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Athena Review, Vol.3, no.4


The Western Black Sea Coast in the Eneolithic and Bronze Ages

Survey Methods of Underwater Archaeology and Site Findings

Stiliyan Stanimirov   Central Archaeological Council, Bulgaria


The Black Sea basin is a largely undiscovered “museum,” preserving the remains of millennia-old cultures along with traces of many centuries of navigation. For more than seven thousand years, the western Black Sea shore has been the portal of a number of significant civilizations, originating and developing on its coast and in the immediate hinterland.

Due to environmental changes, much of what remains of these coastal civilizations is now under water. Materials found on the sea floor raise a number of questions about the history of the western Black Sea coast, and its relations with the Mediterranean. This paper addresses some of these questions for the first time, and discusses a number of new sites found through underwater archaeology (figs.1,2).

There are three basic fields in the history of coastal civilization, which can probably best be studied by analyzing the results of underwater archaeological surveys:

1. Changes in the level of the Black Sea and related environmental changes along the coastal strip during the last 6-7 millennia;

2. The types and extent of prehistoric, ancient, and Medieval navigation along the western shore of the Black Sea, and the contacts between these populations and contemporary peoples in the eastern Mediterranean;

3. The coastal harbor system, including harbor locations, harbor constructions, and submerged parts of old settlements.

[Fig.1: Map of sites mentioned in text from the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. Box shows area of fig. 2.]

In this article, two main topics will be discussed. The first is the reconstruction of settlements along the Black Sea coast in the Final Neolithic Era (Eneolithic) and Bronze Age, on the basis of data from underwater archaeological research. The second concerns specific research methods used in studying submerged Eneolithic and Bronze Age sites. Consistent site methodology, if carefully followed in accordance with the given types of underwater sites, should yield a greater amount of information. It should also permit the investigators to place their findings in a useful chronological and comparative historical context.

Archaeological research along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast has revealed many finds from submerged and partly submerged settlements, harbors and harbor facilities, and shipwrecks (Stanimirov 2003). This paper will focus primarily on discoveries dated to the 3rd-2nd millennium BC, including Eneolithic and Bronze Age settlements that are now submerged. These findings raise questions about the first contacts between the western Black Sea and the Mediterranean world, and also provide evidence to support the following premises:

1. Mediterranean ships sailed the Black Sea for the first time in the 16th c. BC. After this point, the population of the western Black Sea maintained trade contacts with the populations of the eastern Mediterranean, including the Achaeans, Trojans, and Cretans in the 16th-12th c. BC, and the Carians in the 12th-11th c. BC.

2. Due to mutual or complementary material needs, trading networks were established. Present data is insufficient to define the intensity of trade relations, as to whether at any given time it was decreasing, increasing, or temporarily inactive. In some regions, trade was probably very active.

3. Metals - copper, tin (both components of bronze), and eventually, iron and lead - were important as exports and imports.

Archaeological evidence allowing the reconstruction of settlements along the shores of the western Black Sea (and supporting the above premises) can be divided into three groups: submerged settlements; submerged harbor sites and systems, including anchors and anchor material; and remains of cargo and ships, the former including metal objects and amphorae, the latter including only a few smaller vessels in the Bronze Age.

Submerged Settlements: Surveys along the western Black Sea shoreline have led to the discovery of 10 submerged Eneolithic settlements, and at least 29 sites dating from the Bronze Age (fig.2). Most settlements that began their existence in the Late Eneolithic continued into the Bronze Age.

The submergence of the settlements probably resulted from variations in sea level caused by the weight of glacier movements deforming the earth’s crust. These variations, in turn, were caused by climatic instability, including warm/cold spells that led to glacial melting and sea level rise, or to ice accumulation and sea level fall.

During the Early and Middle Holocene, warmer periods led to the gradual submergence of the western Black Sea coast. At the end of the 5th millennium BC, the so-called New Black Sea Transgression caused the water to overflow parts of the mainland. During its second stage (mid-4th millennium BC) a 2-meter drop in sea level occurred.

During the Eneolithic Age (ca. 3500-2500 BC), such climatic changes led to the formation of a new shoreline, and thus to the populating of coastal and harbor settlements. These dynamic coastal processes help explain the high number of submerged settlements (fig.2) dating from the final period of the Eneolithic. At least ten settlements are recorded, a concentration suggesting a Late Eneolithic settlement base along the western Black Sea coast, which continued into the Bronze Age.

[Fig.2: Submerged settlements along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast (S. Stanimirov).]

At the end of the Early Bronze Age and in the Middle Bronze Age, a new sea level rise began, which destroyed the settlements built on the first overflowed terrace, and turned the rivers’ mouths into gulfs. This elevation in sea level lasted until the end of the 2nd millennium BC or the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, after which the so-called Fanagorian Regression lowered sea level by 3-4 m. After the end of the 5th c. BC, the Second Wallachian Transgression began, which continues to the present to raise sea levels 1.4 - 4.4 mm/year. Since the 5th c. BC, the sea level has risen some 9.40 m.

