It is often the archaeological evidence that serves to definitively untangle the web of myth and fact that has been etched into public memory over the course of four centuries. To maximize time and resources, the team has employed some unorthodox techniques. Most notably the team has embraced the help of the Yankee Territory Coinshooters, a Connecticut-based metal detecting club. Traditionally, academics and detectorists have viewed each other with skepticism to say the least, but a mutual respect has developed. Naumec explains that when they try to identify a button or buckle from the battlefield, he often seeks out members of the Society of Seventeenth Century Reenactors who are most familiar with the details of these items.
Naumec himself has even privately dabbled in experimental archaeology to assist the study. Using a makeshift ballistics range, Naumec and his friends used seventeenth century weapons to test the effects on bullets of hitting various targets logs, rocks, etc. Now when the team finds disfigured bullets in the field, they can make deductions about what the bullet hit by comparing it to those bullets used in the experiment. All these efforts yield details that help fill in the puzzle, piece by piece.
After seven years of work, the team is approaching the end of documenting the events that transpired during the terrible twelve hour battle that took place on May 26, Their work honorably serves many important ends. It memorializes land where people of several cultures died.
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It objectively corrects the injustices of a tainted historical record. Through signage, outreach events, and educational opportunities, the researchers are raising local public awareness about a nationally significant war that took place literally in our backyards.
History, and the field of archaeology. Your email address will not be published. These kukeri wear carved wooden masks with the faces of beasts and birds; hanging heavy copper or bronze bells around their waists as they dance and jump in arcane rituals intended to dispel the evil spirits which might otherwise bring loshotiya , or ill fortune , to a community. In the earliest surviving accounts of the ritual — and in those towns and villages with the most loyally observed traditions — the kukeri will often start their work as early as dawn. They dance through village streets delivering health, happiness and a bountiful harvest year; they visit houses too, letting themselves into family homes in order to perform blessings older than any book can remember.
Evil spirits take a lot to scare, and these performers often spend all year crafting intricate, disturbing and grotesque costumes for the festival.
The costumes, traditions, performances and even the date of these festivities vary from one end of Bulgaria to the other. In the west, the kukeri arrive between Christmas and Epiphany on 6th January. Pernik is not the most beautiful town in Bulgaria. Some visitors have described it as a grim and grey affair of mock-Stalinist architecture and abandoned factories as both of those things fascinate me however, I find it hard to be too critical. The grey skies and bitter cold did little to welcome us as we arrived at Pernik train station; although the dense crowds of people packing the platform was an early indication that this was to be no ordinary day.
The Surva Festival of Masquerade Games at Pernik was started in , then celebrated every other year until ; at which point it became an annual event. As many as 5, performers appear in the festival each year, and since the event has been welcoming international entries too — with teams arriving from Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania and Greece.
Some performers come from still further afield, including past entries from Palestine, Spain and even Indonesia. During the last weekend in January, these teams of kukeri descend upon the grey streets of Pernik to enact rituals that have been handed down over thousands of years… and as we approached the town centre we were soon surrounded by all kinds of colourful, horned, furred and fearsome chaos. Crowds of spectators wrapped in winter furs and leather coats mingled as one steaming mass down the closed streets, while around us, in every corner the performers were donning their costumes.
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Men stood in huge, padded suits made from the pelts of goats and sheep, strapping cowbell-laden belts around their waists. Small bottles of rakia were passed around before disappearing back into hidden pockets. The kukeri blew on their hands, rubbed them against the cold, then began to hop from one foot to the other; adjusting to the weight of those heavy chimes. Here and there, performers were trying on their masks.
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Some had carved wooden features, beastly, snarling things, while others were made entirely from smooth fur broken only by narrow eye-slits. Some masks had snapping, hinged jaws; others were decorated in harlequin patterns of green and purple sequins. I was struck by the variety of costumes on display; the materials ranging from thread and lace, ribbons and mirrors, to bones, horns and feathers.
