction in this region in antiquity.

Fig. 2. Map of the gold deposits from the territory of Bulgaria

Mining galleries were discovered in the frames of the present There are indirect data about the exploitation of mines in
village Kolio Marinovo which were described by Balaschev Kolio Marinovo in Pre-Roman times. In this respect quite
and Radoslavov. Coins minted in Serdicae between 197 and meaningful is the concentration of hoards with coins of the
218 were found in these galleries (Balaschev, 1922, 461-466; second and I c. BC from the lands of five neighboring villages
Radoslavov, 1934). This date serves as terminus ante quem, in the gold-bearing zone: Chekhlare, Kolio Marinovo
i.e. the galleries were surely exploited before this time (Zlatareva, 1960), Pravoslav, Medovo (Gerasimov, 1963;
(Tonkova, 2000, 137-138). At the same time, i.e. during the Nikolov, 1964) and Naidenovo (Gerasimov, 1955) (Fig. 3).
Roman period there was a fortress (quadriburgium, fortress Their burial in the late I c. BC must has been connected with a
with military functions, connected with the defense of roads or probable instability in the region (Nikolov, 1964) that could be
passes) (Dinchev, 1997, 95-96), obviously defending the referred to the control above the mines. Furthermore, Y.
functioning mines. It must be noted that just to the village of Yuroukova supposes that their burial was connected exactly
Kolio Marinovo there was an important Thracian sanctuary of with the offensive of the army of the Roman commander
Kybele and the Thracian Heros (Velkov, 1932/34, 65)1 – the Lucullus, suppressed the revolted against the Roman
gold extraction was guarded both by the authority and by the expansion Pontic colonies. It is considered that Lucullus
deities. The evidence in this respect are already plentiful that subjected the exploitation of gold from the mines at Kolio
will be discussed bellow. Marinovo and, even, with this gold he minted coins necessary
for the replenishment of his treasury (Yuroukova, 1963, 43).

The exploitation of the goldbearing deposit at Kolio Marinovo

During the field inspections a part of a votive tablet of the Thracian
and the surrounding area of the Sarnena Gora in the earlier
Heros was found; unpublished data of the author. Classical and Hellenistic Ages can not be illustrated with such

Fig. 3. Map of the settlement system in
the region of the Chirpan Heights

direct evidence. It, however, could be supposed on the ground analysis of the numerous gold artifacts, found in the rich
of the concentration of numerous monuments coming from the graves of the local Thracian aristocrats. The perspective in
region – remains of a strong representative power of the V-IV such studies recently is demonstrated by the analyses of the
c. BC. These are rich graves (Rosovets, Brezovo, Slavianin, gold pectoral from a grave dated ІV c. BC from the village of
Bratya Daskalovi), big settlements (Brezovo, Kolio Marinovo), Bratya Daskalovi (former village Voinitsite) (Fig. 4). The gold
a dense settlement network where Thracians and Greeks lived content is comparable with the content of native gold from the
together (Medovo, Naidenovo, Saedinenie), developed road area of Sarnena Gora (Kulev et al., in press)
system. This wealth of remains of advanced settlement system
could be explained through the control on the gold deposits,
the organization of gold exploitation, the trade with gold and
import goods, with the control on the commerce between the
valleys of the Maritsa and Toundzha River as a whole, as well
as, with the control above the roads (Tonkova, 2000; 2002).

We tried to confirm our hypothesis with objective evidence,

with the help of specialists in the exact sciences. Metal slag
from second-first century settlements from the goldbearing
zone (e.g. the village of Najdenovo) and from a Roman
settlement near the village of Bratya Daskalovi) was analyzed
by M. Leblanc – a French specialist at the laboratory in
Montpelier. As far as it concerns the slag from this site their
opinion is that it could be remain from the melting of gold Fig. 4. Golden pectoral from a rich grave near the village of Bratya
(unpublished data). In fact, there are other evidences for Daskalovi (former village Voinitsite)
probable traces of gold processing. Two stone blocks come
from this site. It consists of separate unlinked segments made Our study on the settlement system in the region of the gold
of volcanic tuff. As material, shape and dimensions, and mines led to a great but expected by us discovery – an
therefore as a purpose, they are identical to corresponding important settlement of the time of the Thracian king Seuthes
elements of the ‘movable millstone’ of the so called ‘Delos III. The remains of this Thracian settlement are situated in the
rotary mill’ considered as a Greek phenomenon (Tonkova, “Halka Bunar” locality in the area of the village of Gorno
2000, 137, s. 1). Part of the scientists supposes that these Belevo, near the town of Chirpan. Structures belonging to three
mills, a Greek patent, were designed not for grinding of grain sectors – manufacturing, cult and residential, have been
but for ore (Brunet, 1996). Another direction of study is the studied so far. Five pottery kilns were found in the first sector.
The time of the existence of the settlement could be related to

