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The Human Face of Radiocarbon

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Zoï Tsirtsoni

Bulgarian Thrace

Chapter 8. Archaeological excavations at Tell Karnobat1

Yavor Boyadzhiev et Kamen Boyadzhiev
Traduction de Tatiana Stefanova

Texte intégral

Geographical setting2

  • 1 Y. Boyadzhiev is the author of the part regarding the stratigraphy and the radiocarbon dates, and K (...)
  • 2 Text translated from Bulgarian by Tatiana Stefanova.

1Tell Karnobat is located in the Karnobat basin (42° 39 43” N, 26° 58 30E), a part of the Balkan foothills situated between Stara Planina Mountain to the north and Sredna Gora Mountain to the south. The tell is in the northern foothills of the Hissar hill (which culminates at 403 m above sea level), in Sarnena Sredna Gora Mountain – the eastern part of Sredna Gora Mountain. The climate of the area is transitional continental: the average January temperatures are above zero, between 1 and 1.2 °C, and the average July temperatures vary between 22 and 23 °C. The low altitude, and more significantly, the relatively open shape of the Karnobat basin favour mild climate conditions the average annual temperature is 21.6 °C.

  • 3 Information about this little river is provided by the archive of A. Karaivanov (Karnobat Historica (...)

2At present, the settlement mound is situated within the limits of the town of Karnobat, between the industrial zone and the railway station. Along its western periphery flows a small river named “Poroy Dere”; it runs into the Azmak River which is a left tributary of the Mochuritsa River. In the early 1900s another small river also used to flow along the eastern periphery of the tell and ran into the Poroy Dere River to the northwest of the tell3, but its bed was destroyed during the construction of factories and irrigation systems in this area. Most probably the settlement was installed between the two rivers, near their confluence, and remained there during the entire period of the mound formation. It is situated in the catchment area of the Mochuritsa and the Tundzha Rivers.

3The area surrounding the tell is completely flat and without any constructions. It is situated 181 m asl, and its height is ca 12 m (its highest point being at 193.10 m asl) [fig. 1]. The slopes are step-like. The upper part of the tell is uneven due to numerous modern trenches. The diameter of the tell is ca 120 m. The periphery and the neighboring plowed area to the north and east are covered by numerous potsherds and artifacts dating back to the Karanovo III and IV periods, indicating that settlements from this periods existed next to the tell and probably in its lowest levels. Apparently the ancient surface was at a much lower level than the modern one, and the lowest levels of the tell are buried under the modern soil.

The archaeological research

  • 4 The article written by A. Karaivanov was published long after his death in a volume dedicated to th (...)

4In the 1920s Atanas Karaivanov, a history teacher and founder of the City Historical Museum, made several shallow trenches in the tell (no more than 0.30 m deep4) whose location we were not able to identify. The materials collected, dating back to the Late Chalcolithic, are kept in the Karnobat Historical Museum depot. Furthermore, pottery and artifacts dating back to the Late Neolithic, Late Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age and Early Medieval period were collected during the surveys of the tell and the adjacent area. The Karnobat basin (and Tell Karnobat, by consequence) had a key position during the Late Chalcolithic period. It is situated on the eastern periphery of the Karanovo VI culture area, and very close to the Southern Black Sea littoral (only 45 km away from the shore), a fact explaining the close contact with the population inhabiting the littoral area. At the same time, the tell is situated at the southern end of the most convenient route connecting the Upper Thracian Plain and Northeast Bulgaria via the Balkan passes – the Karnobat and Rishki passes – enabling the contact between the Karanovo VI culture and the Kodzhadermen group. The Karnobat pass and the Luda Kamchia valley also connected Thrace and the Northern Black Sea littoral (the Varna culture).

Fig. 2 – The trench in the northern part of the tell, view from south.

  • 5 The team consisted of Yavor Boyadzhiev, Director of the excavations, and Kamen Boyadzhiev. Our work (...)
  • 6 The planned expansion of the excavated area was postponed due to the lack of funds.

