Adventure turns into one of greatest discoveries of recent years
Issue 67, April 2012
by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
The archaeologists who were finishing off the excavation of two small Thracian burial mounds on the spot where the future Trakiya Motorway would bypass the village of Aleksandrovo, near Haskovo, felt that day was different from the very beginning. 17 December 2000 was the last day of the excavations and brought the first bright sun after a long and depressing series of mists so thick that visibility was often less than 10 metres.
Dr Georgi Kitov (1943-2008), the head of the team, did not have much work to do on the site. The survey was over and the rest of the team were busy with the final clean up, so he got into his car and headed to nearby Dimitrovgrad. On his return to Aleksandrovo he glimpsed something unusual in the near distance.
About two kilometres from the road the mound of Roshava Chuka, or Bushy Rock Peak, stood out among the low hills. Kitov was familiar with it. Roshava Chuka was much bigger than the mounds he had just excavated, at 15 metres high and 70 metres in diameter. Partly overgrown with scrub and trees it was close to Aleksandrovo, but far from the future motorway (yet to be built in 2012). It was unexplored.
Despite the distance, in the clear winter air, Kitov spotted two gaping holes on the surface of the mound. Someone had been digging at Roshava Chuka, and he was obviously not an archaeologist.
An hour or so later, Kitov and three members of his team arrived at Roshava Chuka, to inspect what was visibly illegal excavations. The first one was short and ended in a stone wall. The second was longer and led to a four-metre shaft. The shaft led to a stone slab covering the corridor of the tomb which was obviously under the mound. The stone was broken. Inside, there was darkness.
Kitov hesitated. Bulgarian archaeologists can only excavate sites approved by a special commission at the Archaeological Institute. These permissions, called otkrit list, are issued every year and include descriptions of the excavation methods to be employed and the sites that will be surveyed. In this case, Kitov had otkrit list for the two little mounds only. On top of that, he had already violated the rules. That very year, while excavating the Starosel Tomb, one of his greatest discoveries, Kitov has dug into three mounds more than his permit allowed. As with Roshava Chuka, his reason for taking the risk was the fresh traces of treasure hunters.
At Aleksandrovo, after some consideration, Kitov did precisely the same. He climbed down the shaft and squeezed through the narrow hole into the passageway, which led him to an antechamber. The antechamber opened to a dark, round space, filled with rubble.
Bent double in the low entrance, Kitov stepped over the remains of the stone double doors and entered.
It was only then that he realised that this 17 December was indeed a red-
Frescoes of a kind never seen before covered the walls. Men on foot and on horseback, chasing and killing deer and wild boar, appeared from the gloom.
Kitov had just discovered the second frescoed Thracian tomb in Bulgaria, after that in Kazanlak.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers