Chapter Two
History of recent investigations

2.1 General stages in Bulgarian prehistoric research

Traditionally, the development of prehistoric investigations in Bulgaria has been divided into three stages (Todorova 1995, Borislavov et al. 2001).

The first period is connected with the enthusiasm and curiosity of nineteenth-century foreign collectors, who were soon followed by Bulgarian encyclopédiste scholars. The first formal prehistoric investigations in Bulgaria started with a French expedition’s sondage at tell Racheva Mogila in 1898. In the following decades, R. Popov, A. Chilingirov, V. Mikov, G. Kacarov, and N. Koichev made small-scale surface surveys and excavations. Palaeolithic cave settlements and tells from the Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age were the main focus of interest for those scholars, none of whom was an educated archaeologist. Stray finds and artefacts from field surveys formed the basis of numerous local collections, most of which were united in 1924 to establish the National Bulgarian Museum. Interesting objects started to be classified and, gradually, a primary typology of prehistoric artefacts was established. The results of fieldwork investigations were mainly published separately for each site or expedition but more general reviews of prehistoric finds, houses and tells also started to appear (Mikov 1928, 1929, 1933, 1939). This was the period of random surveys and excavations with poor documentation and controversial methodology. In this period, one of the biggest mistakes in Bulgarian prehistory was made that misled many authorities in European prehistory and remained in currency for almost half a century. The lack of stratigraphic observation and not very precise pottery typology were the reasons for confusing EBA pottery shapes with Middle Neolithic ones. Thus, for a long time, the Neolithic period in Bulgaria was believed to be contemporary with Troy I and was one of the arguments for the short chronology in European prehistory.

The second period started in the late 1940s and lasted almost thirty years. Its formal beginning is marked by the publication of J. H. Gaul’s book The Neolithic period in Bulgaria (1948), which was an attempt to overview the results of all the prehistoric investigations from the preceding period. The American archaeologist summarized and compiled the known evidence, differentiating for the first time in the Bulgarian history of research, periods and regions with similar artefacts. He also started a practice of naming cultures, which, in the following decades, led to a redundant plethora of differently named phases and periods for one and the same features spread over large areas.

During the second period, more systematic prehistoric studies were made in both field investigations and post-excavation research. The former consisted of consistent excavations of Palaeolithic caves and prehistoric tells and the gradual application of the stratigraphic method. The latter was mainly oriented towards the relative chronology of Bulgarian later prehistory, its synchronization with the Aegean and Anatolia, and hence its European context. Attempts to improve and develop the preceding typological approach to various artefacts were also made (Popov 1932/34).

In 1947/48, the Bulgarian Academy of Science was founded. One of its institutes was the National Archaeological Institute with Museum that merged the previous Bulgarian Archaeological Institute and National Archaeological Museum. It was soon followed by the establishment of a national network of local museums. The Institute and museums benefited from centralized funding and carried out and controlled all the archaeological investigations in Bulgaria. In 1956 were published the formal regulations for field surveys, sondages and excavations. The state stimulated and funded large-scale research and rescue excavations of numerous archeological sites.

The National Archaeological Institute and local museums facilitated many new field investigations and post-excavation research. Current periodicals and other journals were always available for publishing annual reports, articles, studies or monographs. During the 1970s, there was a boom in new archaeological periodicals – Razkopki i Prouchvania, Studia Praehistorica, Interdisciplinarni Izsledvania, etc.

In the early 1960s, one of the biggest contribution to European chronology was made by G. Georgiev, who established the Karanovo chronological system, according to the data of the stratigraphic sequence of tell Karanovo in Southeast Bulgaria. It consisted of a sequence of 12.40m- thick sediments from the Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Age, which Georgiev separated into seven chronological levels (Georgiev 1961). Karanovo I-IV were related to the Neolithic, Karanovo V-VI to the Copper Age and Karanovo VII to the Early Bronze Age. Georgiev used mainly pottery shapes from the long-term excavations at Karanovo tell to create the sequence and argued that, despite some similarities between the ceramic forms from the Middle Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, in fact, they belong to two distinct periods, separated by a millennium of continuing human occupation. The Karanovo sequence gave opportunities for comparison of pottery shapes with the neighbouring areas and for synchronization of contemporary phenomena. The arguments for the short chronology in European prehistory were seriously threatened. Several attempts to develop and refine the Karanovo chronological sequence were made afterwards but the general terms are still valid (Todorova 1995, Nikolov 1998).

