The Yagodina Cave: Between the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age
The archaeological excavations carried out in recent years in the Yagodina Cave have brought to light a major pottery centre and have provided an important documentation on the economy, the way of life and the evolution of a population who lived in the Central Rhodope during the 4th millennium BC. The Yagodina Cave was occupied only during the winter. It would seem that this pottery centre of the Late-Neolithic period and the period of transition preceding the Bronze Age was important. The archaeological survey shows the proximity of the raw materials necessary for the potters, the large amount of tools and ceramic productions together with a variety of kilns and decorations, fruit of highly sophisticated technique.
The already mapped archaeological sites in the Rhodope Mountains define, with some uncertainty, two distinct areas: Eastern and Central Rhodope Mountains. This division is still mainly based on field surveys and/or sondage investigation of the monuments and their incomplete publication.
The archaeological study of the Central Rhodope region (Smolyan district) allows for the isolation of a specific prehistoric culture which can be followed in the Late Chalcolithic and during the so-called Transitional Period. It is worth noting that no other sites from the previous periods of the producing economy (i.e. Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic) have been documented, and thus, other processes and factors accounted for the appearance of settlements there.
The Yagodin Cave area comprises 2485 square metres and is located in the eastern part of the Velishko-Videnishki Rhodope massif. The region is open to the southern Balkan areas and is the divide between the Maritsa and the Mesta Rivers. This location is significantly favourable for the cultural development of the area and its contacts with the neighbouring regions during the different periods.
Finds from the Late Chalcolithic and "the Transitional Period" have been discovered in 13 caves of the Yagodin Cave region and in two open settlements located near the mountainous arable plateaus. Chalcolithic sherds have been found at the rock-cut sanctuary at Belintash, at Bossilkovo and in the cave and the rock-cut niches near the village of Raven1. Only the Haramiyska Dupka Cave and the Yagodinska Cave have been completely studied. Pottery, spindle whirls and loom weights, flint, stone and bone tools were discovered there. The analysis of the archaeological material, related mainly to the pottery production, as well as the osteological evidence, suggest the caves in the area had been used as seasonal settlements: as winter shelters for women and children, while men went with the cattle further south. During spring and summer people lived in light constructions in the open areas near their farming fields. The formation of this semi-nomadic way of life which was characteristic of the Rhodope Mountains till the end of the 20th century was based on sheep-breeding and originated only in the Late Chalcolithic.
The Yagodina Cave is a complex, multi-storey cave system of galleries of 6450 m total length. It formed in massif marble layers of strata of weight 400 to 1500 m on the Right Bank of the Buynovska River.
It was the upper storey of the cave which was inhabited, consisting of a large hall 25 x 35 m in floor area. Here the living conditions were good: relatively dry and constant temperature which varied between 9° to 14°C in the interior.
The layer with cultural remains comprises three building horizons:
- the first horizon yielded remains (hearths located arc-like against the entrance, pottery, tools, etc.) from the end of the Chalcolithic (4300-4000 BC). The habitation had been burnt, possibly after a strong earthquake, attested by the rock pieces fallen from the ceiling.
- second and third horizons (a reconstruction of the previous one) dated from 3950-3800 BC. Fire had put an end to these habitations as well.
Pottery production provided the most significant data from the Yagodina Cave. The western gallery was used as a special room for this craft during the first stage of habitation. Small piles of clay ready for work, stone and bone tools, graphite cones and small vessels containing lumps of red and yellow ochre for ornamentation of the vessels have been discovered there. Pottery production is attested further in the next periods of habitation of the hall. There, in its northeastern corner the only single-use pottery kiln was excavated, small vessels, spindle whirls and clay loom weights being found under its dome. The clay was dug from the cave deposits or from the Buynovska River bed which flows under the cave. It is coarse-grained, containing admixtures of quartz, mica and pyrites. The thin-walled vessels, their regular shapes and series attested to their manufacture on a slow hand-moved potter's wheel. Graphite and different shades of ochre were also provided by the cave deposits.