5Excavations on a limited scale were carried out in 20065. They aimed to study the sequence of the upper layers of the tell in order to plan larger scale excavations6. A test trench measuring 15 x 5 m oriented north-south was made in the periphery of the highest part of the tell; it consisted of three 5 x 5 m squares, which were given numbers from 1 to 3 (fig. 1; 2). Later the trench was enlarged 1 m to the north in order to excavate the concentration of burnt building clay fragments and fragments of oven floor in square 3 (see below). Square 1 is situated on the highest part of the tell, square 3 on a lower level, and square 2 on the slope between them (fig. 10). This stratigraphic trench provided the possibility of following the sequence at a depth of 2.50 m. A 1 m-thick baulk was left between squares 1 and 2 (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – The trench in the northern part of the tell, view from south.

Stratigraphy

  • 7 The number of the levels in the first report on the excavation results (Boyadzhiev et al. 2006a) is (...)

6Six successive occupational levels were identified7.

7Level I (192.10‑191.80 m asl) was excavated in squares 1 and 2. Its remains were identified immediately under the topsoil of the upper part of the tell (depth 0.15 m below the surface). The base of the layer was well documented in the southwest part of square 2. It was marked by a concentration of stones, forming a row oriented east-west. They were placed on top of a 10 cm-thick layer of yellow-brown clay mixed with small fragments of burnt building clay (fig. 3). Pieces of building clay, fragments of oven floor and stones were visible at this level in the entire area of the square as well as in square 1. The occupational level yielded plenty of ceramic sherds, animal bones and flint artifacts.

8Level II (191.65‑191.45 m asl). Its base was marked at the eastern part of square 1 at 191.45 m by traces left from fire – yellow-brown burnt soil with orange fragments of burnt building clay and tiny pieces of charcoal (fig. 4). The soil also contained white limestone inclusions. The burnt level was not documented in the western part of the square but the concentration of the limestone inclusions was higher. Here, as well as in square 2, burnt clay fragments (some of them almost vitrified) and pieces of oven floor were documented. The layer consists of greenish-brown soil with whitish clay inclusions, and yielded a great number of potsherds (coarse ware mainly), animal bones and antler pieces.

Fig. 3 – Square 2, level I.

Fig. 4 – Square 1, level II; view from south.

9Level III (191.45191.1m asl). A burnt level was documented in the southern part of square 2 at 191.15 m. The soil was brown, mixed with white limestone inclusions and burnt clay fragments. There are also pieces of oven or hearth floor. Potsherds were found on top of this level but the number of flint artifacts is relatively low.

10Level IV (191.15190.80 m asl). It was represented in the southern part of square 2 by the floor of a small hearth (0.70 m in diameter), renovated three times (fig. 5). A layer of potsherds and animal bones was unearthed to the west (fig. 6; 7): it was deposited on top of a compact greenish soil reaching the hearth and the southern trench wall. The layer of greenish soil could not be followed to the north of the oven and the color of the soil became gray-brown mixed with small burnt clay fragments and pieces of charcoal. This layer covered almost the entire area of the square. The soil which covered the square and the hearth was gray and contained ashes.

11Level V (190.80‑190.20 m asl). It was documented in the central and the southeastern part of square 2; the soil is orange-brownish mixed with numerous tiny burnt clay fragments (fig. 6; 7). A layer of white clayey soil covering a heap of burnt debris and a fragmented bowl was found next to the eastern wall of the trench. A row of six stones placed tightly next to each other were found below its northern periphery. The stones were lying in a layer of gray-brown soil mixed with burnt clay fragments, which remained below the level of the white clay. Apparently it was the western part of a burnt construction, which continues eastwards into the unexcavated area.

12A concentration of greenish clay was found in the southeastern corner of square 3, first slanting steeply to the north – from 190.53 to 189.80 m – then continuing horizontally northwards. Its base was documented 1.30 m from the eastern wall of the trench and became narrower going up. Its upper end (at the border between squares 2 and 3) remained below the level of burnt orange clay in the northeastern corner of square 2.

Fig. 5 – Square 2, level IV; base of a hearth.

Fig. 6 – Square 2, levels IV and V; view from west.

