Professor Dr. Lolita Nikolova is one of the leading prehistorians in Bulgaria, a world-renowned archaeologist, cultural anthropologist, genealogist and artist. For some time he worked as a field archaeologist in our country. He has lived in the United States since 2000, where he teaches archeology and cultural anthropology.


In 2017, the International Institute of Anthropology honored her with a Certificate of Distinguished Chief Genealogist and World Leader for Humanity, as well as for her outstanding contribution to international genealogy in global society. Dr. Lolita Nikolova is the author of numerous scientific papers, articles and presentations for authoritative world publications.


Professor Nikolova, you are a very famous scientist. Every good archeology student in Bulgaria knows your name and is aware of your great contributions to the development of Bulgarian archeological science. Would you tell the curious readers of Bulgarka magazine the most interesting and remarkable of your work as an archeologist in Bulgaria?


Thank you for starting our conversation with archeology, an area of ​​knowledge that is extremely popular in our country. My interest in it took shape when I was working as an intern at archeological excavations at the medieval fortress near the village of Debnevo, Lovech, in the far 1979. Later, during one of the courses in archeology at the University, I saw an ornament in an album on Thracian art, defined as an Eastern motif - "The Tree of Life." I was wondering what this Eastern motif in Thracian art does. This interest made me alien to the world, since I almost lived in the National Library.


It turned out that the Tree of Life is a universal symbol, and as I studied it, I entered not only the mysteries of ancient archeology but also into a new area of ​​time - the semiotics of culture (the science of signs, of their nature, of functioning and organization in signs systems). Working on my diploma thesis showed my interest in the study of the genesis and evolution of cultural phenomena. The Tree of Life is not the only Eastern motif in Thracian art. It has a different artistic realization in the Thracian torreutics (embossed metal artwork) related to the cosmological representations of the Thracians.


I specifically researched the breastplates. My specialization in archeology has helped me look for a relationship between function and location. I concluded that functionally during the Hellenistic era, golden gums even displaced the breastplates. It is the gums in some cases that were placed at the funerals on the breast. With my diploma work I attended the Thracian Congress in Rotterdam (1984) and I remember that the late Professor Alexander Fall specifically noted my inclusion in the congress on the topic of semiotics of culture. But this topic had already plunged me into Prehistory and logically later became one of the winners in a Prehistoric PhD (then postgraduate) competition at the Archaeological Institute in Sofia.


My dissertation is the second significant step in archeology. I chose the theme myself. The competition had to prepare for a very serious exam for the Early Bronze Age in the Lower Danube basin. In the process of preparation, I have found that there are many gaps in the study of cultural relations between Southeast and Central Europe. Since I had dealt with Indo-European and Indo-Iranian issues at Professor Alexander Fall University's seminary, and even had a student paper on the cult of fire published, archeological evidence from the Early Bronze Age allowed me to explore different perspectives.


But again my interest in the genesis triumphed and my main contributions were to the origin of the tombstones and the burial grounds of the burnt-out. I would not have developed my hypotheses without serious preparation (and self-preparation) in archeology. For example, for the genesis of the corpse burning, I was helped by the transfer of a tomb from northeastern Bulgaria, designated Early Bronze. He was under the impression that cremation was widespread in the 3rd millennium BC. and in the Yamna culture of this region. But it was actually an early iron grave. When I went to the Early Iron Age expert Rumyana Georgieva, she confirmed my assumption (based on ceramics). I was really happy!


In order to study the tombstones, it was necessary to study in depth the prehistory of Central Europe. And for the third major dissertation problem - the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, I explored every settlement in Southeastern, Central Europe, and Northwestern Anatolia, as well as the cultures of the North Pontic regions that were relevant.


The third period as an archeologist in my life was after a successful dissertation defense when I began excavations in the Karlovo Municipality (1991-2000, intermittently), exploring prehistoric cultures in the Upper Stryam Valley. Most significant were the excavations of the early Bronze settlement in the village of Sarovka near the village of Dubene, which immediately attracted the attention of the world scientific elite, who gathered in Karlovo in 1995 for a symposium. The results of these excavations gave me the opportunity to develop a concept for the culture of the Heroes in Upper West Thrace.