All sites from the Late Eneolithic and Bronze Age on the western Black Sea coast have consistent settlement features and artifacts, including house posts, ceramics (fig.3), flint tools, cult objects (fig.4), and other materials. These finds provide evidence for the submergence of the settlements soon after they were abandoned. The depth of submergence does not exceed 9-10 m, indicating that the sea level rose by about 10 m (Porojanov 1999).

A total of five Bronze Age settlements have been examined by archaeological excavations. These include the settlement near Cape Urdoviza; the settlement near modern Sozopol, called Apollonia in ancient times; the settlement of Arsenala at Lake Varnensko near Varna; the ancient port of Odessos (Varna); and the settlement near the mouth of the Ropotamo River. Some notable, culturally revealing Eneolithic and Bronze Age findings from these sites will be briefly summarized here, prior to a more detailed discussion on underwater methods and other typical findings including anchors and shipwrecks.

Cape Urdoviza: The Bronze Age settlement near Cape Urdoviza is situated about 60 km from Burgas, on the southern part of the Black Sea shore. Although it has not been thoroughly examined, the information gained so far is interesting. Houses at the settlement were made of wattle plastered with clay, and well-preserved pottery vessels, including pitchers, have been recovered (fig.3).

Faunal analysis has revealed that in this Balkan region, the most common animal species found were turros (Bos primigenius), bear, and wolf. Overall, more than 7,000 animal remains have been unearthed at Cape Urdoviza, representing more than 32 species of animals, birds, reptiles, and mollusks. From these remains, about 15 wild and 6 domestic animal varieties have been identified, including foxes, wolves, badgers, wild-cats, wild boars, brown bears, wild oxen, red deer, roe deer, rock martens, and various birds. Analysis of horns has revealed a few hybrids of domestic and wild cattle. This evidence allows us to conclude that by the Bronze Age, the active domestication of wild cattle had already been in practice for some time on this part of the Black Sea coast.

[Fig.3: Pottery from the Early Bronze Age settlement near Cape Urdoviza (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

Of particular interest is the enormous concentration of cult items: 5 parts of buffalo horns, over 40 horse skulls, 2 clay female statuettes, and 2 stone casts for metal hammers. This suggests the existence of a cult center or a temple, analogous to those in Asia Minor. For example, the cult of the horse on the Balkan Peninsula already existed by the Late Eneolithic.

According to both dendrochronological and carbon-14 analyses, the Cape Urdoviza settlement existed for about one and a half centuries, from the middle of the 29th c. BC to the end of the 28th c. BC. The recorded dendrochronological samples are as follows: 10 samples from 2850-2778 BC; 60 samples from 2778-2737 BC; and 3 samples from 2737-2725 BC. Precious items found at the site indicate that the settlement was probably abandoned suddenly (Porojanov 1999; Ribarov 1991). Stone anchors were also found here.

Sozopol: The port of Sozopol has produced submerged settlements from both the Late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. The Eneolithic settlement has a clearly outlined cultural layer marked by a fire that devastated the settlement, and whose marks were submerged by the New Black Sea Transgression. The site yielded house remains containing wooden framing posts, flint tools, and anthropomorphic figurines. Sozopol’s Eneolithic ceramics belong to the final stage of the Varna Culture, similar to pottery from other Late Eneolithic cultural complexes of Kodjadermen-Gumelnica- Karanova VI, and Krivodol-Salkuca-Balbii.

Materials found in the harbor system from the subsequent, Early Bronze Age settlement at Sozopol included pottery types comparable to those of settlements in Asia Minor, and the associated islands of Lemnos, Lesbos, and Samothrace (fig.1). Also found in Early Bronze Age deposits were house posts, faunal remains, and stone anchors.

Arsenala at Lake Varnensko, near Varna: Pottery from the Late Eneolithic settlement of Arsenala includes complex, decorated vases from the Varna Culture. In layers representing the hiatus between the Eneolithic Period and Early Bronze Age were found wooden posts from house remains, bone and stone tools, and ceramic fragments. Early Bronze Age cult items from Arsenala include female and male figurines (fig.4).

Ropotamo River mouth: This submerged settlement contained Early Bronze Age ceramics, parts of houses with remains of post construction, and faunal remains. Ship-related artifacts include stone anchors (an important artifact class, discussed below in detail).

Methodology of Underwater Surveys: To examine submerged settlements successfully, it is important to apply current research methods. In order to locate the settlements, spatial and geophysical methods are used, which, by means of detecting magnetic anomalies, delineate the limits of the submerged settlement.

