An exhibition displaying an absolutely unique golden decoration of a chariot from Ancient Thrace was opened Wednesday in the Mall of Sofia, in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital.
The Thracian chariot in question was technically in fact found in 1976 near the village of Karanovo but no one had realized its existence.
Only at the beginning of 2009, archaeologist Veselin Ignatov, who is the head of the history museum in the town of Nova Zagora, Southeast Bulgaria, and a specialist on Thracian chariots, actually discovered it as he was inspecting earlier finds stored in the museum basement.
X-ray test showed that a corroded metal plate actually contains remains of a chariot – including an absolutely unique decorative plaque made of gold alloy which decorated a Thracian chariot dated back to the 2 century AD.
It is both the decoration and the gold-copper alloy that make the chariot on display in downtown Sofia without any analogy among similar finds from ancient times.
The decorative plaque is 52 cm long and 12 cm wide, and 0,3 cm thick. It was placed on the lower back part of the chariot, which was actually a luxury passenger car rather than a war chariot. It pictures what appears to be an ancient building, most likely a temple.
Other decorations on the chariot include a bust of Heracles (Hercules), and two heads of Medusa, the mythical gorgon monster.
Over 200 chariots dated back to Thracian and Roman times have been discovered in Bulgaria so far by both archaeologists and treasure hunters. In comparison, only 2 more chariots have been found in the rest of Roman Empire – one in Pompeii, and another one in Ephesus; and about 20 chariots have been discovered in Hungary.
The extremely high number of chariots found in Bulgaria is due to the funeral customs of the ancient Thracians who place two- or four-wheel chariots in the graves so that the deceased can use them in their afterlife.
After Ancient Thrace was fully conquered by the Romans about 40 AD, the Thracian aristocracy was well integrated; the aristocrats owned several chariots each so that they could afford to bury a chariot with a deceased relative of theirs.
The chariot will be on display there until September 22; the exhibit is organized by the Nova Zagora Municipality, the Cultural Projects Association, and the United Bulgarian Bank. The project provides for a traveling exhibit across Bulgaria in 2010, and the restoration of the chariot, whose worth is estimated at BGN 250 000 by the National Archaeology Institute.
Archaeologist Veselin Ignatov is a leading European specialist on Ancient Cars. In 2007, he found two chariots, and another one in 2008, when the US magazine “Archaeology” published an article about him.