13Level VI (190.05‑189.60 m asl). It was documented in square 3 and the northern part of square 2. The remains of a large, highly damaged oven were unearthed in the northeastern corner of sq. 3 (fig. 7; 8) to the west of which a thick layer of whitish clayey soil was unearthed. A layer of fired clay, up to 0.30 m thick (apparently debris of a burnt structure), was documented at the same depth in the southern part of the square and continued southwards below level V, remaining at the base of the greenish clay concentration (supra). This layer was cut by a ditch, ca 1.50 m wide, which cut through the entire trench from east to west (fig. 7; 9). The ditch appeared at 190.10 m asl at the southern edge of the lower terrace and at the beginning of the steep slope leading to the upper terrace, and was excavated down to 189.60 m. The fill of the ditch consisted of dark brown soil which differs completely from the other deposits, whereas a high concentration of stones, potsherds and animal bones were documented within the fill between 189.80 and 189.60 m. The burnt debris of level VI marking both sides of the ditch slanted steeply down reaching the excavated level. The concentration of greenish clay lay next to the south side of the ditch; it remained at the base of the slope leading to the upper terrace. The analysis of the situation provides grounds to suggest that at the time when the lower terrace was the highest part of the tell (i.e. at the time of level VI), a ditch was excavated 20 m away from the tell’s periphery cutting through the debris of a house destroyed by fire. A wall was erected at the inner side of the ditch, reducing the area of the village, which continued to develop within the enclosed territory only. All this resulted in the step-shaped outlines of the tell.

Fig. 7 – Plan of squares 2 and 3; levels IV, V and VI.

Fig. 8 – Square 3, level VI; destroyed base of an oven and burnt house debris.

Fig. 9 – Squares 3 and 2, view from north.

14It is worth noting that the remains of structures and facilities were documented in the eastern parts of the squares of the trench; they disappear gradually westward and the occupational levels are thinner. Maybe a street existed in this part of the tell, which remained a free space throughout all stages of the village existence. However, the excavated area is too limited to provide grounds for reliable conclusions. This also goes for the interpretation of the ditch and for the occupational levels: we are not certain, indeed, whether they mark separate occupational levels, or just renovations within the frame of one and the same occupational level. It has to be taken into consideration that the trench is situated at the very periphery of the upper terrace of the tell, and maybe at the periphery of the successive settlements (only square 3, situated on the lower terrace, is possibly located further inside the tell).

Fig. 10 – Square 2, southern section.

The finds

  • 8 Boyadzhiev et al. 2006a, p. 22‑23.

15The flint artifacts are the most numerous finds – 192 pieces. They vary in shape, technology and function. The typological analysis defined 73 tools. The micro use-wear analysis discovered traces on 53 artifacts, thus identifying them as sickle elements, tools for bone, clay and animal skins processing, etc.8 The levels also yielded polished stone, bone, antler and clay tools. It is worth mentioning a grinding stone (25 cm long, 15 cm wide and cm thick) whose grinding surface was colored in red; it was most probably used for grinding red ochre.

16The so-called “ritual artifacts” comprise three fragmented clay anthropomorphic figurines, a three-sided bone figurine (fig. 11: 3) and two fragments of “cult tables” with eyes depicted on them (fig. 11: 2). The best-preserved figurine is a female one, with arms folded across the breasts (fig. 11: 1). It is 11.2 cm high, 5.cm wide (at the arms) and 2.cm thick. The folded arms are attached at the wrists and the legs, which are solid, with roughly shaped feet, are attached to each other. The buttocks are nicely shaped and above them two small incised circles mark the trigonum lumbale. The figurine is decorated with incisions. The pubic triangle is also marked. There are three horizontal lines and a vertical one above. The leg is decorated with groups of three incised lines meeting at an angle and an incised circle between them. The ankle is marked by two incised semi-circles and the foot is also marked by incisions.

