Among the most significant Iron Age archaeological sites from Ancient Thrace is the complex of rich Celtic burials, dated to between 220 – 180 BC, discovered at Kalnovo (Schumen region) in today’s eastern Bulgaria.
The Schumen region of Bulgaria, in which Kalnovo is situated, has yielded one of the highest concentrations of Celtic material in Thrace, both in terms of La Têne artefacts and Celtic numismatic material dating from the 4th – 1st c. BC. This area constituted part of the Celtic Tyle State in the 3rd c. BC, and Kalnovo is situated slightly to the southeast of the main political centre of this state at the Arkovna Hillfort. Following the collapse of the Tyle state at the end of the 3rd c. BC, the area fell within the sphere of influence of the ‘barbarian’ Zaravetz Culture until the Roman conquest in the 2nd half of the 1st c. BC.
Findspots and main concentrations of Celtic (La Têne) material in the Schumen/Varna areas of north-eastern Bulgaria from the La Têne B2 – C1 period
(after Megaw et al 2013; see also Zaravetz Culture, and ‘New Material 1 & 2’ articles)
THE KALNOVO BURIAL COMPLEX
Sadly, after their discovery in the mid 1970’s the Celtic graves at Kalnovo were first plundered by the local population and subsequently destroyed by the communist authorities due to ‘conditions pertaining at the time’ (Atanassov 1992, Megaw 2004). Thus, only a partial publication of the material from 1992 gives us some idea of the wealth and significance of this unique archaeological site.
A total of 3 cremation pyres and 8 burials were recorded at the site and, while most of them were completely destroyed during the ‘excavations’, material from 2 of the burials deserves special mention.
Included in the finds from the mausoleum (Burial No. 1) were 2 horse burials associated with 2 La Têne swords, one ritually bent in its scabbard of LTC type. Also discovered were an iron spearhead with hiebmesser, round headed nails, and 2 of several classic La Têne C iron brooches from the site. A further find from this burial was a Hellenistic helmet of Waurick’s (1988) Attic type – evidence, as with another Hellenistic helmet discovered at a Celtic burial at nearby Seuthopolis in the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’, of Celtic mercenary activity (see ‘Wolves Wages’ article). Other notable discoveries in the burial included fragments of iron chainmail and a middle La Têne rectangular umbo from a wooden shield. As a whole, warrior burial No. 1 from Kalnovo is ‘an outstanding example of a middle La Têne warrior burial’ (Megaw 2004).
Artefacts from Warrior Burial No.1 at Kalnovo
(after Atanassov 1992)
Notable finds from the other destroyed burials at the site included a clay dice from burial no. 4, as well as a number of clay lamps and an iron scabbard. Another burial (no. 3) was a rich female burial in a shaft, a facility similar to Celtic burials at Branichovo and others east of the Jantra river. Grave goods recorded in this female burial included 4 silver and 1 iron La Têne fibulae, four bronze rings, 2 iron knives, a bracelet of glass beads, and 1,200 further glass beads which formed a 3 tiered necklace (Atanassov 1992).
Glass ‘Eye’ bead bracelet similar to that found in the Celtic princess burial at Kalnovo
(from the Celtic burial at Necropole de Prosnes – Marne; Museé Saint Remi – Reims. (5th c. BC)
The Princess burial discovered recently in the Altai mountains region of Russia. This so-called ‘Cleopatra Necklace’, similar to that found in female burial (No. 3) at Kalnovo in Bulgaria, is a unique find this far east. It most probably reached the Altai region through trade with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes, and is particularly valuable for our understanding of trade and the spread of technology between Europe and Asia in the late Iron Age.
(see THE EVIL EYE)
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the communist ‘excavations’ a proper record of the inventory of most of the burials has not survived. However, one notable factor at Kalnovo was once again the presence of significant amounts of animal bones (both burnt and unburnt) among the human remains, with the bones of wild pigs predominating. This phenomenon is common in late Iron Age Celtic burials throughout Eastern Europe (see ‘Celtic Death’ article).
Mould for producing La Têne C fibulae found in the Schumen-Razgrad area The mould was used to produce fibulae of the type found at the Celtic burial site at Kalnovo, others found in Serbia, and a further example from north-eastern Bulgaria, now in the Varna museum
(Mircheva 2007:71; see ‘New Material 2’ atricle)
The Kalnovo site represents further testimony to extensive Celtic presence in Eastern Thrace in the late Iron Age. However, Kalnovo again raises a number of fundamental questions. Almost 40 years after its discovery the majority of material from the site has still not been properly published, and the ‘conditions pertaining at the time’ which required the summary destruction of such a unique archaeological site, (in sharp contrast to ‘Thracian’ sites in this area), remains unexplained.
Atanassov G. (1992) S’or’ženija ot III-II v. pr. n. e. ot okolnostite na s. K’lnovo, Šumensko. – Izvestija na Istoričeskija Muzej – Šumen, 7, 5-39. (In Bulgarian)
Megaw V., Megaw R., Anastassov J., Mircheva E. (2013) Walt Disney Comes to Bulgaria. In: L’âge du Fer en Europe: mélanges offerts à Olivier Buchsenschutz. Bordeaux : Ausonius. p. 551-565
Megaw V. (2004) In the footsteps of Brennos? Further archaeological evidence for Celts in the Balkans. – In: Hänsel B., Studenikova E., (eds.) Zwischen Karpaten und Ägäis. Neolithikum und ältere Bronzezeit. Gedenkschrift für Viera Nemejcova-Pavukova. Rahden / Westf. 93-107.
Mircheva E. (2007) La Téne C fibulae kept in Varna Archaeological Museum. In: Vagalinski L. (ed.) The Lower Danube in Antiquity (VI c. BC – VI c. AD) International Archaeology Conference. 6 – 7. 10 2005. Tutrakan. (Sofia 2007) P. 65 – 72.