Sboryanovo. Investigations, discoveries and problems.
JAPAN Icomos, September 2000. 17-25
The National Reserve Sboryanovo in NE Bulgaria , declared in 1988, is one of the most important sites for the understanding of the diversity of its cultural traditions . Situated in an area which played key role in the cultural and historical development of the country for several thousand years, it is located near two other UNESCO monuments - the Madara hosreman and the Ivanovo rock-cut churches - in a distance of about 100 km. Its forest -cover area of 16000 m2 of karst formations, meandering river and water springs, is the one of the few places in Bulgaria where rare plants, birds included in the red data books of Bulgaria and Europe have still been preserved The reservation covers one of the greatest concentrations of archaeological sites in the country from Prehistoric, Thracian, Roman and late Roman , Early Christian, Early the Late Mediaeval periods. The alian monastery Demir Baba teke situated in the center of the reserve is a common religious center for people belonging to different cultural traditions and religions was one of the first National Heritage monument declared in 1925.
The Sveshtari tomb, discovered here in 1982 was one of the most sensational discoveries in the field of ancient archaeology with its unique plan , syntheses of architectural , sculptural and painted decoration in the main chamber and a naiskos as the only known till now real archaeological form. It was declared as UNESCO World heritage monument in 1985 and the Sboryanovo National reservation was proclaimed in 1988. The discovery of the tomb and its cultural context- a big agglomeration with structure and components unknown from other places in Thrace raised many scientific and practical problems. The thorough study of the site would throw light on unknown aspects of the Thracian civilization. The team aimed to study exhaustively all elements for the obtaining of most objective scientific information, to create the best conditions for most efficient conservation and restoration, and for original approaches in the presentation of the monuments in their complexity by applying a wide range of interdisciplinary methods and by diminishing the application of the destructive archaeological methods when possible. The natural and historical environment offered a chance to create an archaeological park of high cientific, cultural and aesthetical functions. For the study of the whole structure and its development through time an archaeological map of the area in scale 1:2000 was initiated, by applying air photogrametry, and a digital photogrammetric model for the entire territory created which would permit the adding of newly discovered or newly excavated sites and data about their state of preservation. In the years since 1982 the investigation of some key sites led to the discovery for the first time of two Thracian sanctuaries - a megalithic one in the area of the monastery Demir baba (the Iron Father), near the water springs and another one in the locality Kamen rid, both dated to the beginning of the 1st mill. BC. A cult place on the territory of the Western cemetery consisting of a long stone wall and oval stone constructions and ritual pits was also discovered. Excavations of the Hellenistic city, with an area of 90 000 m2 surrounded by double stone wall gave data for intensive trade with Europe, the Aegean and Asia and local metal workshops and minting.
The study of the 5 cemeteries, composed of clusters of tumuli, was one of the main trends of the excavations. The high costs for the preservation of the Sveshtari tomb, and the long period of its exploration was an argument against further excavations of tumuli with tombs. From scientific point of view only thorough study of the whole groups of tumuli we could obtain the necessary level of knowledge about the rituals and believes of the ancient people. A new, more efficient and inexpensive approach to excavations of tumuli with tombs was elaborated, based on the possibilities for accurate localization of tombs under tumuli by geophysical methods. Profiles were orientated through the most characteristic features of the tumuli- along the axis of the tomb and several perpendicular to it-in front of the facades and at the key points .A protective curtain of soil 50 cm thick had to prevent the tombs from weather conditions while studying the area in front of it and to give objective information about past events in front of it. In this way, effective protection measures could be taken on an earlier stage.
Comparative magnetic, seismic and other geophysical methods were also applied to show their efficiency for the needs of the archaeological excavations. New Italian instruments for monitoring the seismic effects and a Swedish Terrameter for more precise localization of anomalies have been tested.
The astronomic aspects of the planning of the cemetery raised another group of problems. Archaeoastronomical analysis showed that that the axis of the Sveshtari tomb was directed to the first sun ray on December 22nd in 4th c. BC and the astronomic orientation of all the tombs were determined by observations of the Sun. The tumuli clusters were constructed as mirror images of part of the brightest stars in the constellations Canis Major, Canis Minor, Orion, Taurus, while the location of those from the Western cemetery coincides with the double mirror image of Saggitarius.