Each group represented a different town, and each of them brought to Surva their own local variations on the kukeri tradition. We shuffled our way slowly though the crowd, towards the main square of Pernik. The main boulevard was clear, fenced off and walled-in thick with bodies. A chorus of stamping and ringing approached from the distance, a noise like a herd of cows falling off a cliff, so we took our place amongst the spectators and prepared for the parade.
Other popular festivities here include the Day of St. On St. But watching a man in archaic folk costume pretend to impregnate another man — him dressed as a woman, in wig and burlap dress — using a colossal wooden phallus… well, that certainly takes some beating. As the parade rolled past and around us, a whole pantheon of Jungian archetypes swaggered by; there were bears and demons, men in drag, witches, brides and pantomime priests.
Two wool-clad figures in owl masks staggered by and veered into the crowds, stamping their staffs and prodding at passers-by. I briefly pictured him sat in an office Monday to Friday, suit and tie, waiting for the weekend. Of course, much of the symbolism here was plain to see. The bawdy fertility rites, the spirits and demons, the micro-dramas enacted by allegorical characters… in fact, it reminded me a lot of something we have back home: the mummers.
The mumming traditions of Britain are ancient dramatic customs, held in the winter and forgotten by all but a few strange, bearded men. Some mummer organisations trace the history of these plays to BC, with roots in the Roman Festival of Saturnalia: a tribute to Saturn, protector of crops, the god of time and death and new beginnings. Long ago, druids would perform rites on the winter solstice intended to resurrect the ailing sun. At Samhain, meanwhile, the Celts believed that the veil between worlds was at its thinnest and evil spirits could visit the living; so they dressed in terrifying costumes to protect themselves.
With folk traditions like these in mind, I felt I understood something of the visual language of the kukeri; the universal pantomime of fertilisation, death and rebirth. The players here were different though, their symbolism harder to deduce — while here and there, pop culture was mingling with ancient tradition. A group from Macedonia waddled past us, dressed as cartoon characters; a butcher with cleaver in hand leered at us from behind a Guy Fawkes mask. Weaving an erratic route through the crowds, past stilted green men and roaming gypsy bands, through market stalls of carved wood souvenirs and around beer gardens where wine was splashed and poured from oversized flagons, at last we reached the final arena.
The parade spilled out into a square, and teams who had swaggered and danced and rolled though the streets of Pernik now suddenly fell into ordered rank and file. There are two distinct plays that feature these characters, two annual observances, and virtually unlimited variations in between. Blacked-up transvestites took their places alongside emperors and crones — one of each to each group just like chess pieces freshly set on the board — and the plays began.
That day in Pernik, the rituals were all over the place.
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Different groups interpreted different traditions and it was only later, when I came to reading more about the kukeri, that I was able to discern one story from another. The cast list represents a wedding party: with a bride and groom, gypsies and musicians, a priest, a dancing bear and its trainer; mothers- and fathers-in law, and an army of wedding guests.
All parts in this ensemble are traditionally played by men — even the bride. In each home they enter the priest conducts a wedding ceremony; and in the process, blessing everyone and everything beneath the roof. The symbolism of bread and wine here comes from the same place as the Catholic communion; ancient pagan tokens symbolic of flesh and blood.
After the home visits, the kukeri take to the streets to perform their main ritual; a public wedding ceremony that gives way to drinking, dancing and widespread festivities. In some versions of the ceremony fires are lit, and participants leap through the flames in order to purify themselves, body and soul. It is a performance piece, a mystery play of sorts in which each player bears a strong, symbolic connection to some archetypal aspect of nature.
As such, the ritual is designed to bind the microcosm and macrocosm by telling a human story that echoes the greater, universal drama. The Kukerovden ritual includes a tsar and a human couple — sometimes old, sometimes young — along with a team of attendant kukers. In an act of bawdy pantomime, the groom or grandfather impregnates his bride or elderly female companion. Meanwhile the kukeri charge and dance; armed with swords and red-tipped, phallic staffs, maces and weaving tools.
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