Topola cliffs, Bulgaria

A victorious Bulgar warrier (depiction on a golden vase from the Nagyszentmiklos treasure)

Bulgar warriors (Menologion of Basil II)

The Madara Rider (The relief depicts a majestic Bulgar horseman, probably khan Tervel, 710 AD)

The Botanical Garden in Balchik



Site:the Early Medieval biritual (inhumation and cremation) necropolis Topola on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, near the town of Balchik.
Period(s) in focus: Early Medieval, the end of the Migration Period, (7th - 9th century AD)
Project Venue: in a nice hotel with a swimming pool in the coastal town of Balchik on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Balchik is a picturesque town with rich history surrounded by number of golf, SPA and beach resorts. It is famous for the Botanical garden of the Quiet Nest Palace - once property of the Romanian queen Marie of Edinburgh. During the project working days all participants will be given a lift from the hotel to the site (located 14 km away) and back.

The nearest air terminal: Varna (Bulgaria, 85 km)  - don't forget checking the low cost  flight options! A transfer from the airport to the project hotel in Balchik may be arranged by request (Please, specify this in your application form!). Transfers' price may vary depending on number of passengers from 20 to 60 EUR. Ask for details!

How to get there?: Balchik is located on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. It could be reached by bus from Varna (where the closest airport is) for app.1 hour. Bus trip directly from Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) takes 7 hours. Pick-ups from all the Varna bus/railway stations or hotels are available by request.



Field school session 1: 2 - 16 August, 2014
Field school session 2: 17 - 31 August, 2014

Application Deadlines: until the places are filled, or latest 1st of July, 2014
Minimum length of stay: Two weeks
Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)
Number of field school places available: Maximum 16
Language: English
Experience required: No
Special requirements: The project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities. The average summer temperatures in the area are 30-38 C or higher, that is why the participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weather. All participants are expected to have some (at least theoretical) background in archaeological field techniques and methods, for what they will receive (via email) a pdf copy of the project handbook as well as some recommended readings. Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.

The site: The Early Medieval necropolis (end of 7th - mid. 9th century AD) near the village of Topola is located on the Northern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast on a picturesque steppe plateau not far from the coastline. The number of 600 excavated graves makes it the biggest biritual (with inhumation and cremation burials) necropolis in South Eastern Europe. The excavations of the necropolis and of the adjacent settlement are a major source of information for the history and the culture of the Early Medieval Bulgarian state (established in the 7th century AD): the initial conglomerate of Bulgars (Protobulgarians), Slavic tribes and indigenious East Roman population ruled by the Bulgar khans emerged in the 9th and the 10th century AD into the first medieval empire in Eastern Europe after the Byzantine. The numerous artifacts from the graves - pottery, jewels, weapons, coins, harness, etc. shed light on the complex demographic and cultural interrelations in the Early Medieval period among the Bulgars and Slavic tribes, the nomads of the East European Steppes, the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate. The anthropological analyses of the bones from both the inhumation and cremation graves clarify the origin of the Protobulgarian tribes and the formation of the Bulgarian medieval people. The artificial cranial deformation of many individuals, the burial rituals, the commemorative celebrations and taphonomic changes, the grave goods as animals (sheep, lambs), vessels for liquids and food, placement of stones in the graves, the position and direction of the dead, etc. give important information about the believes, religion and the traditions of the population.
The necropolis and the nearby settlement have been excavated for a decade in the 1980's. The site was partly looted in 2010 and this was the reason  Associate Professor Liudmila Doncheva Petkova and Associate Professor Metodi Daskalov from the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences to resume the excavations of the necropolis. The main goal of the project is to prevent loosing valuable data and artifacts from non excavted areas of the site and to prepare the long awaited publication of the entire necropolis. The BHFS will support this initiative financially and through the participation of students in a number of activities such as excavation, field documentation, lab work, processing of finds (bones, pottery, etc).
Archaeological and historical context: The Great Migration of People started in the Balkans (then part of the East Roman Empire) when the Visigoths crossed the Danube in 375 AD. Year after year throughout the 5th to the 7th centuries AD, various barbarian tribes - Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, etc. - managed to break through the Danubian border and to devastate the Roman provinces in the Balkans. These invasions and the Black Death pandemic in the 6th century AD created a demographic gap and considerably changed the political and ethnic map of the Balkans. In 6th and 7th centuries AD the surviving Roman (Byzantine) population abandoned the lowlands and moved to either the largest fortified cities in the southern or coastal parts or the most isolated mountainious areas of the peninsula to the benefit of numerous Slavic tribes (originally from northern parts of Central Europe). Slavs invaded the Balkans and settled on the deserted Roman territories. In 680 AD another ethnic group settled in the northeastern Balkans - the Bulgars (also called Proto-Bulgarians). Their origins are still under dispute in scholarly circles, with various hypotheses claiming they were Iranian, Turko-Mongolian or both. They inhabited the plains between the Caucasus Mountains, the Volga River, and the Caspian and Black Sea, where in 632 AD the Bulgar Khan Kubrat established a powerful kingdom, known as the Old Great Bulgaria. After his death the kingdom was defeated by the Khazars. However, Bulgars who lived in the western parts of the Old Great Bulgaria (along the Black Sea between the Lower Dnieper and the Danube Delta) not only kept their independence but also crossed the Danube and invaded the Byzantine territories to the south. Led by Kubrat's son, Khan Asparuh they defeated the Byzantine army in 681 and forced the Byzantine Emperor to accept the status quo of a "Barbaric" state expanding over Roman territories. Some historians consider 632 AD as the date of the establishment of the Bulgarian state; others consider 681 AD as a nation-founding date. In the 7th through the 9th centuries AD, Bulgaria conquered new territories westwards in the Balkans and Central Europe.