Bulgaria is a country of high seismic activity. Palaeoseismic studies of the deformations of the tombs, their reconstructions and environment in collaboration with specialists from IRPI-CNR, Cosenza and the Institute of Geophysics and Geology in Sofia, lead to the identification of an earthquake of 7,7 degrees and of its epicenter only 60 km to the east of the site, dated to the beginning of the 3rd c. BC. These studies contributed both to reconstructing the historical and natural processes to the more correct interpretation of the archaeological situations, completed the data base on the country seismic activity giving important information for the solution of practical problems of the protection of the cultural heritage in the area. Modern Italian instrument for monitoring was installedexperimentally in the Sveshtari tomb. Archaeometric investigations for the provenance of the lead and the localization of the quarries, as well as archaeomagnetic dating of the sites were made.
The investigated Thracian centre proved to be remarkable not only by its monuments but also with its planning, subordinated to the idea which required full harmony with the natural landscape and accepts life as a mirror image of the celestial harmony. The complex of sanctuaries, connected with the cult to the rocks , to the water springs and the celestial bodies - the Great Mother-Goddess - Artemis, and Apollo, the Hellenistic town and the hypothetical kings residence were surrounded in a radius of about 2000 m. by five tumular cemeteries the North and to the South, the tombs forming the center of each cluster demonstrated the original features of a local architectural school. The planning of the Thracian agglomeration and the construction of its monuments demonstrated an unexpectedly high level of knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, architecture and arts devoted to the creation of this royal centre as a mirror reflection of the celestial order, following the Orphism doctrine. This center could be identified with Dausdava, or the"City of the wolves" on the map of the Roman geographer Kl. Ptolemaios, or with the royal residence in the Hellenistic period Helis. The newly applied methods gave ground to another interpretation of the empty Thracian tombs as tombs temples for the most important rituals of the deification of the dead.
Sboryanovo reserve now is the biggest known and the best studied Thracian religious and political center dated to the 1st millenium BC. It was founded at a strategic cross road between Europe and Asia. It became the capital of the Thracian tribes Getae in 4th -3rd c. BC and played important role in the Hellenistic world, maintaining long-distance cultural and economic contacts with Europe and Asia. A third fact determines the extremely high scientific and cultural value of the reserve. This is the fact that the Thracian agglomeration preserved its religious significance till modern times. Votive plaques of the Thracian horseman, an early Christian inscription, Proto-Bulgarian tumuli on the territory of the earlier Thracian necropolis from 8th -9th c., big Mediaeval settlement with traces of iron production , the only bronze statue of Jaina dated to 11 c. found in Bulgaria and finally the mausoleum of Demir baba- the Iron Farther built in 15th -16th c. on the rock altar of the earlier Thracian sanctuary shows a remarkable continuity of its spiritual functions. Authentic religious rituals of adorning the trees, sacrificing animals and donating candles in the area of the monastery Demir Baba have been performed at one and the same place for millennia by local and new population of different cultural traditions and ethnicity. The followers of believes of the same ideological model, deeply rooted in the Orphic-Zoroastrian traditions of the solar-chthonic cult and its universal values including the idea of the immortality of the soul, tolerance and equality. The monastery of Demir baba and its stone-carved ornamentation of the courtyard is also a unique in the country.
The years after the discovery of the Sveshtari tomb proved the polyvalent importance of the interdisciplinary methods for the study of the archaeological heritage and for its protection and that these are aspects of one creative process the problems of the reservation now are extremely heavy. Although a plan to develop an archaeological park was conceived in the first years of the excavations and projects for the conservation and restoration of all already excavated sites existed, special measures were undertaken only for the Sveshtari tomb. Comparative investigations on the changes in the microclimate of the two tombs preserved in different conditions - the Sveshtari tomb in a protection building and the second tomb in its normal environment proved the efficiency of the later approach. Conservation and restoration were provided only in the Sveshtari tomb and in the monastery Demir Baba, where new wall paintings were discovered. None of the sanctuaries is restored. The protection buildings over different archaeological structures like stone constructions, altars, tombs and tumuli have been destroyed in the recent years. The special metal protection building above the Big Sveshtari tumulus in the area which is in process of excavation has been destroyed together with more than 20 tumuli in the area.