The last research stage that continues up to the present can be defined by the interdisciplinary, mature stage of investigations of Bulgarian prehistory in which contemporary archaeological trends and methods are critically applied. This was a time of many intensive excavations, international joint projects and some general monographs.

Palaeolithic investigations reached their peak in the last 30 years. A small group of Bulgarian archaeologists trained at the Jagellonian University in Kraków started to excavate early prehistoric sites, strictly following the contemporary methods of excavation and recording. The data from previous investigations was reconsidered and complemented with new evidence. Middle and Late Palaeolithic occupations were recognized in several caves in the Stara Planina and the Rhodope Mountains (Ivanova & Sirakova 1995).

The 1970s were a period for entire publications of some of the long-lasting excavations of tells (Todorova et al. 1975, 1976; Raduncheva 1976; Georgiev et al. 1979). They were the first attempts at a complex, analytical study and were considered as signs of a new, developed stage of archaeological research.

The majority of publications, however, did not differ much from the pattern of the 1960s. Their main contribution was to increase the bulk of known sites and artefacts that, at the beginning of the 1980s, formed a substantial amount of empirical data. The paucity of systematic evidence and the prevailing ideological agenda predetermined the selectivity of archaeological debate – e.g. the relative chronology of the Karanovo I culture, the character of the Karanovo IV culture, or the indigenous origin of prehistoric cultures in Bulgaria.

One of the most significant results of prehistoric research during the 1970s was the discovery of pre-Trojanic level at one of the Bronze Age tells in Southeast Bulgaria – tell Ezero. The importance of this Bulgarian evidence for the establishment of European later prehistoric chronology became evident for the second time after the publication of the Karanovo sequence (Georgiev et al. 1979).

In 1977, a Problem-oriented Group for Interdisciplinary Investigations was founded that was supposed to coordinate the joint efforts of archaeologist, botanists, chemists, geologists, physicists and physical anthropologists committed to archaeological investigation. The outcomes of the intensive interdisciplinary investigations were a few general and numerous short, specialised publications. The most significant were the monograph on ancient metallurgy in Bulgaria (Chernikh 1978); the systematization of plant remains (Dennell 1978, Lisistina and Filipovich 1980) and the C14 chronological sequence of some of the most important prehistoric sites (Boyadziev 1995).

Two major monographs appeared in the late 1980s and the early 1990s that corresponded to the research necessity for integration and the coherent interpretation of the huge mass of empirical data accumulated over almost 100 years of prehistoric investigations in Bulgaria (Todorova 1986; Todorova and Vajsov 1993). Todorova summarized all the available Neolithic and Eneolithic evidence, revised many obsolete concepts and tried to present a vigorous picture of prehistoric life in present-day Bulgaria.

Balkan archaeologists from the neighbouring countries referred to Bulgarian data in their general studies (Milojčić 1949; Garašanin, M. V. 1961; Berciu, D. 1961). There were also publications of similar archeological evidence that appeared beyond the borders of a single Balkan country, which stimulated various explanations for their nature (e.g., Barker 1985). As a general trend, there is no consensus about the names, sequence and relative chronology of similar data across the Balkans. However, there is common understanding for some of the archaeological monuments distributed over more than one Balkan country (e.g. the Gumelnitsa culture, also known as K-G-K VI). Balkan regionalism in archaeological studies was (Harding 1983) and still is valid for the majority of Bulgarian researches and non-Balkan archaeologists continue to be the scholars to study Southeast European archeological data from a more general perspective (Bailey 2000, Chapman 2000).

During the last thirty years, several long-lasting international expeditions have been active in Bulgaria, which provided a good opportunity for the exchange of ideas and expertise (e.g., Goliamo Delchevo, Ezero, Diadovo, Yunatsite, Karanovo and Drama). A few foreign archaeologists were given the possibility to work in Bulgaria as well (e.g., Dennell, Chernikh, Hänsel and Parzinger). They were supported during their stay in the country but the effect that their final publications had in Bulgaria was controversial. Some studies were criticized but used (Hänsel 1976, Parzinger 1993); some remained the only ones up to now (Chernikh 1978), while others were in very limited, academic circulation (Dennell 1972, 1978).

Political changes in Bulgaria in 1989 were followed by a global stagnation of the entire society. The archaeological investigations were not directly affected but soon the state subsidy was in sharp decline. Planned and regular excavations were not possible any more and international expeditions and rescue investigations were the only archaeological activities.

