Summer Archaeology Course in Bulgaria


Program Description

Via Diagonalis (Via Militaris) became the most important road through the Balkan Peninsula in Roman times when it connected the city of Singidunum (today’s Belgrade, Serbia) on the Danube River with Byzantium (Istanbul) – the city which would later become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The road is ca. 1000 km (600 miles) long and passes through large important Roman cities like Naissus, Serdica, Philippopolis and Hadrianopolis. It is the fundamental connection between the western part of the Empire and the East. It was also the official route for armies moving throughout the provinces. Mansio Lissae, later renamed Bona Mansio (Lat. Good Station) is one of the few archaeologically identified Roman road stations on the route of Via Diagonalis. The initial name of the site derives from the nearby Thracian settlement of Lissa. Mansio Lissae was a fortified structure, one of many, intended to safeguard the main road. It is situated in the Thracian Valley, between the Roman cities of Serdica (modern Sofia) and Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv). The station is in the form of an irregular tetragon, surrounded by thick walls with corner towers. The ruins of the fortification are still visible high above ground. During the Ottoman period it was reused and renamed “Assar”- which in Turkish means “Fortress”.

The very first investiagtions of the site were limited sounding trenches dug in 2002 within a Bulgarian-French archaeological campaign which sought to research the ancient legacy of the region. The trenches have revealed a thick cultural layer of over 3 meters in depth. The ruins of fortification walls as high as 4 meters were also unearthed. The archaeologists discovered Roman pottery and coins from the 2nd and 3rd CE. Nevertheless, the chronology and characteristics of the structure still remain unclear. Although no modern construction threatens the Roman cultural legacy, the site is considered endangered. Since Roman archaeological valuables attract the interest of many people, during the last decades the site has turned into a training range for treasure hunters. The hazard of further destruction, as well as scientific interest in the site, have set this project into motion. With the first in 2016 archaeological campaign BHF aimed also to draw the attention of the local community and the interest of the surrounding municipalities to put this endangered site on their priority list for protection of cultural heritage. Until the current moment BHF is still the only sponsor of the excavations and the entire income from the field school participation fees for the 2017 season will be spent on financing the archaeological campaign!

Project type: Field school & archaeological excavation.The variety of activities and the team's professionalism and flexibility make this project suitable for both beginners and those advanced in either Field or Classical Archaeology. Individual program and task assignments are available to advanced students.

NB! The project is especially appropriate for who would like to gather intense experience with practical archaeological work: mainly technical documentation (drawing & photography), filling of context sheets and inventory cards, pottery reading and statistics, as well as completion of official field reports!

The field school started: 2016

Site: Mansio Lissae – Roman Road Station, situated between the small towns of Septemvri and Vetren, southern Bulgaria.

Project venue: "Villa Terres" is a newly built tourist complex including a spa hotel and a winery. It is located in the southern part of the village of Karabunar, 8 km from the motorway exit "Trakia" on the road to Velingrad. During the project work days all participants will be taken from the hotel to the site (which is located 8 km away) and back.

Period(s) of occupation: Roman, Late Roman, Medieval

Major field school topics/activities: Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Roman and Late Roman fortification and architecture; documentation and conservation of Roman and Late Roman finds (mainly pottery), excursions to significant heritage sites in Thrace, Bulgaria.

BHF partners in this project: Archaeological Museum "Prof. Mieczyslaw Domaradzki", Septemvri, New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria)

Dig director & field school coordinators: Alexander Manev (PhD Candidate in Archaeology, Department of Classical Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences); Angela Pencheva (PhD Candidate in Archaeology, Humboldt University, Berlin; Balkan Heritage Foundation & Fieldschool Programm Coordinator)


Spring season NEW!!!:

  • Two-week session 1: 29 April - 13 May, 2017
<li>Three-week session 2: 29 April - 20 May, 2017</li>

Fall season:

