Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
Archaeological Excavations in the “Vodna” Cave near the Village of Tabachka, July 2005


July 2005 was marked with a notable event for the archaeology of the Rousse region – the conducted archaeological excavations in the “Vodna” cave near the village of Tabachka, Municipality of Ivanovo. The initiative was on the side of the Rousse Regional Museum of History, which found support and partnership from the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia. The research team was led by the professional guidance of the NAIM archaeologist – Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov, PhD. A successfully engaged were also archaeologists from the museums of Plovdiv, Targovishte, Popovo, as well as candidates for doctorates in Archaeology at the “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” University of Veliko Tarnovo. Each one of the expedition members is a narrow specialist in a separate share of the archaeological discipline, respectively in Prehistory, Iron Age, Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The results were on time as early as the first days of the research. The field surveys conducted in advance in the region, as well as the examined literature for the archaeological sites were a supporting point for our research.

The “Vodna” cave is located 5 km to the east of the village of Tabachka, on the left riverbank of Cherni Lom. Its name is probably derived from the small spring, which is located at its bottom. A local legend says that its water has healing properties. The cave is a large natural semi-circle niche on two levels, formed with the vertical cliffs towards the river. The niche’s width at its base is around 90 m. A path, circling around the rock plateau, leads towards it, and its largest width reaches 4 m, where it forms a small ground right in front of the cave’s entrance. Several nests, cut into the rock, are visible on the outer side of the path, whose purpose in the past was probably for vertical beams of a parapet. Inside the real part of the rock shelter, in its center, is located a stone block, which rises up about a meter from the floor of the site, with a round basin cut in its upper part, with a diameter of 0.51 m and a depth of 0.20 m. The facility in hand is destroyed to a large degree by treasure-hunters’ interventions. We made the last photo of the yet untouched altar in the autumn of 2002. On the walls and ceiling of Vodna there are several incised inscriptions in Latin and Greek, noticed and published by Karel Skorpil in the beginning of the past century. In most of the inscriptions well visible are the names of Roman veterans, who have probably visited and have left information about themselves on the rock site during Antiquity. On the left side of Vodna cave is located a small niche with images from the Prehistoric and the Medieval periods inside it. Another smaller cave, known with the nomination “Tamno” is located downwards along the path. It is a natural tunnel-shaped cave, 3.80 m wide at the entrance and 2.50 m high, gradually decreasing inside. A channel is visible at the entrance. The discovered archaeological materials prove that the last two facilities have been used for the first time by men during the Prehistoric Era for ritual purposes, and later on as rock hermit cells during the Middle Ages.

What has been the purpose of the large rock two-storey shelter, named “Vodna”, during the Antiquity? This was the most common question asked among us before the beginning of the excavations. The expectations were certain, but the results were totally different.

Two trenches were set, on both sides of the stone altar in the center of the cave correspondingly, as well as one to the right approximately next to the passes towards the interior of the cave. The cultural layers were examined and cleared everywhere down to the rock base. It became clear that the rock floor of the cave has highly expressed displacement with inclination to the southeast, i.e. towards the entrance, directed towards the river valley. It was determined that the thickness of the cultural stratification varies from 10 cm to 2 m, from the inside to outside correspondingly. The finds (mainly the ceramic complex) brought certain clarity on the dating and chronology of the studied site. The beginning of human presence here is dated as early as the Late Neolithic Age (around 5300/5200 BC) and continues uninterruptedly up to the second half of the Chalcolithic Age, and probably even later, around 4500/4400 BC. Except for the large number of fragments of ceramic vessels with various decoration and shape, finds of bone with incised cross signs were also discovered, fragment of a clay idol, stone adze without any traces of being worn out on its surface, etc. The materials belong entirely to the Boyan culture. It is interesting that the main part of the Prehistoric finds were discovered within the space approximately next to the stone altar. Again on this site, in southeastern direction we discovered a number of coatings and plaster from a furnace. In the upper right end of the cave we cleared a basin-shaped facility, cut into the rock, with a small-sized arch-shaped layout at one of the ends. The direction of the facility is north-south and the bone amulet found in it, typical for the Chalcolithic Age, as well as the large number of pottery from the same period, excluded the initial hypothesis that this maybe a Medieval grave. Several meters to the left, in immediate proximity to the altar we registered another rock incision with the shape and size of a human step. Next to it, directly over the rock, we have cleared the destructions of a fireplace. In the right part of the rock shelter over the vertical rock are visible three incised niches with different size and shape. The initial assumption was that these were the nests for cross-beams of a roof. The conducted additional survey underneath them did not register nests for supporting cross-beams. This discarded our initial hypothesis. These niches have probably been related to the ancient cults. Curious about this archaeological site is that within the excavated territory of more than 130 m2 we did not found any dwelling foundations or floor coating, which are typical for the period, even for cave habitations. This indisputably shows that the rock shelter has not been used for habitation purposes during the prehistoric period. On the other hand the construction of any type of a dwelling on a highly inclined rock towards the cliff is practically impossible. This fact, as well as the presence of the described finds, shows that most likely the Vodna site has been adapted for a rock sanctuary during the prehistoric, and maybe during the subsequent eras, too. If this is so, then this is the first one of this kind from the Prehistoric period, discovered in Northern Bulgaria. Moreover, in proximity to Vodna, in the Bey Chiflik area next to the river, the recently conducted archaeological excavations show the presence of a settlement from the Early and Middle Chalcolithic Age, with synchronous materials discovered inside Vodna as well.

An insignificant number of finds from the Antiquity and the Middle Ages were discovered, too. The preserved traces of rock-hewn steps, nests for support beams and graffiti on the walls are allowing the assumption that the second storey of Vodna has been used as a rock monastery during the Middle Ages. Estampages of the Antiquity inscriptions from the walls and the ceiling of the first floor of the cave were also made, which is related with the more precise examination of their content. An overall graphical and photo documentation of the studied rock site was prepared.

Dimitar Chernakov,
Archaeologist at the Rousse Regional Museum of History