Going to the United States with a green card for my academic success (2000), I continued to study the Early Bronze Age and published significant work in the Balkans and Anatolia in the 4th millennium BC. A second major scientific forum in Karlovo was organized in collaboration with Elmar Christman and published in two volumes. The topic was the early symbolic systems in Southeast Europe. I also worked on the problems of the Neolithic and the Copper Age, and my interest logically evolved into prehistory as a source for the history and theory of culture.


In Salt Lake City, Utah, I also had the opportunity to teach archeology and cultural anthropology in colleges, and my teaching expertise extended even to the history of popular culture and new important issues for world archeology. Also of importance were the invitations to participate with encyclopedic articles in which I had difficult and interesting topics on waste, cosmetics, US archeology, epidemics, and more. However, I mainly developed as an expert on European genealogy. I even worked for the world's largest genealogy company, Ancestry.


The so-called so called The "migration theory" in which Maria Gimbutas seemed to have become. According to this theory, historical periods change under the influence of migration. Some invaders come, destroy the brewed culture, and then impose their own culture on the new territory. However, you have a particular opinion on this matter and you are focusing on structural changes within the welded society. You prove that cultural changes are the result of transformations in the welded society, complemented by infiltrations of migrants, and not forced and under the pressure of any invaders. It should be noted that your opinion is confirmed by the latest research and publications: the so-called. The "transition period" between the Chalcolithic and the Bronze is really more of a "final chalcolithic" since it is part of a long process.


Are you sure you are pleased to see that your scientific findings are being validated? How do you imagine prehistoric societies evolved in our homelands through Chalcolith and Bronze, how exactly did the interaction between the refugee population and the newcomers take place?


Your questions are extremely important as they concern the early stages of our national identity - our origins. I rejoice when I see serious research on the subject - whether they supplement or update my findings. Unfortunately, the flat migration model is much easier to prove and continues to be popular not only in archeology but also in linguistics and genetics, from the perspective of Indo-European issues. The scientific voice for complex change is not very strong, and you are right - any new research I see supporting or developing my ones is a real pleasure for me.


The flat migration pattern practically kills the dialectics of the cultural process and turns history into a cake with different layers, but a dry cake - without the syrup that floods and solids these new layers. This model is therefore anti-historical, often politicized in the history of science, and unconvincing.

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The goblins in the Bulgarian folk beliefs

The goblins in the Bulgarian folk beliefs

In the ideas of the Bulgarians of the XNUMXth century, a goblin is "an evil spirit that appears as a shadow at night on large buildings." The goblins walk until the roosters sing. In the ideas of the Bulgarians of the XNUMXth century, a goblin is an "evil spirit that appears as a shadow at night on large buildings" ....

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For me as an archeologist it is easiest to give an example from Thrace in southern Bulgaria. At the end of 4 BC. the two main cultures - the Lake in the eastern parts and the Heroes - in the western ones, are already well formed. Ceramics have similarities and differences, but the most significant are the features of the funeral ritual. Communities from both cultures (which have no geographical barriers) practice burials in settlements, but there are urns buried in Heroes farther from Anatolia (northwestern Turkey), with analogies specifically in Anatolia.


4th millennium BC is a dynamic period. At that time, there were no political boundaries and Thrace was a zone of cultural and population interactions from different directions. But since no foreign primary area from which the new Early Bronze Culture is exported can be identified, the diachronic model in combination with cultural interactions, including migration, is the most logical scientific model. In other areas, such as Northeastern Bulgaria, migrations of Yamna culture groups are clearly documented. But there is no archaeological document from the Balkans that these groups are aggressive and crucial to shaping the ethnic map of the Early Bronze Age in the Balkans. On the contrary. They come and gradually lose their cultural appearance, like all immigrants coming into a foreign cultural environment, who adapt through interactions and acculturation (a modification of a group's culture as a result of meeting another culture).


In other words, the Indo-European issues, respectively its archeological aspect, today depend not so much on archaeological data but on the approach to them.

Despite your indisputable achievements, you have your moments of disappointment with the guild of archaeologists and historians in Bulgaria. How did such a confrontation come about between the eminent archaeologists of Bulgaria? If it doesn't give you too bad memories, would you say so-called. The Balingorun Affair and Its Consequences?