The Field School: In 2014 the BHFS participants will continue the excavation of a sector of the necropolis characterized by high concentration of  both inhumation and cremation graves - in 2013, for only a month archaeologist unearted there  almost one hundred graves. Each of the project sessions available in 2014 includes the following three modules: 1. fieldwork  including excavation of the necropolis, maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing graves and skeletons, drawing of ground plans and cross-sections, 3D positioning of finds and contexts, taking photographs, etc; 2. lectures on Early Medieval Archaeology and History, with focus on the Late Migration Period, and lectures on Physical Anthropology;  3. workshops on finds' processing and documentation (cleaning, measuring, describing, analyzing of human bones; cleaning, drawing, sorting of pottery); 4. excursions to various cultural and archaeological sites in and around Balchik and Varna: the Quiet Nest Palace and the Botanical garden, the Hellensitic temple of Cybele, Archaeological museums in both Balchik and Varna, Varna Historical City Centre with the Roman Thermae, the medieval rock-hewn Aladja Monastery etc. (Please refer to the Course Program and Agenda!).
The participants who join the two project sessions (1&2) will be able to further their skills and competences regarding the field work and finds processing, gained during the first two-week session and to attend a number of extra lectures and workshops on physical anthropology and an excursion to the impressive peninsular fortress of Kaliakra (Please refer to the Course Program and Agenda!).

All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail and a hard copy on arrival);
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.
Credit hours: New Bulgarian University grants 6 credits to students for participation in one project session and 9 credits for participation in two sessions. Transcripts of records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee! For details please read the BHFS Regulations for obtaining ToR!
Collaborative Universities & Institutions: the Balkan Heritage Foundation, Topola Excavation Team (National Archaeological Institute with Museum at Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) and New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria).



Dig Directors:

  • Associate Prof. Liudmila Doncheva Petkova, PhD in Archaeology, Department of Medieval Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences;
  • Associate Prof. Metodi Daskalov, PhD in Archaeology, Department of Medieval Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences;

Physical anthropologist:

  • Assistant Prof. Victoria Russeva, PhD in Anthropology, Institute of Experimantal Morphology, Pathology, Anthropology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Project coordinator and field supervisor:

  • Nayden Prahov, Balkan Heritage Program Director; PhD in Archaeology, Archaeologist in the Centre for Underwater Archaeology, Bulgaria.

Field supervisors:

  • Yuri Pulchev, MA in Archaeology, Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski".
  • Galina Dyankova, PhD in Archaeology, Archaeologist at the Regional Museum of History - Kiustendil, Bulgaria.
  • Evelina Todorova, PhD in Archeology, Specialist in the National Institute for Intangible Cultural Heritage, Bulgaria.


