Thracian religion centred around life, death, and fertility. The Slavs were Nordic and obsessed with the sun and the moon. The Thracians were great warriors with independent tribes, while Slavic culture was agricultural and conservative. The Thracians brought us Kukeri traditions and Baba Marta. The Slavs gave us the traditional circular Bulgarian folk dances and the lucky number three. Without knowing it, these centuries-old civilizations worked together to create a modern culture for their descendants.
Today, Bulgarians consider both the Slavs and the Thracians to be their ancestors. But the more primitive Thracians were here first. Their artefacts dominate the archaeological headlines, and you'll find handmade souvenirs depicting their heroes, horsemen and chariots. Most foreigners in Bulgaria have viewed a Thracian treasure, or read about these tribes, which spread across the Balkans during the 4th and 5th centuries BCE. Spartacus, the gladiator slave, who led a rebel war against the Romans, was a Thracian. Homer mentions the Thracians in his Illiad, calling them "people who reminded him of the gods". Herodotus, an historian who lived during the 5th century BCE (and gave the Greek word "history" it's modern meaning) called the Thracians "the most numerous ethnic group, second only to the Hindus". Yet, despite this trivia, due to their independent tribes and failure to achieve a unified national consciousness, the Thracians have a mysterious and hollow history.
The Bulgarian Academy of Science's professors and archaeologists have conducted a myriad of meticulous digs across the decades. But while they have uncovered ceramic artefacts, masks, a cache of over 15 000 gold Thracian pieces, and controversial archaeologist Giorgi Kitov's has unearthed a bronze head, a tomb, a sarcophagus, (through unapproved mechanised methods) and many other pieces, they have overturned no evidence of a Thracian alphabet or written form of communication - nothing to help us understand their culture or to indicate that their society was anything but primitive.
Hence, when archaeologists exploring the remains of a Bronze Age fortress in Perperikon, in southern Bulgaria, discovered ancient carved tablets a few decades ago, they were hoping for, but not expecting, anything new. At this time, the Bulgarian Academy of Science did what academics did. Examined. Handled with care. Whispered to each other. Even after they searched for a repetitive pattern, which can scientifically prove a language or at least a form of communication, they found the tablets to be only "decorative pintaderas" and they were simply displayed with the rest. In fact, when other experts contradicted their conclusions, claiming that the tablets from Gradeshnitsa and Karanovo were of Thracian origin, these dissenters were indiscreetly hushed or vehemently attacked. Prominent Professor Gancho Tsenov even had his doctoral thesis rejected due to such claims.But we all know that the Bulgarian soil, whatever its origin, was built with political layers. Through the communist lens, there is a strong historical association with Russia and their collection of tribes. And many believe that the Russians, not the Thracians, deserve such ancestral honor. After all, if you want to know who the Bulgarians adore, just take a walk in any Sofia park. Over the past few years, these same Bronze Age tablets were revisited by Bulgarian-born Dr Stephen Guide of the Institute for Transcendental Studies in Long Beach California, an expert in linguistics, cryptography and transcendental analysis. He has taken the ancient tablets and compared them, side by side, to hieroglyphic texts, identifying each alleged primordial "decorative pintadera" as a meaningful symbol. While the Thracian drawings are much less developed than Egyptian hieroglyphics, there is no stretch of the imagination needed to see the obvious similarity between them. By making simple translations, some of which include the terms "Thracia" and "territory of Thracia" Dr Guide makes a hypothesis that these carvings indicate an actual Thracian script.
"This means that the earliest written form of communication known to mankind - the dawn of human civilisation - "Guide urged, with obvious passion, "originated here, seven millennia before Christ, in what is now Bulgaria, preceding the Sumerian and Egyptian hieroglyphics by nearly two millennia."
In light of compelling similarities between the hieroglyphics and the Thracian symbols, Guide further claims that the Egyptian civilization, which is known to have developed not in Egypt, but in an "unidentified region to the north" actually created their hieroglyphic system from this archaic Thracian script.
"A dramatic shift of our modern understanding of the ancient world is underway," says Guide.
Here's why. In academic terms, "historic" means a time when a civilized form of writing or "historic" record can be found. Archaeologists and historians have always classified the 4th and 5th millennium BCE as the "pre-historic" era, since no "historical record" had been found. If the Thracians did have their own written form of communication, this shifts the established boundaries of the "pre-historic" era to at least a couple of millennia earlier in the linear time: Prehistoric becomes historic. And this monumental shift, if true, is leaving confusion and wide eyes in its path.
It's not surprising that such an earth-shattering shift has raised questions, eyebrows and voices from the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS), either. It's natural to question a claim that not only contradicts a major tenet of Thracian history, but disrupts long-held beliefs about the beginning of civilized written communication. Thus far, BAS has provided little support for Guide's findings and do not agree that a Thracian script exists. Archaeologist Giorgi Kitov has gone public with his denial, insisting that the Thracian script be outlawed.
If such symbols contain a Thracian script, why haven't we found more evidence? How do we know these artefacts weren't simply relocated to Bulgaria from Egypt as a result of trade or other cultural exchanges?
But Guide addresses these questions in his book "The Thracian Script Decoded". According to ancient orphic traditions, text indicates that primitive peoples often worshipped their tablets as "Living Beings of Divine Nature", reckoning it blasphemous to use these sacred signs in the profane and mundane way in which we currently think of drawings today. He also provides detailed comparisons between the scripts and ancient Egyptian texts, carefully demonstrating both distinct similarities and subtle, but fundamental differences. He insists that the ideas and thought patterns from the Thracian script reveal more archaic and primordial concepts than their later Egyptian counterparts, and "suggest a process of gradual typical Egyptian remodelling and cultural assimilation."
While the Karanova tablet is on display here at Sofia's archaeological museum, the Gradeshnitsa tablet is being kept at the Vratsa Original Museum. Raikinsky, professional historian and director there, is providing complete access to other artefacts of the same time period and welcomes Guide and his team. He does so in opposition to the Bulgarian Academy of Science.
This breakthrough, unlike the sensational gold artefacts archaeologists often pull from the earth, is about what's beneath yet another surface. It's about discovering the truth. It's about the very first civilization known to man. And this information has the potential to alter the way we consider the cavemen of this country. But to find, you must dig. Peruse the 50-page English summary of Guide's book, "The Thracian Script Decoded". Visit the museums and view the tablets yourself. As Guide quotes from Ecclesiastes: "For as the eye of one is able to perceive, so is that person altogether!".