Deep plates, bowls, vase-like vessels, cups, lids and storage vessels were typical of the end of the Chalcolithic period. The shapes are rounded with a smooth transition between the shoulders and the bodies and with well expressed mouth rims. The surface was slipped. Pottery decoration was of two types: graphite and paste coating. The graphite pattern was achieved with a small brush, mainly positive and covers the outer, inner or both surfaces of the vessels. Horizontal and vertical combinations of thin and thick lines, spiral meanders, wide bands and triangles are the most common patterns. Paintings with yellow and red ochre on the completed vessel also represent linear motifs. Small group of vessels provided a combination of both decoration techniques. The first horizon pottery complex from the Yagodina cave finds its closest parallels in the final stages of Krivodol-Salkutsa-Boubani cultures. The pottery assemblages from Hotnitsa-Vodopada, from the Devetashka Cave and from the Late Chalcolithic settlement near the village of Vaksevo are also typologically very close2.
The so-called "Transitional Period" pottery demonstrates a continuation of the shapes of the earlier horizon. Cups with one or two handles, conical bowls with flaring mouth rims and vertically pierced lug handles and bowls with projections over the rim were the new shapes. Technology also changed: the clay contained more admixtures, the walls became thicker, while the mouth rims were thicker and more complex in profile. The graphite decoration disappeared, while paste coating was thicker; brick-reddish, cynober, pink and yellow were the colours used. Hatched patterns, floral and geometric motifs were used: spiral meander, hanging triangles, etc. either in negative or in positive. The shards are decorated with a white painted hatched pattern (which was characteristic of the northeastern Bulgarian lands in the transitional - Early Bronze Age periods). Incised decoration appeared as well3.
The material from the Yagodina Cave and the Haramiiska Dupka Cave, as well as the region of the Central Rhodopes in general, displays retarding Chalcolithic traditions. The climate changes, the flooded fields of northeastern Bulgaria and Thrace, as well as the migration of northern tribes, were the major reasons for the movement of the Chalcolithic population in southwestern direction. The semi-mountainous and mountainous areas defined the prevalence of stock-breeding over agriculture, while finding pasture lands for the cattle determined the construction of small settlements and the habitation of caves and rock shelters by a relatively small groups of people.
Early Bronze Age finds were discovered at the Yagodina Cave and the Haramiiska Dupka Cave, but they cannot support the assumption that life continued here even seasonally. Caves were no longer used as habitations during the Bronze Age. The open settlements near the village of Momchilovtsi, village of Startsevo, Mt Alada, the villages of Sredets, Chepintsi, Polyana, Mogilitsa and Dospat, i.e. along the mountain ridge near the pasture lands, belonged to the Late Bronze Age4.
Author: Maya Avramova
1. Radunčeva A. Eneolitno zanayatchiysko-proizvodstven centar do s. Sedlare, Kardjaliysko. (Eneolithic craft-industrial centre near to village Sedlare, district Kardjali) - GNAMP, X, 1997, 162-176.
2. Ilcheva V. Hotniza. Stari selishta y nahodki (Hotniza. Olds villages and finds). Vol. I. 2002, 27-28; Chohadjiev S. Vaxevo. Praistoricheski selishta (Vaxevo. Prehistoric villages). 2002, 205-207.
3. Avramova M. Centralnite Rodopi y problema za "prehodniya period" - danni ot Yagodinskata peshtera (The Central Rhodope and on the problem to the "period of transition". - Archaeologia, 1991, N 2, 51.
4. Valchanova H. Nyakoi cherti na materialnata y duhovnata kultura na trakiyskite plemena ot rayona na Centralnite Rodopi (Some characters of the material and the spiritual culture of the Thracian tribes from the Central Rhodope). - GAMP, 1, 1999, 150.