Magnetometer survey: Proton magnetometer readings are widely used along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, both to search for new underwater sites, and to localize already discovered sites. Such research has been done at the mouth of the Ropotamo River, near Cape Urdoviza, near Kaliakra, and in other places (Georgiev et al. 1991). The methodology of research using a magnetometer includes the following:

[Fig.4: Early Bronze Age figurine from the settlement of Arsenala, at Lake Varnensko (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

1. Geodetic preparatory work: This consists of two stages: a) the positioning of a local coordinate grid; and b) selecting points of reference from which measurements will be made.

2. Measurements: A proton magnetometer is towed by a vessel above the area under examination. The value of the magnetic field is recorded, and measurements are taken every 10 seconds. The vessel towing the magnetometer moves in corridors above the examined area, outlined beforehand.

3. Processing the results after the entire area is surveyed: The values of the magnetic field are compared for differences, termed magnetic anomalies. The existence of such anomalies may suggest that the magnetic field of the sea bottom is disrupted by an object, possibly an archaeological structure.

4. Analyzing the results: The anomalies are checked with a metal detector to eliminate those not part of an ancient archaeological structure.

5. Checking the anomalies: Testing is done by underwater excavations in order to define the essential features of the localized object.

Strict adherence to these procedures is necessary for high efficiency in the use of the magnetic method.

The geophysical methods used along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast allow the localization of archaeological objects at places difficult for scuba divers or an unmanned apparatus to inspect. Their main advantage is the great amount of information that can be gathered. They are useful not only for localizing underwater archaeological sites, but also, through complex analysis of sonograms, profilograms, bathymetry, and magnetic mapping, enable the reconstruction of paleorelief (Georgiev 1994). This includes the use of side-scan sonar, which “takes a picture” of the sea bottom, where sandy, rocky, partly-covered finds are located; the sub-bottom profiler, which penetrates the bottom sediments and defines their character and composition; the echograph, which defines depth and is used for making a bathymetric map of the bottom (Nenov 1991; Tasev 1994); and the magnetometer, which develops a geological map of different rock types, and also aids in further discovery of submerged constructions.

Underwater excavation methods: Excavations are the second stage of underwater archaeology. During this process, much interesting information is gathered and must be recorded. In the examination of submerged settlements along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, two types of records are kept: manual and electronic. Manual record-keeping includes recording forms or preliminary prepared sheets listing concrete characteristics of the submerged settlements. For example, the form used in documenting underwater research near the Arsenala settlement included the following information:

1. Position: site name and coordinates;

2. Description: color, shape, size;

3. Records of samples for field, dendrochronological, and other types of analyses;

4. Description of any recovered objects, i.e. wooden posts; weapons; anchors. (Specific requirements for recording these materials include size, outer features, etc.);

5. Plan, drawing, and scheme of the site;

6. Diving information: the name of the scuba diver, the time spent under water, depth, and other conditions.

Electronic recording is done with a camera or a video camera. These records eliminate the disadvantages of other types of record-keeping, including drawings and schematic sketches. Recording under water does not differ much from the requirements for archaeological recording on land, yet it is even more demanding, since the working conditions are always changing.

Part of the recording involves the positioning of a local topographic grid, which will guarantee precise inclusion of each find in the archaeological complex, as well as all relations between the finds in the complex. This is done by using a plan-square net. In the archaeological excavations of the settlements near Sozopol and Urdoviza, the plan-square net was constructed on the shore from metal tubes. It was made up of 5 x 5 m squares lowered into the water above the excavation site. The placing of the net is often difficult and time-consuming. Once positioned on the bottom, it tends to move, which can result in inaccurate records. The movement of the net is more common when the bottom is excessively soft or slimy. In spite of these obstacles, the plan-square net is always applied in underwater archaeological research along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

Excavations, the final stage of archaeological field research, are preceded by coring and the taking of samples. The aim of the coring is to analyze the layers or structures below the surface. Core samples were taken during examination of the settlement near Urdoviza to establish the width and depth of the “buried” objects. Stratigraphic, dendrochronological, and palynological samples were taken to help analyze the archaeological remains. Such samples are routinely obtained for all submerged settlements in order to determine their date.

After the limits of the submerged settlement are outlined, once it is precisely dated with the help of core sample research, and once other samples have been taken, the underwater archaeological excavations can commence. Differing methods of exavation may be used in order to obtain satisfactory results. During the excavation, principles of stratigraphy are followed (just as on dry land). After the upper layers are examined, they are removed. This is done with the help of various instruments. In the research process of the settlements near Sozopol, Urdoviza, the Ropotamo River, and Arsenala, an ejector was used. It “swallows” the deposits and the already excavated and examined layers. The ejector is held at approximately 30 cm above the excavated layer, in order for the diver-archaeologist to watch and control what is being swallowed into the tube. No matter how the tube is controlled and how good the visibility is, some small objects can easily be missed. In order to prevent these materials from being thrown away, the ejector has a filter positioned at the end of the tube. In a few cases, pieces of ceramics and parts of posts have been discovered during the examinations of the above-mentioned settlements. During the removal of the deposits, some objects need to be taken out of the water and placed on the shore, a process that varies considerably, depending on the specific materials being removed.