The financial support by the government for the activities in the reservation is quite unsufficientt. Totally excavated till now are 2 sanctuaries and one cult place, 17 tumuli with 4 tombs and 5 other different types of graves as well as animal sacrifices and altars below from the Hellenistic period. The approach of the team was to preserve all original situations and create a real archaeological park of high aesthetical and educational purposes.
With the exception of the Sveshtari tomb, and the Demir baba teke monastery where new wall paintings were discovered, no financial support for the conservation or restoration of the other Thracian sites was given in the years. Although general plan of the reservation exists and projects for the exhibiting of the other tombs and sanctuaries too, The excavations and the reconstruction of the highest tumulus in NE Bulgaria - the famous Big Sveshtari tumulus cannot be finished already for several years.
Experimental conservation of fragment of the fortress wall of the Hellenistic town was made. General plan and projects for the exhibiting of the two other tombs and of the two sanctuaries exist. Smaller protection buildings were constructed over more significant archaeological discoveries.
At the moment the destruction processes of the archaeological monuments are much faster that the possibility to find support for the activities in the reservation. Very often the wish of the sponsors does not correspond to the needs of the monuments.
The team tried to show that science and culture really need financial support but also play important social and even economic role.
The local population of different ethnicity and religions which is bearer of the intangible aspects of the heritage in the reserve is the highest in the country unemployed. The team opened for them temporary jobs in connection with the maintenance and the activities in the reservation. In this way the archaeological excavations are contributing for the problems of the local population.
Three international conferences have been organized centered on the results from the investigations in Sboryanovo, one of them in Italy under the auspices of the Council of Europe.
Nevertheless a large scope of problems, concerning the protection of the monuments and the socialization of the site area in the period of deep economic crisis and changes in the cultural policy of the country have to find their solution. Both the monuments and the unique spiritual heritage of Sboryanovo are in danger and need stronger international support.
The team is trying to preserve as much as possible of the archaeological discoveries in situ, having in mind the unique chance to create a real park for educational purposes with interesting information for all levels of visitors. Alas, during the period of 1983-92 general plan of the reservation was made as well as projects for the conservation of the already excavated sanctuaries and tombs. More attention was paid also to the Alian teke which was restores and interesting new frescoes discovered and to the Svehstari tomb as well. The investigations, conservation and restoration were financed by the government until 1993 - later, with the exception of the Svestari tomb as an UNESCO monument all activities were supposed to be supported by the local authorities and sponsors. The disproportion between the possibilities of the local council and the needs of the reservation, the rare sponsors whose wish often did not correspond to the most urgent needs in the reservation, or the possibility to find money only for some of the activities, hinders the normal functioning of the reservation as a living cultural unit.
The possibilities to find financial support from private institutions in the country are much smaller then the speed of the destruction process of the monuments. Only during the last year about 20 tumuli in the area have been destroyed, the protection buildings of two tumuli, among which the investigations cannot be finished for years because of lack of money the Big Sveshtari tumulus, which is in process of excavation For several years for the excavations and some of the protection activities unemployed have been working paid by the government. The fact that these workers belong to the same local population of different religions which creates the intangible aspects and values of the reserve heritage connected with the traditions of the religious center. Their direct contact with the new discoveries creates a more favorable social atmosphere in an are where the percentage of the unemployed is one of the highest in the country. The aim of the team is to show that investigation and protection of the cultural heritage needs money but also creates possibilities for opening of permanent or part-time job and for the social benefits. From the last year there was no money for such activities and the interdisciplinary approaches are specially developed for the needs of the investigations and archaeologists and conservationists are mutually complementary in trying to find solutions to their respective problems.
Sboryanovo. Studies and Prospects. Proceedings of the Conference in Isperih, 8 December 1988. Helis II. Ed by D. Gergova, T. Stoyanov. International Conference "Geoarchaeology of Tumuli in Ancient Europe". Cosenza, June 1993. -PACT (in print).