UD November 2014
Since the first half of the 20th century a series of strange ceramic objects, consisting of zoomorphic representations of animal heads – snakes, horses, rams, etc., have been discovered at sites across Bulgaria (Mikov 1932-33, Gerasimov 1960). These artifacts, associated with other Celtic material (‘eye beads’, glass bracelets, daggers, fibulae etc.; see below), and decorated with familiar La Têne motifs – herring-bone, concentric circles/solar symbols, s-scrolls etc., appear most often at cult complexes and burials – indicating that they had a religious function.
Recent excavations in southwestern and south-central Bulgaria have enabled us to definitively date these objects, and the associated ‘Zepina’ type pottery to the 3rd – 1st c. BC (Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008, Tonkova et al 2011), and to finally determine the real function of these mysterious ‘cult objects’.
Celtic ‘Zepina Type’ ceramic from Bratya Daskalovi (Stara Zagora reg.), south-central Bulgaria (see http://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace)
Zoomorphic ‘Cult Object’ from Sliven region, Bulgaria
(Sliven regional Museum)
Information from these latest excavations have also enabled us to clarify the real nature of these artifacts. It has transpired that they are not in fact ‘cult objects’, but zoomorphic attachments from the lids of small portable fire-pots, which were used to carry fire to the cult complex. The significance of this practice is still unclear, but they appear to have been found mostly in areas of the sanctuaries where artifacts associated with women (household objects, jewelry, etc.) predominate (Tonkova, Gotcheva op cit.).
Celtic zoomorphic Ram figurine/attachment from Boznik (Pernik region), western Bulgaria (History Museum of Pernik)
From a geographical perspective most of these firepots come from the upper Maritza and Struma/Mesta river valleys, and the Sofia plain, i.e. the zoomorphic fire-pots and associated ‘Zepina’ pottery are concentrated in sites in western and south-western Bulgaria: Batak, Belovo, Sv. Ilia and Ostretz Peak (both near Velingrad), Streltcha, Zepina fortress (Dorkovo), and Patelenitza (Pazardjik region); Babyak, Belitsa, and Kochan in the Blagoevgrad region; Kyustendil, Boznik (Pernik region); Poduaine, Muchovo and Jana in the Sofia region. Other finds of these zoomorphic lids and the ‘Zepina type’ pottery from other areas of Bulgaria include examples from Kazanlak/Seuthopolis, Targovischte, Plovdiv, Rousse, Skalsko (Gabrovo region), and Sliven (Mikov 1932-33, Gerasimov 1960, R a d o n o v, 1965, Domaradski 1984, Katincharova 2005). The latter examples, while fewer in number, confirm that these were not confined to the Celtic tribes of western Bulgaria, but were in use in other parts of the region.
Ceramic vessel of the ‘Zepina Type’ used as a funerary urn in a Celtic female burial at Karakochovata Tumulus, Bratya Daskalovi, south-central Bulgaria
Recent finds of Celtic ceramic of this type in Thrace include examples from the Unatzi site (Pazardjik reg.), also in central Bulgaria, which was, as at Bratya Daskalovi, found together with a bronze La Têne fibula of the Jezerine type, and from the Celtic chieftain’s burial at Sashova Tumulus near the Shipka Pass, where this type of ‘Cult’ ceramic was discovered together with a gold fibula, torc, Celtic sword, etc. (see http://www.academia.edu/4126512/Sevtopolis_and_the_Valley_of_the_Thracian_Kings).
Bronze La Têne Fibula of the Jezerine type from the central Celtic burial at Karakochovata Tumulus, Bratya Daskalovi.
The fibula is of great importance for the dating of the complex. This type of late La Têne fibula first appears between 40-30 BC and is most common in the period between 30 and 10 BC (Rustoiu 1997). It is worth noting that the other jewelry from the burial is of types typical of the Scordisci and other Balkan Celts during this period (Tonkova op cit).
It should also be noted that the concentration of the firepots in the western Rhodope mountains/Mesta Valley region also corresponds with the circulation of Celtic Strymon/Trident coinage which dates to the same period (http://www.academia.edu/4067834/Bandit_Nation_-_The_Bogolin_Hoard) – logically indicating that they were produced by the same tribes.
Zoomorphic lid, and reconstructed fire-pot from Babyak (Blagoevgrad region), s.w. Bulgaria) (after Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008).
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Gerasimov T. (1960) Keltski kultovi figuri ot Bulgariia. Izvestiia na Arkheologicheskiia institut (IAI) 23. Sofia: BAN, pp. 165–204.
Катинчарова Д. (2005) Аpхеологически проучвания на обект “Свети Илия” край Велинград през 2004. In: Археологически Институт с Музей – БАН. Археологически Открития и Разкопки през 2004 г. XLIV. Национална Археологически Конференция София 2005
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Tonkova et al (2011) Трако-римски династичен център в районнаЧирпанските възвишения. Тонкова M. (ed.) София.