The objects discovered in the settlements are put in non-salinated water. This includes ceramics, stone or lead anchors, parts of wood, as well as different organic substances. Afterwards, the objects are transported to the regional museum, where they are conserved and restored under laboratory conditions.

Underwater survey methods: While systematic archaeological research is applied in the examination of submerged settlements, some materials are normally found on the surface of the harbor bottom, without stratigraphic context. For example, only a small percentage of anchors are found during archaeological excavations. Such was the case in anchors discovered in the harbors of Sozopol, Nesebar, Kaliakra, Pomorie, Urdoviza, and other sites, almost none of which were discovered in stratified contexts. Thus, underwater methods at these sites are focused on methods of archaeological survey or reconnaissance. These can be divided into two major types: one based on the human eye and manual equipment, and the second on electronic technologies.

Perhaps the most basic principle in underwater survey research, regardless of the method employed, is that the position of the diver must be known at any moment. This allows the most efficient use of time, and increases the quality of recorded information. Equally important in governing the effectiveness of a scuba-diving search involving the visual examination of a harbor is the degree of visibility. Thus, it is critical that these methods be applied in areas with shallow depth and relatively good visibility. The most commonly used method for controlling the position of divers in underwater reconnaissance is known as swimline. In this method, corridor outlines, or transects, are set for the divers to swim along, thus making the direction of their motion known. The length of the corridors depends on the size of a given area, while the width depends on the conditions of visibility - the shorter the visibility distance, the narrower the corridor. For example, in the research of the harbor near Kaliakra, the corridors were 20 m wide and 150 m long. These corridors were marked on the surface by buoys. In each corridor were four divers, one of whom determined the direction of motion with the help of a compass. The other three divers follow him and mark all finds with buoys. These buoys are detected by geodetists on the shore and are plotted on a map. In this way, a plan of the discovered objects is made and it is possible to define the limits of their distribution (Toncheva 1964). Using these methods, a large number of stone anchors and stocks - both stone and lead, spanning the Bronze Age through Byzantine period - have been discovered.

In general, in the underwater archaeological research of submerged settlements along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, every effort is made to apply an interdisciplinary approach. The joint use of different research methods improves the quality and range of the information gathered, whose analysis may lead to the more accurate reconstruction of settled life along the shores. A great amount of archaeological material has been discovered as a result of adhering to the research procedures outlined here for underwater archaeology. To these should be added finds discovered either accidentally (e.g., anchors) or during construction works. Both surface finds and those discovered during construction projects aid in quantitative analysis of overall finds, such as the typology of the pottery forms, diversity in faunal assemblages, or the range of anchor forms and materials.

The resulting large collections of pottery, lithics, parts of wooden house posts, precious cult objects including figurines, a variety of animal bones, and other objects are all analyzed and compared, in their typology and chronology, with similar finds from settlements in the eastern Mediterranean. This allows many significant inferences to be drawn concerning settlements along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast in the Bronze Age.

[Fig.5: Stone anchors without holes, from Nesebar; 16th-12th c. BC (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

Importantly, as table 4 indicates, the types of artifacts discovered during archaeological research and construction works have basically been the same. The difference is that systematic research allows everything to be recorded in a specific order, thus making it possible to define stratigraphy, the sequence in which the dwellings were made, and reasons for their submergence.

Regional comparisons: The many settlements from the Early Bronze Age along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast were not isolated. They are contemporary with Early Bronze Age settlements and cultures from northwestern Asia Minor, as well as island settlements such as Poliochni on Lemnos, Termi on Lesbos, Palatiali Astakos on the Ionic coast, and Micro Vuno on Samothrace. A widespread community of maritime cultures seems to have existed by the Early Bronze Age along the western coast of the Black Sea, in the northern and central Aegean region, and probably also around the Sea of Marmora. This civilization, located along the coast of southeastern Europe, northwestern Asia Minor, and the islands, probably perished as a result of paleoclimatic and sea-level variations (Porojanov 1999).

Submerged Harbor Sites and Systems: The initial Neolithic settlements along the western Black Sea coast grew into harbor centers, in which active cultural-economic relations were established between the local Thracian population and the Mediterranean world. Our findings make it clear that the first active contacts between these two cultural-historical societies were established in the Bronze Age. These contacts were largely maintained by water. One group of finds, anchors and related materials, testifies to this abundance of water contacts.