Lectures on Medieval Archaeology and History

  • The South-East Europe in the Early Medieval Age.
  • Early Medieval Biritual Cemeteries and Funeral Rites with Examples from Topola Necropolis.

Aims: Introducing the historical and the archaeological context of the Topola necropolis.

Lectures on Physical Anthropology

  • Human skeleton. Bone structure, bone identification. Identification of fragments from cremated bones after specific anatomical sites. Age and sex identification of individuals.
  • Bones in archaeological contexts. Reconstructing burial ritual. Evaluation of material representativeness - influence of burial ritual, commemorative celebrations, taphonomic changes.
  • Biritual necropolis in Topola. Materials from graves with cremation and inhumation. Burial rituals. Results from investigations 1986-2013 and further perspectives.
Aims: Introducing main scientific problems of anthropological study of material from Topola necropolis and presenting the results from the investigations and the program of the present physical anthropological study.
Lectures on Field Archaeology
  • Basic Principles of Field Archaeology.
  • From The Field to the Storage: Review of Basic Methods for Uncovering, "First Aid", Consolidation in Situ, Cleaning, Sorting, Labeling, Documenting and Storing Ceramic Artifacts.
  • Excavations Preparation. Preliminary Indoor Research.
  • Field Reconnaissance Survey. Geophysical (Electrical and Magnetic) Methods.
  • Stratigraphy.
  • Dating methods.
  • Excavation Completion. Post Excavation Work and Analyses. Archaeological Reports.
Aims: Theoretical presentation of the main principles, practices, techniques, methods of the Field Archaeology applied at the excavations of Topola necropolis.

Field practice, Instructions & Trainings

  • Basic methods, practices and techniques for excavation and documentation.
  • Uncovering, documentation, preservation, collection of inhumated and cremated bone material.
  • Filling field journal, contex sheets, log book, finds labels and other field documentation forms.
  • Scale-drawing of ground-plans and cross-sections.
  • Field photographing.
  • Three dimensional positioning of finds, features and structures.
Workshops on Physical Anthropology
  • Cleaning, documentation and restoration of bone material.
  • Age-sex identification.
  • Basic measurements of cranial and postcranial skeleton. Basic descriptive traits used in investigation of material from the necropolis.
  • Cultural actions over bones of the individuals. Artificial cranial deformation.
Workshops on pottery processing
  • Pottery cleaning, sorting, selecting, drawing and photographing.
Guided visits to:
  • Balchik: the Quiet Nest Palace and the Botanical garden, the Hellensitic temple of Cybele, the Archaeological museum in Balchik.
  • Varna: the Archaeological museum, the Roman Thermae and Varna historical centre.
  • The medieval rock-hewn Aladja Monastery.
Only for students in the two project sessions (1&2):
  • Anthropological Identification of Human Bone Remains - Age, Sex, Individual Features. Paleodemography. Reconstruction of Survival Patterns in the Population after Results for Age and Sex Distribution.
  • Paleopathological Changes Identified on Bone Remains. Human Adaptation to the Environmental Condition in Population from Topola.
Field practice
  • Interpretation of situation of human bone remains in archaeological context. Grave complexes with inhumation and cremation burial ritual.
Workshops / Laboratory practice
  • Laboratory anthropological identification and documentation of bone material. Age and sex identification of individuasl, registration of pathological changes, documentation of metric and descriptive traits, reconstruction of stature.
  • Demographic distribution of mortality/survivorship, pathological changes, descriptive traits.
  • Statistical analysis of metric/descriptive traits.
Guided visits to:
    • The peninsular fortress of Kaliakra and the beach nearby.


    First Day
    Arrival and check-in at the hotel in Balchik by 7.00 pm 
    8.00 - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.

    A pick-up may be arranged from Varna bus or railway station, airport or a hotel upon request. 

    Second Day

    Morning: Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and colaborative universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breaking.

    Afternoon: Orientation walk around Balchik. Visit to the Quiet Nest Palace and the Botanical garden, the Hellensitic temple of Cybele and the Archaeological museum.

