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Durham University

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Megaliths and cultural identity in Bulgaria

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The megalithic standing stone complexes of South East Europe represent a liminal monument class equally neglected by Turkish, often Muslim archaeologists, who attribute them to the Iron Age, and Bulgarian, often Orthodox archaeologists, who describe them as Ottoman graves. These monuments have a striking landscape presence in Eastern Bulgaria, numbering up to 2,000 stones in a complex. A vehicular landscape survey of a transect 30km wide running from the Danube to the Rhodopes in Eastern Bulgaria revealed over 1,200 sites; information has been systematically collected on their general plan, number of stones, orientation of stones, closeness to village, viewsheds and topographical coordinates. Excavations at two standing-stone sites (Gorno Novo Selo and Bozhurka I) have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the paired stones represent head- and foot-stones marking graves. AMS dating of the human remains from each site has given dates between the AD 17th and AD 20th centuries. Although it cannot be shown that all standing-stone sites are dated as recently as this, the most probable hypothesis is that most are indeed cemeteries dating to the Ottoman period. However, the religious affiliation of the standing stones is not simply Muslim. Many cemeteries contain graves with Orthodox features or ‘hybrid ‘Orthodox – Muslim’ traits. Moreover, both Sunni and Shia sects existed in Bulgaria and standing stones were associated with both sects. There is thus considerable complexity in the interpretation of these neglected monuments.

One conference paper has been given (Exeter TAG, 2008) and one article is in press on the project (Gaydarska, B. ‘Multi-faith landscapes – forbidden or forgotten times’. In Schulz-Paulssen, B. & Gaydarska, B. (eds.) Megalithic monuments: functions, mentalités and the social construction of the landscape). A book proposal for Oxford University Press has been developed to disseminate the interpretation of the social and landscape implications of these remarkable sites. Taking this project to its completion depends upon finding an Ottoman historian sympathetic to working with prehistoric archaeologists.

The standing stone complex, Dolno Novkovo, Bulgaria


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