the period of the last years from the IV c. BC to the second There have been clarified some very important aspects of the
decade of the III c. BC (Tonkova, 2002). Without direct cult – chthonic and also the solar aspects. In the time of
connection with the theme under consideration, this find is a ancient Thrace these comprehensive powers are possessed
circuitous argument for the level of living, political organization, by the highest Thracian deity – the Great Thracian Goddess.
commercial and cultural relations of a settlement and also Along with Her most probably a male deity had been
illustrates the prosperity of the region connected with the mine worshipped as well, if we are to judge by the presented as gifts
exploitation also in the Early Hellenistic period. mining tools and weapons. During the Roman Age those gods
were personified as Hera and Zeus, according to the votive
Thracian sanctuary near the village of Babyak tablets found here.
and the ore mining deposit “Babyak”, Western
Among the gifts for the gods offered at the sanctuary most
Rhodopes common are fragments of pottery and means of labor (large
The location and unique archaeological finds from the amount of loom weights and spindle whorls, sickles, knives,
sanctuary near the village of Babyak present us with the miners’ and jewelers’ tools), lots of personal objects related to
opportunity to describe it as a fundamental cult place of the decoration of the body and clothes (ornaments and fibulas
belligerent Bessoi – the Thracian population that originated made of silver and bronze), silver coins and trade stamps from
from the Western Rhodopes area and the valleys along the II-I c. BC. Some of the gifts are objects which had been crafted
Upper Mesta River (Domaradski et al., 1999; Gotzev, 1994; particularly for the cult, but there are also objects which had
Tonkova, 2005; 2007; Tonkova, Gotzev, Ed., 2008). been used in everyday life. Among them – with a great
importance for our investigation are those found in a stone
The sanctuary near Babyak is situated over a three- heap dated from ІІІ-ІІ c. BC: two mining tools – an iron axe and
sectioned peak “Babyashka Chuka” located on a high summit an axe-mattock (Fig. 5-6), found on a tray.
(1653.6 m a.s.l.), а natural dominant over the surroundings, the
view it reveals encompasses the valley of Razlog, Predela,
Pirin, Rila, and the spectacular landscape of the Rhodopes.
The remains of the cult activities that had taken place there
have formed cultural layers thick up to 3 meters in some
places. Abundant with archaeological materials, this area
covers over 6-7 decares. The stratigraphic examinations
showed that the sanctuary had been in exploitation for more
than 14 centuries in the period between I mill. BC – V c. AD. It
existed during four chronological periods – Late Bronze, Early
Iron, Late Iron and Roman Age.

The first ascertained period of zenith for the sanctuary is

assigned to the second half of the Early Iron Age (VIII-VI c.
BC). To that period can be assigned the earliest fortification Fig. 5. An iron axe from the sanctuary at the village of Babyak
walls. Other representatives of the period are also the first
structures related to the offering of gifts: clay altars different in
size and shape, stone heaps and ritual pits. The gifts represent
mostly fragments of pottery with characteristic of this period

The second period of existence for the sanctuary refers to

the Late Iron Age (V-I c. BC). Particularly distinctive is the
growth of the sanctuary between the end of the III c. BC until I
c. BC. In this period the cult area (temenos) is enclosed by
light stone wall (peribol). The cult practices during that period
are organized around altars and in gift depots, representing
clay altars with different shape, ritual pits, stone heaps in lines,
alternating platforms and clefts, rock niches filled with gifts and Fig. 6. An axe-mattock from the sanctuary at the village of Babyak
“sealed” with arranged little stones. The sanctuary flourished
also during the Roman Period. The most significant traces of Parts of stone pans and hand grinding mills with sluices were
this time are explored in the High Pinnacle. There were found also found at the sanctuary (Fig. 7) (Tonkova, 2005, 173, T.II,
roughly processed stone column and ceramic building material 12,13, 18; 2007, 59, s. 10, 23, Table ІІ, 12, 13). According to
which presumes the presence of a temple dating from that Domaradski they are designed for grinding of the ore
period. In that sector are found fragments of a monumental (Domaradski et al., 1999, 31, 39). Mining instruments are also
marble statue of a Thracian goddess of fertility, as well as of a great interest in this aspect. With the chisels and the
votive tablets of Hera and Zeus. The various gifts of metal and jewels that were found, the cycle of extraction and fine
clay also certify for diverse manifestations of the cult from that treatment of the metal is evident. Chisels could be related to
time. The large amount of silver and bronze coins (over 200) the activity of jewellery workshops for which there are
found in the sanctuary refers mostly to the Late Roman Age evidences near the sanctuary during the Pre-Roman period: ІІІ-
and Late Antiquity. І c.BC.

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