The main financial support was from state and international infrastructure and rescue projects that enabled investigations along the line of pipes and highways. Surface survey was the main type of investigation and full excavation of sites was undertaken in only a few cases. There was a substantial loss of information since a) the majority of the sites were partially excavated and, b) the surveys were not made as grid-oriented surface investigations.

In summary, prehistoric investigations in Bulgaria during the last 30 years were dependent on the political and financial conditions of the state. Modern interpretative concepts and field techniques were hardly accepted and developed in contemporary researches. A positive characteristic of this period was the research response made through various monographs and publications to the interpretive demand in Bulgarian prehistoric investigations, in which Bulgarian archaeological evidence is organized in a set of explanatory models. The specifics of these explanatory models is the topic of the next section.

2.3 History of GIS research

Over the last 20 years, GIS applications in archaeology passed through an uneven but generally progressive development. Initially introduced from, and applied in, the USA, this sophisticated computer-aided method remained an important investigation tool for American archaeologists working within and outside the New World. Although now GIS analyses are broadly practiced around the globe, their results are popular mainly within the circle of GIS practitioners. Regional and local meetings (1988, 1989 and 1992) ended up with serious, theoretically-grounded publications of GIS case studies (Allen et al. 1990, Lock and Stančić 1995) but the use of the acronym GIS in the titles and sub-titles of these books immediately reduced the numbers of potential readers to the number of people already involved in GIS practice. This strong claim is based on the lack of any post-1990 discussion about the methodological issues raised in the basic source book for GIS in archaeology – a feedback that should come from outside of the circle of GIS followers. The criticism of the environmental determinism some feel is inherent in GIS and its limitations to a sophisticated cartographic tool were debated in GIS literature but subsequently were only rarely reconsidered in more general works on contemporary theory and practice (e.g., Shennan cited in Kvamme 1995: 6). However, GIS applications papers have recently started to appear in journals with a broader methodological content (Llobera 1996; Sanjuan & Wheatley 1999), thus breaking down the charmed insiders’ circle.

The present status of GIS of neither highly criticised nor broadly applied is explicable through some of its characteristics. GIS analysis need special equipment, certain usually expensive software, specific management approaches to the broad range of in-put data sources, a huge investment in time for digitising or downloading of the source data and, last but not least, the acquisition of the necessary analytical skills to work with the relatively complicated software for academic purposes.

Major contributions to the attempts to take GIS out of isolation were the volume edited by in Lock and Stančić (1995) and the third volume of The Archaeology of Mediterranean Landscapes (Gillings et. al. 1999). Apart from the wide range of various GIS applications (e.g. studies that incorporate text data or coinage (Smith 1995), hydrological regime simulations (Gillings 1995) and investigations of population trends (Stančić and Gaffney 1999)), these volumes contain also analytical chapters on the problems, achievements and perspectives of GIS (Harris and Lock 1995) and GIS and Archaeological Theory (Witcher 1999). While Harris and Lock were summarizing the trends and the gradual popularization and diversification of GIS applications, Witcher raises more questions than answers in a stimulating discussion that attempts to reconcile the abstract and scientific nature of GIS with the more subjective and phenomenologically grounded approach to the past (Witcher, 1999, 19).

Recently, Wheatley and Gillings (2002) have a chosen different approach to introduce the GIS technology in archaeology to a wider audience by publishing a textbook for the technological and analytical abilities of GIS, summarizing the variety of GIS applications in a coherent methodological structure.

The GIS application in the current thesis is following the well established traditions in regional studies (Chapters in Allen et al.1990 and Lock and Stančič 1995). Other issues that are going to be of concern in this study - such as human - landscape, human – nature relation, the social aspects of the landscape - as well as some more broadly discussed theoretical issues as spatial behaviour, time – space relations, have been continuously debated in GIS literature; however, much of this debate has remained outside the mainstream theoretical discourse.

GIS practitioners are fully aware of the limitations of the model, which in fact are shortcomings of the data source or some specific algorithm that usually make them cautious in the final interpretation. Moreover, the most fiery promoters of GIS have pointed out

… this volume is sparked by the potential of GIS for solving archaeological problems. The critical warning is that the problems are indeed archaeological and the method – powerful as it is – is for us to use. (Allen et al. 1990: 386).

What I was trying to say in this brief GIS section is that GIS far from being a universal interpretive tool, yet lacks proper exploration and evaluation of its potential.