I'm a hedonist who doesn't like the dark colors in life. I manage to see the light even in the darkest tunnel. That's what makes me. And such a big cloud like the Balun Gourn affair is in my mind today as an experience I would rather not have but which showed me a reality that still exists today. Therefore, I do not refuse to answer your question, which is relevant.


Let me remind you that this affair is related to the discovery of Daben gold from the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC). These are ornaments found not far from the Early Bronze Age settlement of Sarovka near the village of Dabene, probably from a necropolis belonging to the settlement. This happened in 2005. It was then that I had invited Vasil Nikolov and Krum Bachvarov from the Archaeological Institute to visit Salt Lake City with a lecture at the college where I taught. And it was at the lecture that I learned that gold objects were found near Sarovka, which were also taken to the National History Museum. It was a real shock for me! I don't know how I didn't lose my ability to speak!…


At dinner, Nikolov explained to me that peasants from Dubene had come to him, who had shown him the gold objects. He had no money and sent them to Bozhidar Dimitrov. At the same time, he picked up the phone and, in my opinion, staged a conversation with Martin Hristov, who "boasted" that he had discovered many gold ornaments. This "discovery" appeared in the press after Nikolov returned to Sofia from the United States. Before, nothing like this was claimed!


Suddenly, an ugly "myth-making" began in the media, which continues today. The main fault is the current director of the Municipal Museum of History in Karlovo - Maria Deyanova, who collaborated with Hristov and Dimitrov. It did nothing to uphold the legitimate demand for the return of the treasure to Karlovo, for which there was even a petition with thousands of citizens' signatures. I even read her opinion that the treasure was of national importance and should be in NIM. In fact, the treasure is not just of national but of world importance, as are the finds from the village of Sarovka. Good thing they are still in the museum (I suppose, for my sake), as NIMs are used to offering storefronts (and they have offered me one). The findings from Sarovka would be a diamond for them.


Can the Balun Garun affair be resolved? Yes. The gold objects belong to the municipality of Karlovo and must be returned to Karlovo as soon as possible, where the materials from the early Bronze settlement are. It is a treasure of millions of euros, which is an integral part of the cultural identity of the community in the Upper Strym Valley. Karlovo is not a remote peripheral location, so that valuable items may remain inaccessible to world tourists. Exactly the opposite. Karlovo is home to one of the most visited museums in Bulgaria - the Vasil Levski House Museum, and even more students from the country compared to NIM Sofia could see the Daben gold. Money for the storage space will be found after the Karlovci agreed to sponsor excavations near the village of Vasil Levski.


I think that my relations with many Bulgarian archaeologists and rulers deteriorated precisely because of the Balingorun affair. It turned out that personal interests could defeat truth and justice. Sad!…


But there is also a fundamental problem - my firm conviction is that in order to reduce the treachery in our country, professional excavations should be limited to the most necessary rescue excavations. We need extremely well-selected scientific projects that are financially secured for world-class excavations. However, for Bulgarian archaeologists excavations are a way of making money. They always find arguments to defend numerous excavations in the summer. However, I truly believe in the young. After the screen for admission to the field of professional archaeologists, a young generation will emerge who will be ashamed of their teachers, as it is sad for us that we were taught not by professors but by associates of communist state security.


* you can read more about the Balin Gorun affair here


In the US, you are changing your field of science somewhat, moving from history and archeology to genetic genealogy and genetics. Why did you resort to this change and what made it enriching you in a purely human way? Have your views on archeology evolved in any way through your new knowledge of genealogy and genetics?


20 years of living in the US has been a real story for me. First of all, I was able to support my parents and my brother, who depend entirely on me. Mom passed away in 2009. My happy fortune took me to the professional genealogy that I basically endured. I had the opportunity to come to Europe even three times a year. I also became a college teacher. The opportunity for me to continue to study was exceptional for me. I first completed a forensic psychology degree, and then completed a PhD in Education. I even finished multimedia and became an artist.


