By Richard D. Flavin
*A previous version of this article appeared as "The Karanovo Zodiac," by Richard D. Flavin, Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, Vol. 20, 1991 (released 1992), pp. 37-42. I'd like to thank Prof. Steve Williams for commenting on an early draft that though the "topic is fantastic," I didn't "...claim anything fantastic!" Also, I'd like to acknowledge the late Dr. Barry Fell for accepting the article and using an image of the 'stamp seal' as the cover for ESOP #20, as well as Bill Rudersdorf for his advice, editing, and original layout.
The Karanovo Stamp Seal, © 1991 by Vladimir Vitanov.
Karanovo 'stamp seal' is variously
regarded as a series of Chalcolithic Bulgarian decorations ,
"proto-writing" which is not part of any "recognizable codified system"
and "signs consisting of straight lines ... incised between the cross
of a quartered disk."  I here propose that the incised
characters from Karanovo bear a remarkable resemblance to the
which make up the western zodiac, in a somewhat sequential order, and
very well be the earliest attempt to map the
Epigraphers remain perplexed concerning such ancient European inscriptions as the Azillian signary c.8000 B.C.E. from southern France , the Tartaria tablets from Romania and the 'proto-writing' from Gradeshnitsa, Bulgaria dated before 4000 B.C.E., examples of the so-called 'Linear Old European Script' , and such Cretan curiosities as the Phaistos Disk and Minoan Linear A.  Academics from various disciplines have attempted obscure and occult interpretations of the above mentioned examples, and while some interpretations will perhaps be borne out as further research and discoveries continue, at this time all interpretations must remain unverifiable because of the sheer burden of linguistic requirements should anyone claim to be able to 'read' these ancient incised characters.
In this paper I will seek to demonstrate the astronomical mapping values of the Karanovo incised characters, free from any temptation at claiming to be able to 'read' the characters as constituting elements of a language. In my opinion the Karanovo characters are not a mysterious script awaiting decipherment, but rather the earliest map of sequential constellations yet discovered.
The Karanovo characters are incised on a clay disk 6 cm in diameter and 2 cm thick, with a handle 2 cm long. The disk was discovered in the remains of a house leveled by fire; an occurrence which slightly scorched the disk, but ultimately may have contributed to its fine state of preservation. 
Karanovo is the name of a large tell in the Maritsa Valley, near the modern city of Nova Zagora in central Bulgaria. The site contains evidence of several stratigraphic layers of habitation. The incised disk was uncovered at 'level VI', a level scholars disagree as to its relative dating and cultural categorization. Makkay associated 'level VI' with the 'Vinca-Plocnik C' phase and dated the level to 2600-2300 B.C.E., and Gimbutas made the correspondence between Karanovo VI and the 'Gumelnita' phase, advancing an earlier date of c. 4800 BC.  Today, with the use of dendrochronology, most scholars support Gimbutas' dating.
Rather than choose between various nominal headings, in this paper I'll refer to those who produced the Karanovo 'stamp seal' as Ancient East Balkans (henceforth simply East Balkans), and leave further classification to others. 
The East Balkan culture is fast emerging as a metallurgical and fairly complex agricultural society; nonmilitant, as no fortifications are found until a much later period, and near the categorization of a 'true' civilization, were not the culture inhibited by the apparent lack of a script or writing, a conventional mark in the scholarly definition of what is and what is not a 'true' civilization.  Even without the ability to produce a recognizable script or writing, the East Balkan culture appears to have attained an advanced state, with only academic semantics preventing the designation of civilization being conferred on this most ancient and advanced culture.
That the East Balkan culture could have produced a nearly accurate map of the ecliptical constellations in their sequential order is not near as surprising as the fact that this suggestion has not been offered before. What is of importance here is the ability of an ancient culture to produce such a map of the constellations and the ability of a 'modern' culture (our own) to consider it.
developments in the field of archaeoastronomy
have inspired a fresh appreciation for the near scientific reasoning
of the ancients. Examples of naked-eye astronomy and its
can now be discerned in several of the megalithic tombs along the
and Mediterranean; the sun rising over the famous heel stone at
at the summer solstice being perhaps part of a related
Both Old and New World astronomers watched the skies and recorded celestial phenomena in prehistoric times. It is rapidly becoming clear that such near scientific procedures as simple tabulation, realistic mapping and notation, as well as complex calculations and prediction were not beyond the scope of the preliterates. 