Anchors and anchor materials: Anchors make up a highly important class of maritime artifact that indicates the presence of harbors, and shows consistent correlations of form, material, and chronology. While normally found as surface or accidental finds, a detailed examination of anchors allows us to determine when the harbor system was built. The earliest evidence of western Black Sea harbors is provided by stone anchors (fig.5). These consist of a flat stone (either smoothly or roughly shaped) in which one, two, three, or, rarely, four holes were bored. Wooden stakes were driven into these holes, whose sharpened ends were hung, driven, or dug into the stony or sandy sea-bottom. The weight of these early anchors varies from a few dozen to a few hundred kilograms. The weight depended, of course, on the size of the vessel on which they were used.

Since stone anchors are found in close proximity to settlements, analysis of the anchors has helped to prove the existence of early navigation in the western Black Sea and to answer questions about the early harbor system. Over 300 stone anchors have so far been discovered. Since their archaeological context is unclear, their dating is complicated. The survey of the settlements in the Sozopol harbor and at Urdoviza Cape dating from the Early Bronze Age conveys some important information about the ages of the anchors. Because these settlements are found on the sea bottom, or anchorage level of stone anchors, it logically follows that the anchors were used after the settlements had been submerged (Porojanov 1999a). This takes the anchors’ usage back to the 2nd millennium BC.

The division of the anchors into three groups according to depth provides an interesting chronological perspective. Group 1, ranging in depth from 5-11 m, has six find spots, with the greatest total number of anchors found, indicating that their most active use came at the end of the 2nd millennium BC (i.e. the period after the Early Bronze Age settlements were submerged; Porojanov 1999a). Group 2, with six find spots, has anchors with a depth greater than 11 m. Group 2 possibly dates to the late 3rd-4th millennium BC, i.e. earlier than group 1. Group 3 has four find spots on the shore, or in the shallow waters of about 3 m depth, with the smallest number of anchors found here - about 10. Group 3 probably dates to a later period, about the middle of the 1st millennium BC.

For the exact dating of anchors, however, more evidence is needed, and similar stone anchors discovered throughout the Mediterranean are useful for comparison. The anchors from the eastern Mediterranean date as far back as the 3rd-2nd millennium BC. Most agreement among scholars centers on anchors dating to the second millennium, including the period of the 16th-11th/10th c. BC [J. Bass:14th-12th c. BC (Bass 1972); H. Frost: 14th-12th c. BC (Porojanov and Popov 1982); M. Lazarov: the same period (Lasarov 1975); G. Toncheva: 14th-10th c. BC (Toncheva 1973); B. Dimitrov:16th-12th c. BC (Dimitrov and Stoichev1976)].

An interesting find that sheds some light upon the dating of stone anchors is a metal ingot discovered near Kaliakra together with a stone anchor. The metal ingot is in the form of a stretched ox hide and is dated to the Late Bronze Age, 14th-12th c. BC (Toncheva 1981).

It is thought that the ships of the Aegean civilization from the 2nd millennium BC had stone anchors (Porozhanov 1999a). Thus, the location, the depths at which the anchors are found, and the archaeological parallels and similarities to the eastern Mediterranean help date the stone anchors of the western Black Sea to the 3rd-2nd millennium BC, with their most active use in the Late Bronze Age period of the 16th-12th c. BC (Porojanov 1989).

[Fig.6: Ancient amphorae from Sozopol, imported from the eastern Mediterranean (5th-4th c. BC) (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

The large number of stone anchors raises the question of why such a big fleet was needed along the western Black Sea coast. Petrographic analysis of the anchors shows that about 90% of them were made of native stone, and 10% of foreign materials. The local stones of which they were made find exact matches along the western Black Sea coast. We could even outline two regions of anchor-making: one in the north, between Cape Kaliakra and Cape Shabla, and the other in the south, between Nesebar and Tzarevo. We could also speak of an anchor workshop near Ahtopol, where a cluster of unfinished anchors was discovered. Certainly, this was a local workshop, using local materials serving local ships (Ivanov et al. 1985).

Once the age and origin of the stone anchors have been defined, we can conclude that along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast there was navigation preceding the time of Greek colonization. Ships steered by the ancient Thracians were quayed in a built harbor. This points to trade, and to certain organized relations with the eastern Mediterranean. At the center of that trade were metals.

Specifically, the export of metals, including Thracian copper, explains the great number of stone anchors found in the western Black Sea harbors, particularly from the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Their use also continued through antiquity until the middle of the 1st millennium BC. The existence of such an intensive trade between ancient Thrace and Mediterranean lands suggests the existence of a constructed harbor system related to the numerous Thracian settlements along the seashore. That harbor system, localized by the anchor-cluster, was also preserved after the Greek colonization.

