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OBITUARIES : Georgi Kitov, 1943 - 2008

Bulgarian archaeologist was an expert on the ancient Thracian culture

September 25, 2008|From the Associated Press

Georgi Kitov, an archaeologist who was an expert on the treasure-rich Thracian culture of antiquity, died while excavating a temple in central Bulgaria considered to be one of his greatest discoveries, his family said. He was 65.

Kitov died of a heart attack Sept. 14 during the excavation of a large Thracian temple surrounded by lavishly furnished graves near the Bulgarian village of Starosel, according to his wife, Diana Dimitrova.

Along with other sensational finds over the last 16 years, the temple, unearthed by Kitov in 2000, brought him international attention.

His discoveries include two 5th century B.C. gold funerary masks -- one weighing a pound -- from the Shipka Valley in central Bulgaria, a bronze head from a statue of a Thracian ruler, gold and silver jewelry, and a complete set of bronze armor.

But he also was criticized for using bulldozers in some of his digs.

Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov described Kitov as "a phenomenon" in archaeology. "Many disagreed with his methods, but his great discoveries will be remembered by Bulgarians," Ovcharov said.

Kitov compared the previously little-known Thracian civilization with that of ancient Greece. But unlike the Greeks, the Thracians had no written language and so left no records.

"We found indisputable evidence that the Thracian civilization was at least equal to the ancient Greek one," Kitov said in 2004. "In fact, we proved that Thracians were coauthors of the ancient culture, which often is called Hellenistic by mistake."

First mentioned in Homer's "Iliad" as allies of Troy, the Thracians were an Indo- European nomadic people who settled in the central Balkans about 5,000 years ago. They were conquered by Rome in the 1st century and assimilated by invading Slav peoples in the 6th century.

Fierce warriors and horse-breeders, the Thracians also were skilled goldsmiths. They established a powerful kingdom in the 5th century B.C. Its capital was thought to be Seutopolis, whose ancient ruins lie under a large artificial lake near Shipka, in an area dubbed the Bulgarian Valley of Kings for its many rich tombs.

Some archaeologists criticized Kitov for using heavy machinery in his digs. Kitov defended his high-speed technique by saying it was necessary to keep ahead of looters.

Some archaeologists also accused him of failing to adequately document or publish his finds. In 2001, Bulgarian authorities rescinded his excavation permit for a year for allegedly digging without permission.

Kitov was born March 1, 1943, in the southwestern town of Dupnitsa. He earned a history degree at the University of Sofia and studied art history at St. Petersburg State University.

He is survived by his wife and 9-year-old daughter.

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