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The Earliest Pit Sanctuary in Europe

In 2006, a team of the Institute of Archaeology and Museum directed by Prof. Dr. Vassil Nikolov excavated a unique archaeological site near the town of Lyubimets, south Bulgaria. The excavations at the late Neolithic site of Dana bunar 2 revealed two cultural layers dating to Karanovo III-IV and Karanovo IV periods, 5400–5000 BC.

The cultural deposits were accumulated during several millennia of functioning of the earliest pit sanctuary in Europe. A round Central pit, 4.20 m in diameter, is situated in the center. It was filled in with dark soil mixed with ashes and charcoals, pottery sherds and animal bones. A great number of flint artifacts were found as well as a fragment of a tripod, bone awl, stone hammer and pieces of two grinding stones. A hole, 30 cm in diameter, was found in the center of the pit. The pit was the central place where certain rituals related to the cult of the Mother Goddess, i.e. the fertility cult, were performed. The rituals included use of fire and ritual food.

Ten smaller round pits, 0.70-1 m in diameter, situated at various distances and directions from the Central pit, were unearthed. Their depth varies from 0.60 m to 1 m. Their walls and bottoms were plastered with white clay, 3-4 cm thick. A 3-4 cm thick layer of ash mixed with charcoals covered the bottoms of some of the pits. They were filled in with white ashy soil. The ritual function of the pits was evidenced by the large amount of whole and fragmented pots, fragments of anthropomorphic figurines, charcoals, shells, animal bones, etc.

The remains of the pit sanctuary, which functioned for a period of several decades, include also a layer of white ashy soil 1-1.50 m thick in which the team excavated another 70 ritual pits. A great amount of sherds from ritually broken vessels, fragments of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, bone and stone tools as well as a large number of flint artifacts were found. A ritual area with a vertically placed human skull was also excavated.

This pit sanctuary is a unique site for southeast Europe. The archaeological excavations there provide an opportunity to accumulate new data on the spiritual life of the early farming community in the 6th millennium BC.

Prof. Dr. Vassil Nikolov, Institute of Archaeology and Museum – BAS

Годишник на Националния археологически музей