Genetic genealogy has evolved as my interest in writing my dissertation - "Developing a Genealogy Genealogy Curriculum". For me, this topic was an opportunity to combine my expertise in prehistory and traditional archeology and to develop academic knowledge in genetic genealogy. The result went beyond my plans - I even ended up with a monograph published by a reputable New York edition in 2018. After that book came an invitation from another very reputable edition. I would like to offer my cultural theory, which I have been working on for many years and which makes my academic life meaningful and entertaining. Modern cultural theories are mainly replicas with a great dependence on theoretical heritage. 



You can find the book here

I am an empirical theorist. My theoretical conclusions are based on empirical data. For cultural theory, it is necessary to do empirical research in various fields - a difficult but not impossible task for me. I like to develop in different areas. Even now, I have completed a screenplay for a short film as part of a master's program in writing literary works in English. I am especially enriched by the periodical programs such as "Cultural Identity - Who are we?" With Evgeniy Todorov on Plovdiv TV "Trakia" and the writing of biographies and profiles. My first book was about the artist Dimitar Taushanski. I just posted in English biomemoir for the Bulgarian American designer Diana Cholakova.


I am currently writing for world-class designers because in their lives and careers, anyone can find comparable values ​​and positive examples. These are extremely talented and hardworking artists whose names, like fashion lines or perfumes, we meet every day but know very little about. For me, writing narratives is also a form of unloading from research related to Karlovo history and cultural theory. For authors, the day is determined not by what they have studied, but by how many words they have written daily for the new book or article.


Different studies help me to feel in the "sea of ​​culture, calmly floating and passing through various stormy waves", which not only do not frighten me, but give me the pleasure of overcoming it!


At present, it is very fashionable to cite genetic research as a "key" to the mystery of the origin of the Bulgarians, Slavs and Thracians. As a specialist in genealogy and genetic genetics, do you think such research can miraculously and categorically resolve various centuries-old historical disputes?


I was really excited that genetic genealogy could solve many ethnic and generic problems. And that was one of the reasons for writing a dissertation on this topic. Unfortunately, despite the claims of geneticists, genetics has a limited application to ancient history. Most of the cultural conclusions of geneticists are the result of adapting well-known and sometimes sometimes rejected cultural theories. Macro studies are superficial and may not satisfy critically-minded readers. This is also the main conclusion in my thesis - genetics is an auxiliary discipline that complements and depends exclusively on the conclusions of historians and archaeologists. Genetics are also highly dependent on the software they use. They are constantly changing their conclusions.


The secrets of the origin of the Bulgarians, Slavs and Thracians can only be revealed through complex studies and through the leading role of historians and archaeologists. Genetic haplogroups are not always a sound basis for historical conclusions and lead to superficial hypotheses that are easily disputed. However, the success of new scientific knowledge depends on the ability of historians and archaeologists to correctly and critically use genetic data. The future of ethnogenesis research lies with archaeologists and historians with the help of geneticists, not the other way around.


The problem of the origin of the Bulgarians, Slavs and Thracians has two sides: clarification of the ethnogenesis of the respective ethnic groups and what is their place in the contemporary Bulgarian gene. From a retrospective perspective (from the past), it is difficult to draw conclusions, since Bulgarians do not like to do DNA analyzes for genealogy. It really takes a lot, a lot of data. From a prospective perspective (from the past to us), the ethnic map of the Balkans is gradually changing, mainly through the dynamics of internal migration processes. Any Bulgarian can prove it with their genetic map if they have DNA analysis, for example by FamilTreeDNK. My 3-4 generation ancestors are from Greece to Northern Europe. In addition, we need an up-to-date knowledge of how to define what is ethnic and what is ethnic heritage. However, this is a theoretical area that is often politicized.


I think ethnogenesis is not a problem that can help us today solve the most important problem for our nation - values ​​that reinforce national identity. It rather divides us again, because science is not strong enough to give a definite answer. We need strong personalities in our time to unite us. And strong national consciousness is the greatest guarantee and capital of individual consciousness.


As a genealogist by profession, you have been researching and documenting cemetery tombstones. Could you tell us more about what publications you have on the topic? How do you think the future in Bulgaria is the idea of ​​mass documentation of the cemeteries in the settlements? Will this contribute to the creation of new family trees and to a better study of the ancient Bulgarian families?