Anchor material dating to the 3rd-2nd millennia BC shows that this is the earliest harbor system along the western Black Sea coast. There is no doubt that active trade existed in those harbor centers.

Trade Cargo and Ships: Two main types of cargo or goods traded by ship will be considered: 1) metals; and 2) other goods requiring storage vessels, including amphorae.

Metals in early maritime commerce: The 3rd-2nd millennium BC is the period of the Bronze Age for the Thracian lands. In the 3rd millennium BC arsenious bronze was used, and the production of real bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, began in the 2nd millennium BC. The principal ingredient in bronze production is copper. Although bronze was not widely used in the manufacture of tools in the 3rd millennium BC, it was highly precious. During the 2nd millennium BC, and especially after the 16th c. BC, the production of real bronze was improved, which led to its use in tool-making and, more importantly, in the manufacture of weapons. In this age, both the horse-drawn chariot and the double-edged sword were developed - inventions enabled by the production of real bronze. The use of bronze gradually increased over these two millennia, and reached its height in the Late Bronze Age - the 16th/15th - 12th/11th c. BC. Out of bronze are made both sickles and swords!

It is evident that the most important metal of the 3rd-2nd millennium BC was copper. In the ancient Thracian lands, copper was mined as early as the Eneolithic Age. Furthermore, in the 4th millennium BC, Thrace was the first and most active metallurgical center, not only in Europe, but in the whole world. (Porojanov1989a). From there copper spread north and south. In the 2nd millennium BC, however, tin was needed for the production of bronze, but was not available in ancient Thrace, and had to be imported. The presence of local bronze articles unequivocally shows that such trade was conducted, with copper exported to the lands where it was scarce, and tin imported from the lands where it was mined. Two metal ingots from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast testify to such trade: one of copper, found near the village of Cherkovo, Burgas, and another of gold, found in the gulf by Cape Kaliakra. Such finds are discovered at the harbor of Cape Kaliakra (Toncheva 1973), near the village of Cherkovo, Burgas, as well as in the gulf by the village of Varvara near Ahtopol and in the aquatoria of Sozopol (Stanimirov 2003).

The two nearest known tin deposits are in Central Europe and in the eastern lands of Asia Minor (Porojanov 1989). Probably, the importation of tin was conducted along the Danube River, although it may have come through eastern Mediterranean insular and continental harbor intermediaries. Regular trade contacts were established in all these directions.

At the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Early Iron Age began in southeastern Europe. Instead of tin and bronze, tools and weapons began to be widely made of a new metal, iron, which is much harder and more robust. Also, while copper and tin are hard to find, iron ores could be found where copper practically no longer existed. In practice, copper turned out to be unnecessary, because Thrace is rich in iron ore deposits. This did not, however, end the trade contacts between the western Black Sea coast and the eastern Mediterranean world.

Other trade goods: Unlike the numerous stone anchors found from the 15th-12th c. BC, testifying to active navigation between these two cultural areas, there is an absence of archaeological materials (including storage and transport vessels) to indicate exchanged goods from the same period. Yet ancient authors describe the exporting of cereals, wood, charcoal, salted fish, and furs, as well as the importation of wine and olive oil. These goods, extensively produced in the eastern Mediterranean world, are the same seen in subsequent periods. Few traces of amphorae remain from before the 1st millennium BC, although many examples have been unearthed from the Graeco-Roman Era (figs.6-7). The absence of amphoric tare in the Late Bronze Age cannot be used as an argument against the existence of trade. Indeed, the amphora was not devised until later, in the 7th c. BC. A large amount of amphoric tare (figs.6-7) thus appears in the cargoes of shipwrecks dating from after the Greek colonization.

[Fig.7: Ancient amphorae from Nesebar (476-454 Bc), imported from Chios Island (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

While some Bronze Age goods may have been transported in amphorae, wine was probably shipped in pithoi during the Creto-Mycenaean era (ca. 2000-1200 BC). Creto-Mycenaean luxury ceramics are also lacking in the western Black Sea. Yet such negative evidence does not itself preclude the existence of active Bronze Age contacts between the eastern Mediterranean lands and the western Black Sea coast. By analogy with a much later period, while neither utilitarian nor luxury Venetian ceramics from the 13th-14th c. AD have ever been found along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, active trade relations between the Bulgarian shore and the Italian sea republics definitely occurred in that period. The lack of ceramic evidence in this case is due to the fact that goods were transported in sacks and kegs, and local ceramics were not objects of exchange.

Shipwrecks: Along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, the remains of vessels from the Bronze Age have been discovered, but these are small boats, more indicative of local navigation than of contacts between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean world. In spite of this, they aid in the reconstruction of settled life during this period. Examples are three dugout boats dated to the Bronze Age. Although discovered at different places, they allow us to trace a process of development and improvement in boat construction. Such vessels have been discovered in Boaza and around Topoli Station, both near Lake Varnensko, and in the swamp near the village of Skala, Burgas (Todorov 1981; Mihailov 1984).