It is in this context I will argue for the Karanovo constellation map: that an advanced agricultural society such as the East Balkan should have produced a near accurate star-map comes as an act of verification and should not be subjected to vilification from the school of thought that would teach us that all preliterates in north and central Europe were savage barbarians.
We know very little about prehistoric and early historic times; the when-where-why-how of such cerebral constructs as numbering, the calendar, the musical scale, and the various astronomical traditions which combined to give rise to the zodiac are still elusive. That these enlightened breakthroughs occurred is not disputed; the previously mentioned when-where-why-how are still matters seemingly lost to time.
Sumero-Babylonians and the ancient
Egyptians both possessed constellation traditions at early dates, and
is not unimaginable that the East Balkan culture (should
dates prove erroneous) could have absorbed this envisioning of the
through either common trade or some process of stimulus
However, the advanced state of the East Balkan culture should allow for
an independent invention of a sequential constellation tradition as
the near scientific accomplishments of a near civilization. At
time, the introduction of a tradition of star-mapping into
In 1969, the Bulgarian archaeologist, V. I. Georgiev, established the sectional vocabulary for the discussion of the Karanovo clay disk.  The component distinctions consist of: 1) upper right zone, 2) lower right quadrant, 3) lower left zone, and 4) upper left quadrant. Georgiev discerned the head of an animal (possibly of a horse, dog, or roe) at the top of the upper right zone. I believe he correctly identified the figure as a horse, though he was incorrect in all further identifications.
As can be noticed by the disorder of the upper left quadrant, not every discernment may be correct. Still, the basic pattern of a realistic, sequential map of the ecliptical constellations appears. I can only hope further study will ensue and the Karanovo "zodiac" may be better understood against its preliterate background.
J., "A chalcolithic stamp seal from Karanovo, Bulgaria," Kadmos
10 (1971), 1-9.
Functions of A Chalcolithic Sequential Constellation Map
With the model of the Karanovo Zodiac arises the necessary conjecture as to the possible uses of a sequential constellation map. It must be emphatically stated at the outset that the following, as in any workup, consists of proposals concerning the motivations for the design of the Karanovo Zodiac in terms of 'alternative models' only, and should not be interpreted as the advancement of a definitive solution.
However, mention must be made of Makkay's bold suggestion that the 'stamp-seal', which I refer to as the Karanovo Zodiac, may have been used as a transient stamp on skin rather than on clay objects as with later Mesopotamian stamp seals. In consideration of this advancement (as well as applications of a 'stamp-seal' being used with baked-items), a religious significance is not beyond conjecture. Much work needs to be done with this approach.
The Karanovo Zodiac may be regarded as a prestige item: the rarity of incised material indicates this conclusion. As a prestige item, the clay disk upon which the Karanovo Zodiac is incised, recorded some tradition deemed by its owner to be of importance and deserving of its continued preservation and, perhaps, occupying a position of prominence in the house where it was discovered.
As an item devoted to 1) keeping of time, 2) management of agricultural cycles, and 3) a tabulation process, the Karanovo Zodiac seems to become something akin to static art., in that it would be far removed from the day to day processes of running a farm, telling time, or figuring out how to get from the Bosporus to Majorca. The Karanovo Zodiac as clay art is a model empty of any respect for the (then) growing areas of science and religion.
The development of 'religion' in Europe begins, possibly, with the Trois-Freres cave in france and its "great sorcerer." Art-Science-Religion seems indistinguishable from one another at such an early date. It is in this misty dawning of early higher thought, the Upper Paleolithic, the inevitable origins of this Chalcolithic sequential constellation map may rest, well beyond our reach.
Despite the advances of Bronze Age Bactrians, Sumero-Babylonians, and the Egyptians, the Karanovo Zodiac, because of its earlier date, begs the recognition of a 'native' codification and implementation of a sequential constellation map by the East Balkans.
At this time, the Karanovo Zodiac requires an understanding as a realistic, sequential constellation map, which predates anything yet identified. I hope this model will inspire fruitful investigations of the origin of constellation traditions and cultural exchanges at the dawn of written records.
Zodiac and The Alphabet:
c. 1992, 2006 R. D.