It really seems sad to some that I spend so much of my life on tombs. This is my profession. But not just a genealogist. I think documenting old tombs is also an archeological task. Modern archeology is extremely developed worldwide.


Most of the cemeteries I have documented in Bulgaria, Slovenia, Greece, Italy and Moldova are related to specific projects. But I already use participation in conferences or other occasions to photograph tombstones. So I published tombstones from Paris, where I was photographed next to the grave of my favorite writer Balzac and the legendary singer Edith Piaf. I also have a book prepared for the Mcinauan Cemetery in Michigan, USA, where I undertook a pioneering genealogical study. In Bulgaria, as well as all over the world, many old tombstones are deleted every year. If a scientific project for documenting old graves in Bulgaria is developed, the genealogy and culture of Bulgaria will be greatly helped. These graves are part of our cultural identity. It is necessary to first clarify what is meant by an old grave. In principle, the criterion is the date of birth - usually before 1900. Since there are few such graves in our country, the project may be for endangered graves of ancestors born before 1920 - 1930, for example.


Genealogy is an extremely strong discipline for strengthening cultural and national identity. The interest and documentation of the graves is also a respect for our ancestors.


You have studied in Bulgaria and in the USA, you have worked in both countries in your specialty. Could you tell us the pros and cons of both sides regarding the conditions for education, development and professional realization? Which country is more to your heart? Some time ago, the late intellectual Tsvetan Todorov called himself "Bulgarian and French", can you identify yourself as a Bulgarian and an American?


It is difficult for me to speak about Bulgarian higher education, as it has probably changed a lot in the last 20 years. I received a good education in our country, as I was not only a scholarly, but I attended many lectures and initiatives outside my specific field of study. And especially valuable was my self-education - learning the branches of knowledge that were not available in our university program. But I bow to American education. This is also evident from the fact that in the USA I have completed a second master's degree, another doctoral program, and even have an associate's degree in multimedia. The latter is most indicative. We started painting without the need for preliminary preparation, and when we graduated we already participated in exhibitions.


I also felt very difficult to be an American. I think this "initiation" through celebration and oath is a barrier you go through and you can never go back. The American term is Bulgarian American. In other words, I can never be pure American, but I really feel proud to be not only Bulgarian, but also Bulgarian American. The American nation is a great nation. There are so many positive examples in this nation that help us to feel both proud and respectful of our national affiliation with them. The Bulgarian and American national examples in my mind are a bouquet of beautiful flowers that help me to always be optimistic and believe in truth and good.


Would you be involved in archeology again, for example in the preparation of theoretical works on archeology, as if there were no such papers in Bulgaria? What are you still dreaming of, are there any scientific goals you are still pursuing?


I've never stopped archeology. I always have an archaeological article that I'm working on (with deadlines). I usually publish one or two works a year, which, of course, contrasts with the past when I wrote extremely archeological articles. But now I get invitations to participate in different areas of knowledge. This helps a lot with my theoretical studies on the big question: What is culture, cultural evolution and human civilization? Coming back to your question, my theoretical work includes archeology from the perspectives of culture. I would not deal with problems like what is archeological culture, type or archeological signs of migration. To me archeology is interesting insofar as it helps me to better understand human culture. But also to show that the archeological find from 5 or 6 millennia ago is no more important than ethnographic objects than the old houses in Ancient Karlovo, for example.


Culture is unity, time creates its value. This is the meaning of my big project "In the heart of the Balkans", which I want to develop - to unite all small museums, schools and cultural institutions from Sopot, Karlovo, Kalofer, Banya, Hisarya , Strelcha, Svezhen, Starosel and others. and to create a cultural consortium in which archeology, history, ethnography, education and contemporary culture are integrated and developed as a single cultural and tourist center with no analogues in Europe and the world. In order to be a living culture, archeology must always be part of humanity's shared cultural memory. Becoming her almost a cult and the highest marker of national consciousness is the deformation of the true essence of culture.


My dream is achievable - to finish my book The Cultural Theory. But realizing this dream can take a long time.


Thanks for the interesting questions that really surprised me. Your preparation for this interview is the best example that my hope for the young generation of Bulgaria to change it completely and for good is justified and already has strong roots. Bulgarian is a wonderful innovation that pleases readers from different generations.

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