Petrich Municipality in the Prehistory Age

Petrich Municipality in the Prehistory Age

Автор: Сотир Иванов (директор ИМП)

During the late Neolithic Period, at the end of the 6th millennium BC, the Topolnitsa-Promachon culture was established in the Middle Struma region. Its appearance radically changed the aspect of the region and the structure of the already existing Neolithic settlement system of numerous large settlements located in the plateaus around the rivers . At that time, the nature and climate of the region were almost the same as we know them nowadays. As a result of these favourable conditions the Petrich region was densely populated, considering the fact that it was such an early age in the human history. Some 21 prehistoric sites are registered in an area of 650 square kilometers . The majority of them are located in the Ograzhden Mountain. People settled there mainly on the mountain’s southern slopes, attracted by the rounded outlines of the ridges, the mild climate, and the good exposure against the morning sunlight. Most often the sites’ location is in the mid-mountainous parts, but there are also settlements in the higher parts. The area is completely lacking settlement-mounds, which is the case throughout the area of Middle Struma River, unlike areas like Thrace, Pelagonia, and Thessaly. Archaeologists explain this fact with the following hypothesis. In this remote era, Europe is a continent of dense and impassable forests. The Struma, Iskar, and Danube rivers are the roadways on which agricultural societies move to Central and Western Europe. When the population of a settlement has lived in an area for about 200 - 300 years, it moves northwards and is replaced by new tribes coming from the south. Therefore, instead of settlement-mounds there was a migrating population to the north.

Unlike Ograzhden, the Podgorie area (the northern slopes of the Belasitsa Mountain) has more favourable living conditions, but so far only two prehistoric sites have been registered there. There may have been more settlements in the past, but they have not been found to this day probably because of alluvial layer at the foot of the Belasitsa Mountain.

The first settlement appearances, livestock breeding, and agriculture happened simultaneously in the Petrich region. The three activities are closely linked – partially shepherds, and even more farmers need permanent housing.

The dwellings are usually rectangular and are made of wood, mud, and straw. The population builds their houses as follows. Wooden pillars stuck in the ground form the home’s supporting skeleton. Pits are dug along the walls. The clay mixed with straw and squashed with the feet is used to plaster the walls. The pits are then used to dispose of the waste; that is where archaeologists found broken vessels or implements. The holes in the pillars and pits, different in colour from the surrounding terrain, allow the houses to be reconstructed. They have an area of 40-45 square meters and consist of two rooms. The roof is double sloped. The settlements were in different sizes: from 4-5 to 10 decares. The population of each settlement was around 100 people, in other words 8,000 years ago the population of the whole municipality was approximately 2,100 people.

In this distant age, the family community produces almost everything: tools, utensils, and clothes. One learns to polish the stone in search of more sophisticated tools of labor. The polishing process allows the use of softer rocks as the sharpened stones are more resistant to impact. The polished axes are stuffed into deer horn couplings, to which wooden handles are attached. Sickles are made by attaching flint blades in the cleats of bent wooden or bone handles.

People begin to make clothing not only by treating leather but also by weaving with animal and vegetable fibers (wool and linen). Even with their settlement in the Petrich area, ancient farmers knew the properties of baked clay, which they used to made ceramic vessels. The clay was available throughout the region. The clay vessels are formed by hand-drawn stripes, glued in a spiral manner to one another. Once shaped, the vessel is smoothed with stone. This makes the surface hard and impermeable. The decoration is applied before or after baking. Each settlement designs and decorates the vessels according to its own traditions. The dried pan is baked at 600-700 °C. This is done in a small pit that is covered with branches and even soil to preserve the heat during baking. These ovens are small and only fit a few dishes at a time.

петрич 2

Female cult figurine

Topolnitsa-Promachon was the largest settlement in the region during the Late Neolithic; its location is on the both sides of the Bulgarian-Greek border, 2 km south of the contemporary Bulgarian village of Topolnitsa. The site is located on the first non-flooded terrace of the Struma River at the foot of Belasitsa Mountain’s eastern slope. The results of studies revealed several construction stages there, combined into four phases.


Reconstruction of a building from the settlement Promachon - Topolnitsa[3]

First (around 5320 - 5300 BC), a large subterranean temple was constructed, buried more than 8 meters deep in the ground. It was a two-story building with the upper ground floor and its walls decorated with skulls of bulls painted red. This is a unique phenomenon; the only subterranean Neolithic temple in Europe. The infrastructure of the settlement, consisting of dugouts, was built around it gradually. The most characteristic feature of this phase is the bitumen-decorated ceramics. The bitumen was used as glue, with which birch bark decorative elements were glued to the vessel.

The second stage of the settlement's life (5300 - 5070 BC) was quite lengthy. From an architectural point of view, the settlement consisted of a center, in which a large semi-subterranean temple was located, and around it - two-story residential buildings built close to each other. Around 5070 BC, the settlement was completely burned down. During this stage the ceramics are of extremely high quality and the decoration of the vessels is of a dark brown pattern, Acropotamos type. Some vessels are shaped anthropomorphically.

In the third stage of the settlement's life (5070-4070 BC), after its burning, the terrain was leveled and the construction of standard dwellings with a standard pole structure was underway. The cult center was relocated to the eastern part. On the western wall of the studied temple there was a trace of large relief composition consisting of massive semi-relief idols. During this stage, the settlement grew rapidly and covered most of the plateau. Then a massive protective palisade was built. The ground buildings at this stage are rectangular in shape, with a southeast-northwest orientation. During this phase, artistic trends develop in an upward manner. A graphite decoration of the vessels appears, applied with up to 2-cm wide strips. In practice, this is the earliest graphite decoration of ceramics on the Balkan Peninsula.

The fourth stage of the settlement (4750-4650 BC) starts again after a burning. The material culture is radically different because this phase is associated with a new population. After 4650 BC, there is a sharp warming of the climate, as a result of which the settlement is permanently abandoned. However, the Topolnitsa-Acropotamos culture imposes an ornamental canon that persists after its disappearance. Globally, this culture influences cultural heritage and technical innovation across large parts of Southeast Europe .[4].

[1] Henrieta Todorova, Mark Stefanovich, Georgi Ivanov. The Struma river valley in prehistory, Sofia, 2007, p. 79.

[2] Домарадски, М. и колектив. Материали за археологията на Средна Струма (Разкопки и проучвания, 27), София, 2001, с. 70 – 73.

[3] Henrieta Todorova, Mark Stefanovich, Georgi Ivanov. The Struma river valley in prehistory, Sofia, 2007, p. 62.

[4] Henrieta Todorova, Mark Stefanovich, Georgi Ivanov. The Struma river valley in prehistory, Sofia, 2007, p.79.