Fig. 11 – “Ritual” artifacts and tools from Tell Karnobat.
1: clay anthropomorphic figurine; 2: fragment from a clay cult table; 3: three-edged bone figurine (made from a foot bone); 4: fragment of a clay artifact; 5: clay “grain-model”; 6: clay spindle whorl; 7: perforated knucklebone; 8: stone axe; 9: stone circle; 10: antler tool.

  • 9 The preliminary analysis of the pottery did not reveal essential differences in the pottery yielded (...)

17The pottery dates back to the Late Chalcolithic9. Plates are the most numerous among the pottery shapes. They differ in size and rim shape – flared (fig. 12: 2), vertical (fig. 12: 7, 8, 12), inverted (fig. 12: 3, 6, 10) or thickened (fig. 12: 1, 4). The bowls also vary in size and shape; they are rounded or hemispherical (fig. 13: 2, 3), biconical with sharp (fig. 12: 9, 11, 13) or rounded (fig. 13: 1) carination. The jars display a considerable diversity as well. The decoration is graphite-painted (fig. 12: 2‑4, 8, 9, 11‑13; 13: 9), incised with thicker or thinner lines (fig. 12: 6, 7; 13: 12, 14‑16), chip-carved bands (the so-called Kerbschnitt decoration, sometimes covered with white or red paste, fig. 12: 5‑7; 13: 17), incisions on the rim (fig. 12: 1), nail-or shell-impressions (fig. 13: 6, 7, 10, 18), triangular pricks, plastic bands with finger imprints (fig. 13: 4), plastic knobs (fig. 13: 13, 17), rusticated lower and burnished upper part of the vessel (fig. 13: 1, 2). Different decoration techniques are quite often documented on one and the same vessel (fig. 13: 3, 4, 7, 18).

  • 10 Georgieva 2003, p. 215‑218, fig. 1: 2, 3; 2: 2, 4; 3: 3; 5: 1, 3, 4; 7: 3, 4.
  • 11 Draganov 1995, p. 235‑236, fig. 7: 1; 8: 1; 9: 1, 4.

18In general, the pottery shares the main typical features of the pottery assemblage of Karanovo VI culture. Some of the vessels find good parallels in the pottery assemblages from sites along the Southern Black sea littoral – Tell Kozareva (near the town of Kableshkovo)10 and the underwater excavations in the Sozopol harbor11. Some elements (e.g. the Kerbschnitt decoration) indicate influence coming from present-day Northeast Bulgaria.

Fig. 12 – Chalcolithic pottery.

Fig. 13 – Chalcolithic pottery.

19In conclusion, the 2006 excavations revealed that the entire upper part of the mound (above the first terrace) accumulated as a result of intensive occupation during the Late Chalcolithic. Five or six successive occupational levels had existed. The considerable thickness of the layer of the mound below the level reached by the excavations, as well as the artifacts yielded by the lowest levels suggest that its occupation had started earlier, during the Neolithic. Bronze Age potsherds were found in the latest level of the highest terrace as well as on the slope of the mound, some of them covered by nicely made pseudo”-corded ornamentation, including solar motifs (fig. 14). They indicate that the mound was occupied during later periods as well, namely in the Bronze Age and the Early Medieval period, also attested by a few sherds. A separate cultural layer dating back to these periods was not documented on the periphery of the upper terrace of the mound. It is possible that it was the central part of the tell (about 1 m higher than the surrounding area), which was occupied during the Bronze Age and/or the Early Medieval period.

Fig. 14 – Bronze Age pottery.

Absolute chronology

20Two charcoal samples have been analyzed within the “Balkans 4000” project and two 14C dates were obtained (table 1); these are the only dates from the site available up to present.

Sample no.

Lab code

Dating method

BP value

Calibrated date (95.4 %)

1

Lyon-6000/SacA‑15569

14C‑AMS

5490 ± 50

4447‑4258 BC

2

Ly‑14796

14C‑LSC

1145 ± 30

780‑978 AD

Table 1 – Radiocarbon dates from Tell Karnobat.

  • 12 Görsdorf & Boyadzhiev 1996, p. 149.
  • 13 Görsdorf & Boyadzhiev 1996, p. 147‑148, 150.
  • 14 Boyadzhiev 1995, p. 170‑172, fig. 10.
  • 15 Tell Yunatsite 2007, p. 234.
  • 16 See also the comment on the dates from the latest Chalcolithic building level at Tell Yunatsite, ch (...)

