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1,700-Year-Old Roman Necropolis in North Central Bulgaria Yields Valuable Finds

A pair of ancient Roman stone-lined tombs, accidentally discovered near the village of Nova Varbovka (North Central Bulgaria) in the autumn of 2023, have yielded an array of precious artefacts. The finds included jewellery, coins and vessels dated to between 200 and 250 AD, the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History said in a press release.
The larger grave was used for the simultaneous burial of a woman aged around 45-49 and a man aged between 50 and 60. The smaller grave contains the skeleton of a 1-2 years-old child. After analyzing the remains, anthropologists of National Institute for Experimental Morphology, Pathology and Anthropology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences concluded that the adults were most likely related and that the boy died before his parents.
The deceased were presumably wealthy landowner residents of the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum. They probably had a countryside summer mansion in the area.
The family necropolis yielded a number of funerary gifts: a pair of exquisite gold earrings, a gilded beaded pendant, and a silver-plated fibula of several types of metal, a ceramic lamp, bronze coins, an intact ceramic wine amphora, and two glass lachrymariums (receptacles for the mourners’ tears).
A rare and very valuable find from the child’s tomb is a bronze medallion featuring Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, also known as Caracalla, who reigned between 198 and 217 AD. One side of the medallion shows a scene of the Emperor’s visit in 214 to Pergamum, where he sought cure from the god of medicine, Asclepius. The medallion has a high financial value but due to its size was not used in monetary circulation. The inscriptions are in ancient Greek.
The manner in which the tombs themselves were constructed suggests that the individuals buried there were of high social status. Only the rich could afford graves lined with bricks, stones and mortar, plastered inside and sealed with huge limestone slabs, says archaeologist Kaloyan Chakarov who, together with colleagues Nedko Elenski and Mihaela Tomanova, explored the site for a month in December 2023.
A tractor driver plowing a crop field near the village stumbled upon the necropolis last autumn. Seeing exposed human bones, he alerted the police, assuming that a crime had been committed. Then it was established that the burials dated from the Roman era, and emergency excavations began.