In the Boaza district four boat fragments were found, with an average length of 3.5 m and width of 0.48 m. In form these resemble extended troughs, and were probably used for shorter passages across the water basins. They date from the Early Bronze Age, and may also be related to the population inhabiting the nearby settlement at Boaza during the same period.

In the swamp near the village of Skala, Burgas, a similar boat made of oak was found, but with a length of 2.28 m and width of 0.54 m. Probably in this case, too, it can be associated with one of the settlements dating to the Early Bronze Age.

The third boat comes from the region of Topoli Station on Lake Varnensko (fig.8). It is 3.15 m long and 0.52 m wide and carved out of a blagunus (oak) trunk. This vessel shows a change in construction, for there is a slight trace of a keel part. The inside is divided into sectors, or spanhouts; two parts of the trunk are preserved. These both support the boards and function as cross-ribs. The well-defined oval forms of the bow and the stern facilitated movement. These traits reveal that the boat’s construction was not anomalous, but rested upon established construction traditions. The boat may come from a Bronze Age settlement on Lake Varnensko.

In Bulgarian archaeology, there has been an attempt to see models of Early Bronze Age ships in some of the clay vessels found in Ezerovo II near Lake Varnensko (Toncheva 1981). These elongated plates are not sufficiently convincing evidence, and we should wait patiently until a real model is discovered, or better still, an Early Bronze Age ship from Thrace. The bones of dolphins and of belted bonito, discovered during excavation of the Early Bronze Age settlement near Urdoviza, serve as indirect evidence of the use of navigation vessels for fishing (Porojanov 1991), because dolphins and belted bonito can be caught only by means of boats and ships. We may also assume the existence of ships for overseas contacts.

[Fig.8: Early Bronze Age dugout boat from Topoli Station, Lake Varnensko (photo: S. Stanimirov).]

Evidence is considerably more abundant for the 2nd millennium BC, and especially for its second half. The absence of actual ship remains is compensated for by a number of equally important archaeological materials: namely, stone anchors, dating mainly from the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Their weight at times reaches several hundred kilograms - a fact that establishes the size of the vessel. Based on petrographic analysis of the anchors (Ivanov et al. 1985), which proves their local origin, it is evident that the ancient Thracians were in contact with the Mediterranean lands by means of their own ships. We do not know what they looked like, but probably they had features in common with Phoenician and Cretan ships, whose types were known to the Thracians.

The Thracians in the Late Bronze Age used oar-driven ships to navigate the ocean, similar to the Late Bronze Age vessels found near Cape Gelidonya and Cape Cos on the western coast of Asia Minor. Sail-driven ships would not appear until the early Iron Age, around the 7th c. BC. Oar-driven and sail-driven ships used different types of anchors. The former used stone anchors, while the latter used wooden anchors with stone and lead stocks.

The introduction of the wooden anchor with stock in the 7th c. BC (Early Iron Age) coincides chronologically with the Greek settlement along the Thracian part of the Black Sea shores. The Thracian colonists employed wooden anchors aboard their recently developed wind- or sail-driven ships.

Studying the distribution of stocks along the Black Sea coast helps to illuminate Thracian use of both galleys and sail-driven ships in the Early Iron Age. While the stone anchors are clustered closer to the shore, where boats would have been safe from contrary winds, the wooden anchors with stone and leaden stocks are clustered where the harbors are open to the winds. Thus, stone anchors probably served on galleys (rowing ships), while the stone and leaden stock type are connected with sailing ships. Galleys rowed from the harbor would have transported goods to sailing ships stationed in areas of higher wind.

For two millennia, the Thracians navigated the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmora, and the Aegean Sea. Thracian civilization was in widespread contact with peoples in the rest of the Mediterranean world.

The trading partners of the Thracians were the Cretans, the Achaeans, and the Carians. By the 2nd millennium BC, the Thracians had already established an extensive trading network within the Black Sea region. They most often exported metals, and imported major commodities such as wine and olives.The presence of metal ingots found in the harbors provides further evidence of metal import and export, an issue already discussed.

In conclusion, Bronze Age water transport was of paramount importance for establishing trade relations that continued through the Classical era. Despite temporary lulls in trade resulting from such factors as military and political unrest, trading maintained economic equilibrium throughout the eastern Mediterranean lands for many centuries. During the Greek and Hellenistic periods, at western Black Sea markets imported goods came from Miletos, Heraclia Pontica, and from the islands of Chios, Rhodes, Cos, Thasos, and, during the Roman Age, from Sinope. Also, wine, olive-oil, and clay lamps came from Egypt, Athens, and Corinth, and glass came from Syria and Asia Minor. Goods entered the interior of ancient Thrace via the road network along the Black Sea coast. Later on, Thrace became a Roman province and, after that, part of Bulgaria.