21The value of the date Lyon-6000/SacA-15569, 5490 ± 50 BP, is among the lowest values for the Karanovo VI and Kodzhadermen cultures (i.e. the Late Chalcolithic in present-day East Bulgaria), and can be related to the end of the Karanovo VI culture. The closest dates are those from Tell Dolnoslav – Bln-3819: 5480 ± 60 BP and Bln-3818: 5530 ± 60 BP12. However, dates with similar conventional values – between 5500 and 5400 BP are also available from sites dating back, in terms of relative chronology, to the middle or the beginning of the second half of the Late Chalcolithic in East Bulgaria; for example, Tell Durankulak – building level IV (Bln-2121: 5475 ± 50 BP, Bln-2111: 5495 ± 60 BP), Tell Smyadovo building level VII (Bln-2120: 5480 ± 70 BP) and building level V (Bln-2117: 5400 ± 40 BP, Bln-2185: 5420 ± 50 BP). The same building levels yielded dates with much higher 14C values as well, between 5700 and 5590 BP (fig. 15)13, which are typical for the classic Late Chalcolithic14. A series of four 14C dates were obtained from samples taken from a house unearthed in the latest Chalcolithic building level at Tell Yunatsite. Their average values are within a 240-year-long period, with two of the values being below 5500 BP (5650 ± 90, 5560 ± 70, 5460 ± 170, 5410 ± 70 BP)15. The series clearly reveals the considerable fluctuation displayed by the dates obtained from samples taken from a site existing in a short time span. These fluctuations have to be connected to the short-term variations of the concentration of atmospheric 14C16.

  • 17 It is possible that the defined three levels were not three separate building levels but different (...)

22Since the date from Tell Karnobat is the only one available for the Chalcolithic on the site, we are not certain whether it is related to the classic Late Chalcolithic of the Karanovo VI-Kodzhadermen and Varna cultures, or to its final stage. The stratigraphic position of the sample as well as the related archaeological artifacts can also be used as a reference point. The sample was taken from charcoal found on and around the floor of a hearth in level IV, counting from top to bottom (see supra). This means that there are remains from two or three building levels on top of it17. Furthermore, it is possible that another building level had existed in the central part of the upper terrace but was not preserved in the periphery where our trench was situated. Therefore, the date obtained must be related not to the final period of the occupation of the settlement but to an earlier stage. If the date is related to the final stage of the Karanovo VI culture, it means that life on the settlement mound would have continued for at least two more building levels (i.e. a period of about 80‑100 years) after the end of the culture (or at least the end of most of the sites related to it). However, the archaeological artifacts do not provide evidence for such conclusion. The shapes and the decoration of the clay vessels, including those from the uppermost excavated building level, correspond to those typical for the classic Late Chalcolithic in present-day Southeast Bulgaria, and provide no evidence for a later development of the settlement.

  • 18 Boyadzhiev 1995, p. 171.

23Therefore, the date 5490 ± 50 BP is most probably related to the similar dates from Tell Durankulak and Tell Smyadovo dating back to the middle of the second half of the Late Chalcolithic. In this case its calibrated value, 4447‑4258 cal BC, corresponds perfectly to the traditional values of the Late Chalcolithic18. The tell was probably inhabited until the end of the Kodzhadermen-Karanovo VI cultures and did not continue after their end.

Fig. 15 – Radiocarbon dates from tell Smyadovo.
A: Diagram with the calibrated
14C dates from the settlement and the date Lyon-6000 from Karnobat;
B: Stratigraphic development of the conventional radiocarbon dates (1
σ), Smyadovo building, levels VII‑II.

  • 19 See also Ignatiev 2002, p. 49.