  • Two-week session 3: 26 August - 9 September, 2017
<li>Two-week session 4: 9 September - 23 September, 2017</li> <li>Three-week session 5: 26 August - 16 September, 2017</li> <li>Four-week session 6: 26 August - 23 September, 2017</li>

Application deadlines: until the places are filled or 1st of April for Spring season and 1st of August for the Fall Season, 2017

Minimum length of stay for participants: two weeks

Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)

Number of field school places available: Maximum 18

Project language: English

Experience required: None

Special requirements: Participation in 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 September temperatures in the area are 25-30⁰ C or higher. All participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weathervbut should also prepare for possible rainy, windy and chilly days. All participants are also expected to prepare for the dig by reading (at least) the BHFS handbook chapter about archaeological excavation techniques and methods (reading materials will be sent by e-mail to all registered students before the beginning of the project)! Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.

The Program

Two-week field school sessions provide a minimum of 85 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours as follows:

Field Work

  • Practicing basic excavation techniques;
  • Use of tools and working techniques;
  • Creating of field documentation - field journal, context sheets and labels, ground plans and cross-sections, photographs, etc.
  • Identifying and sorting of archaeological finds;


  • Archaeological documentation of pottery (drawing, graphic reconstruction, photographing, description, etc.);
  • Cleaning of pottery.


  • Introduction to the History of the Balkan Peninsula and Thrace in the Roman and Late Antique Periods (I-VI c. CE);
  • Mansio Lissae. Sources and evidence;
  • Roman settlement network and road system in Thrace;
  • Pottery production in Thrace during Roman and Late Antique periods (I-VI CE);
  • Development and characteristics of the fortification system in Thrace in the Roman and Late Antique Periods (I-VI CE);
  • History and Archaeology of Plovdiv;

Field Instructions

  • Stratigraphy and Chronology;
  • Dating Artifacts and Materials;
  • Three Dimensional Positioning of Finds, Features and Structures;
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Excavation and Documentation;
  • Introduction to the Field Journal, Context Sheets, Log Book and Other Forms
  • Excavation Preparation. Preliminary Indoor Research;
  • Excavation Completion. Post-Excavation Work and Analyses;
  • From the Field to Storage: Review of Basic Methods for Uncovering, "First Aid", Consolidation in Situ, Cleaning, Sorting, Labeling, Documenting and Storing Ceramic Artifacts;

Guided Tours

  • Tour of the city of Plovdiv (the ancient city of Philippopolis) including the Archaeological Museum, Old Town Quarter and major Roman monuments;
  • The Roman fortress “Trajan’s Gate” - the military outpost on the edge of Thrace.
NB! Please note that agenda for the second two-week session (9 -23 of September) is going to be the same as the agenda for the second two weeks of the four-week session!

The three-week session provides a minimum of 120 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours incorporating all those of the two-week session in addition to the following:

  • Additional and more comprehensive field work training and practices;


  • Roman numismatics in Thrace (I - VI CE);
  • History and Archaeology of Diocletianopolis;


  • Roman & Late Roman Pottery Conservation (3- day course);

Guided tours to:

  • Tour of the Roman city and ancient spa complex of Diocletianopolis;
  • The Late antique fortress "Peristera", near the town of Peshtera.

The four-week session provides a minimum of 180 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours incorporating all those of the three week session in addition to the following:

  • Additional and more comprehensive field work training and practices;


  • History and Archaeology of the Roman city of Serdica (the modern Bulgarian capital - Sofia);


  • Conservation of Metal Artifacts (3-day course)

Guided tours to:

  • the Roman city of Serdica (the modern city of Sofia);
Last updated Feb 2019

About the School

The Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS, started in 2003) is a program of the Balkan Heritage Foundation (Bulgarian public, non-profit, non-governmental organization) for practical education in the fie ... Read More

The Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS, started in 2003) is a program of the Balkan Heritage Foundation (Bulgarian public, non-profit, non-governmental organization) for practical education in the field of archeology, history and art history of South-Eastern Europe, as well as documentation, conservation and restoration of historic artifacts and monuments, taught in English, currently in three Balkan countries Read less