    Working day during the second project session for participants, who join the two project sessions.
    Working days

    6.30 am - 7.00 am - Breakfast

    7.00 am - 7.20 am - Travel to the site

    7.30 am - 10.30 am - Fieldwork*

    10.30 am-10.45 am - Break

    10.45 am - 1.15 pm - Fieldwork*

    1.15 pm - 1.30 pm - Travel back to Balchik

    1.30 pm - 5.00 pm - Lunch and siesta

    5.00 pm - 7.30 pm - Lectures/Workshops/Finds processing **

    8.00 pm - 9.00 pm - Dinner

    * In rare cases of rain, the project envisions substitute activities including finds processing workshops and film projections at the hotel.

    ** Lectures and workshops in the area of Medieval and Field Archaeology and on Physical Anthropology




    Saturdays: Visit to Aladja Rock-hewn Monastery and Varna: Archaeological Museum, Varna Historical City Centre and the Roman baths (for participants in one session) and to Kaliakra fortress (for participants, who join the two project sessions).

    Sundays:  Day off.

    Weekend between session 1 and 2

     Free time

    Our team could organize/ assist organizing of various leisure activities in the free time: excursions, diving, golf, horse riding, etc.

    Last Day

    Departure. Check-out by 11.00 am

    A transfer may be arranged from Balchik to Varna bus or railway station, airport or  hotel.



    Accommodation and Food: in comfortable rooms with two to three beds, with bathrooms with shower and WC, equipped with air-conditioning, TV, Wi-Fi.  The hotel has a swimming pool and nice view to the sea and the picturesque town's harbour. Three meals per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place (except the lunch packages during the excursions) in the hotel restaurant. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Staying an extra day at the hotel costs 40 EUR. Single rooms in the hotel are limited but available upon request for the supplement of 350 EUR (for two-week period).

    Free time: Balchik offers many opportunities for leisure activities during the daily siesta and the days off such as: swimming, sunbathing, doing beach sports or golf, bike- and horse-riding, diving, paragliding, bird watching, wine-tasting, SPA, visiting museums, the Palace with Botanical Garden, archaeological and natural sites or just walking along the beaches. Extra day-trips could be organized to the neighboring cities of Varna (Bulgaria) and Constanta (Romania) during, before or after the project.
    Extra trips and excursions: The BHFS participants could take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take trips to some worth seeing historical sites and towns nearby. The BHFS encourages participants in the current project to visit after the field school either the medieval city of Veliko Tarnovo on their way to the Bulgarian capital Sofia (the entire trip from Balchik is about 550 km/330 mi) or Istanbul, Turkey (550 km/330mi from Balchik). The BHFS can assist the participants who plan to organize their own trips with trip advices and recommendations, accommodation and tickets reservations, by providing historical information about the sites to be visited, arranging travel insurance and other tips. With our help these excursions could be cheap, easy, safe and pleasant. Look-up at other suggested travel ideas before/after the field school!



    The Admission fee includes educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, Project Handbook, issue of Certificate of Attendance, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and administrative costs.


    The Early bird admission fee for either session 1 or session 2 is 1169 EUR  (app.1559 USD. Check current exchange rates!).

    The Early bird admission fee for two project sessions (1 & 2) is 2338 EUR (app. 3159 USD. Check current exchange rates!)


    The regular admission fee for either session 1 or session 2 is 1299 EUR (app.1719 USD. Check current exchange rates!)

    The regular admission fee for two project sessions (1 & 2) is 2468 EUR (app.3319 USD including 5% discount for participation in 2 project sessions. Check current exchange rates!)

    Admission fee transfer options (for further information contact Admissions Office at

      - Bank transfer
    On-line transfers  



    * 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

    1. Participation in more than 1 BHFS project or project session in 2014. (5% discount is valid for all projects/sessions to be attended).
    2. Membership in the Archaeological Institute of America.

    * 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

    1. Participation in any BHFS project/s in the past.

    * 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

    1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in one project session in 2014 (the discount is valid for each participant)
    * 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:
    1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2014 (the discount is valid for each participant for all projects/ sessions to be attended).
    2. BHFS alumni, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2014. (15% discount is valid only for the second, third etc. project/session to be attended).