24The second 14C date – Ly-14796, 1145 ± 30 BP (780‑978 cal AD) – is related to the Early Medieval period. The documented potsherds reveal that the tell was inhabited in this period as well, although it was probably episodic events rather than a continuous occupation. The sample was taken from a level with debris from a Chalcolithic structure in square 3, situated only 0.20‑0.30 m below the modern surface. It seems quite probable that charcoal from the Middle age fell down into the earlier layers. The information on the long agricultural cultivation of the site provided by its first excavator has to be taken into consideration19. It is quite possible that it caused this later intrusion into earlier deposits.

Notes

1 Y. Boyadzhiev is the author of the part regarding the stratigraphy and the radiocarbon dates, and K. Boyadzhiev of that regarding the history of research and the finds.

2 Text translated from Bulgarian by Tatiana Stefanova.

3 Information about this little river is provided by the archive of A. Karaivanov (Karnobat Historical Museum, Inv. no. 178), see also next note.

4 The article written by A. Karaivanov was published long after his death in a volume dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Karnobat Historical Museum: Ignatiev 2002.

5 The team consisted of Yavor Boyadzhiev, Director of the excavations, and Kamen Boyadzhiev. Our work was facilitated by Dimcho Momchilov, Director of the Karnobat Historical Museum and Rositsa Hristova, museum curator.

6 The planned expansion of the excavated area was postponed due to the lack of funds.

7 The number of the levels in the first report on the excavation results (Boyadzhiev et al. 2006a) is five. Further analysis provided grounds to reconsider this number.

8 Boyadzhiev et al. 2006a, p. 22‑23.

9 The preliminary analysis of the pottery did not reveal essential differences in the pottery yielded by the different levels; for this reason they are all presented together.

10 Georgieva 2003, p. 215‑218, fig. 1: 2, 3; 2: 2, 4; 3: 3; 5: 1, 3, 4; 7: 3, 4.

11 Draganov 1995, p. 235‑236, fig. 7: 1; 8: 1; 9: 1, 4.

12 Görsdorf & Boyadzhiev 1996, p. 149.

13 Görsdorf & Boyadzhiev 1996, p. 147‑148, 150.

14 Boyadzhiev 1995, p. 170‑172, fig. 10.

15 Tell Yunatsite 2007, p. 234.

16 See also the comment on the dates from the latest Chalcolithic building level at Tell Yunatsite, chapter 9 in this volume.

17 It is possible that the defined three levels were not three separate building levels but different stages in the development of one building level.

18 Boyadzhiev 1995, p. 171.

19 See also Ignatiev 2002, p. 49.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 2 – The trench in the northern part of the tell, view from south.
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Légende Fig. 2 – The trench in the northern part of the tell, view from south.
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Légende Fig. 3 – Square 2, level I.
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Légende Fig. 4 – Square 1, level II; view from south.
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Légende Fig. 5 – Square 2, level IV; base of a hearth.
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Légende Fig. 6 – Square 2, levels IV and V; view from west.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/513/img-6.jpg
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Légende Fig. 7 – Plan of squares 2 and 3; levels IV, V and VI.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/513/img-7.jpg
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Légende Fig. 8 – Square 3, level VI; destroyed base of an oven and burnt house debris.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/513/img-8.jpg
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Légende Fig. 9 – Squares 3 and 2, view from north.
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Légende Fig. 10 – Square 2, southern section.
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Légende Fig. 11 – “Ritual” artifacts and tools from Tell Karnobat. 1: clay anthropomorphic figurine; 2: fragment from a clay cult table; 3: three-edged bone figurine (made from a foot bone); 4: fragment of a clay artifact; 5: clay “grain-model”; 6: clay spindle whorl; 7: perforated knucklebone; 8: stone axe; 9: stone circle; 10: antler tool.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/513/img-11.jpg
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Légende Fig. 12 – Chalcolithic pottery.
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Légende Fig. 13 – Chalcolithic pottery.
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Légende Fig. 14 – Bronze Age pottery.
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Légende Fig. 15 – Radiocarbon dates from tell Smyadovo. A: Diagram with the calibrated 14C dates from the settlement and the date Lyon-6000 from Karnobat; B: Stratigraphic development of the conventional radiocarbon dates (1σ), Smyadovo building, levels VII‑II.
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