In this article, we have surveyed the kinds of sites and objects found through underwater archaeology along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast dated to the Eneolithic period and Bronze Age: submerged settlements, anchors and anchor materials, and remains of vessels and their cargoes. Also presented were the relevant methods of underwater research for each type of find, and the specific problems of each. On the basis of these findings, the settlement life on the western shores of the Black Sea has been reconstructed for these early periods. It can be deduced that the Black Sea region had turned into an inseparable part of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Bronze Age.


Bibliography on Black Sea Coast:

Bass, J. 1972. “Les premiers navigateurs en Mediterranée et au Proche-Orient.” In Archéologie sous-marine (4000 ans d`histoire maritime), p.176, Paris.

Dimitrov, B. and K. Stoichev. 1976. “Kamenni kotvo ot Sozopolskia zaliv.” Vekove 1: 61-66.

Frost, H. See Porojanov, K. and V. Popov. 1982. “Les recherches archéologiques sous-marines conduites pour le centre d’histoire maritime et d`archéologie sous-marin a Sosopol.” In Thracia Pontica I, 1er symposium international a Sozopol, pp.311-315.

Georgiev, M., A. Petrov, N. Nenov, D. Georgiev, and C. Angelova. 1991. “Prospecting of Underwater Archaeological Sites Using Geophysical Methods.” In Thracia Pontica IV, Quatrième symposium international a Sozopol, pp.451-470.

Georgiev, M., A. Petrov, D. Stoev, and K. Velkovski. 1994. “Geophysical Prospecting of the Aquatoria of the Southern Black Sea Coast Aimed at Reconstruction of Paleorelief.” In Thracia Pontica V, Cinquième symposium international a Sozopol, pp.317-328.

Ivanov, J., D. Dimov, H. Pimpirev, and H. Kuneva. 1985. “Les résultats preliminaires de l’analyse petrographique des ancres en pierre et de jas du littoral bulgare de la Mer Noir.” In Thracia Pontica II, 2eme symposium international a Sozopol, pp.135-150.

Kapiten, G. 1986. “Graeco-Thracian Wood-Anchors.” In Thracia Pontica III, 3ème symposium international a Sozopol, pp.381-394.

Lasarov, M. 1975. “Localités presgreques sur la cote de la Mer Noir au Sud du Balkan.” Thracia 3: 112-113.

Mihailov, A. 1984. “Izsledvane I podobriavane na metodite I sredstvata za konservatzia na raheologicheska darvesina.” In Suhai Vlazhna, Sofia.

Nenov, N. 1991. “Side-scan Sonar and Sub-bottom Profilers in Underwater Archaeology.” In Thracia Pontica IV, Quatrième symposium international a Sozopol, pp.471-476.

Porojanov, K. 1989 “Datirovka na kamennite kotvi s otvori po Balgarskoto Chernomorie - problemi I postijenia.” In Archeologia 1: 6-13.

Porojanov, K. 1989. “Problems of the Thracian Socioeconomic and Political System (second half of the 2nd millennium BC).” In Etudes Balcaniques 1.

Porojanov, K. 1991. “Le site submergé D’Ourdoviza.” In Thracia Pontica IV, Quatrième symposium international a Sozopol, pp.109-112.

Porojanov, K. 1999. “The Submerged Western Pontic Civilization in the 3rd Millennium BC.” Thracia 12: 15-21.

Porojanov, K. 1999. “The Ancient Stone Anchors from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.” In Tropis V, 5th International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Nauplia, 1993, pp.329-336, Athens.

Ribarov, G. 1991. “The Osteological Material from the Sunken Settlement at Urdoviza.” In Thracia Pontica IV, Quatrième symposium international a Sozopol, pp.113-118.

Stanimirov, S. 2003. “Underwater Archaeological Sites from the Ancient and Middle Ages along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast - Classification.” Archaelogica Bulgarica 1: 1-34.

Tasev, V. 1994. “Side-scan Sonars.” In Thracia Pontica V, Cinquième symposium international a Sozopol, pp. 306-314.

Todorov, I. 1981. Balgarsite korabi. Sofia.

Toncheva, G. 1964. Potanali pristanista. Sofia.

Toncheva , G. 1973. “Novi Danni za targoviata po Chernomorskoto kraibrejie prez XVI - XIV v.” Vekove 3:17-23.

Toncheva, G. 1982. “Un habitat lacustre de l’Age du Bronze ancien dans les environs de la ville du Varna (Ezerovo II).” In Dacia, n.a., tome XXV, pp.41-62.


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