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Henrieta Todorova

25 February 1933 – 12 April 2015

Appreciation by
Bisserka Gaydarska

Henrieta Todorova

I first met Professor Todorova when I was a first year student at the training dig at Durankulak, a Late Neolithic tell settlement on the Black Sea coast, where she was the site director. We were all terrified of her—from students to deputy director—as she made no compromises with discipline, site documentation and the speed and accuracy of excavation. And yet, at times, she would take you to a cross-section and with a soft voice that we never thought she could produce, she would ask 'what do you see?' and would patiently listen and coax the right details from your muddled answer. This paradox in Henrieta Todorova's character marked her entire professional life. Undisputedly the 'Iron Lady' of Bulgarian archaeology, she commanded utter respect often bordering on fear but, if you were keen and eager to learn, there was no better teacher than her. In the strictly hierarchical etiquette of Eastern Europe, she was for everyone 'Professor Todorova'; however, she very much enjoyed the more intimate salutation 'doktore' used by us—her students, close colleagues and collaborators. Since my first year at Durankulak, our paths crossed many times, marked by disagreements and reunions. But the way I shall always remember 'The Lady' (a nickname that we used between ourselves) is when she was teaching me to read stratigraphy at the Durankulak tell.

Henrieta Todorova was born in Sofia but her first degree in history and philosophy was from the 'Jan Amos Komenski' University in Bratislava in 1954. Ten years later, she received her PhD from the Archaeological Institute at Nitra in Slovakia. This early exposure to the Central European archaeological tradition was instrumental in her later tendency to advocate approaches capturing the wider picture as opposed to the usual local Balkan quibbles. The research into the Copper Age in Bulgaria led to her professorship in Sofia in 1978. It remains even today a milestone for anyone tempted by Balkan prehistory, 35 years after its publication.

Her firm no-nonsense attitude sometimes backfired and created more enemies than friends but only those who have never experienced a socialist, male-dominated archaeological establishment would be unable to empathise. She was only the second woman to reach (in 1989) the position of Deputy Director of the Institute of Archaeology at Sofia, the institution where she was employed from 1967 to 2003. In addition, she was only the second female academic to be appointed a Fellow of the Bulgarian Academy of Science in 2004.

A passionate promoter of interdisciplinary studies, she founded the 'Problem group for interdisciplinary investigations' in 1977 at the Institute of Archaeology in Sofia and was the editor-in-chief of its journal for many years. Radiocarbon dating, palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, surveying techniques and statistical analyses are so much embedded in modern archaeological practice that it easy to forget how difficult it was for 1970s pioneers like Henrieta Todorova to introduce and apply widely in archaeology methods borrowed from other disciplines.

The list of sites investigated by Henrieta Todorova is far too long to be cited here. Among the twenty sites excavated under her leadership are key sites of Balkan prehistory such as the tells of Golyamo Delchevo, Ovcharovo, Polyanitsa and Durankulak and the cemeteries of Devnya and Durankulak. Her legacy as measured by her books and publications is enormous. Eighteen monographs and 150 articles, research papers, reviews and site-reports were published in Bulgarian, Russian, Slovakian, English and German. Among the numerous marks of esteem for her contribution of European prehistory were her fellowship of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin and her International Membership of the Leibnitz Society in Berlin.

Traditionally, Henrieta Todorova is widely acknowledged for the ceramic phases she identified, the numerous artefact typologies she developed, the chronological schemes she introduced and the many other innovations she passionately supported. For me, her biggest contribution was the transformation of Bulgarian prehistory that she inspired and worked very hard to substantiate and disseminate. Not only did she direct the excavation of three entire tells but she immediately introduced this newly acquired knowledge into narratives at various scales—from local to pan-European. She had the vision to link and cross-reference sites and artefacts and was as much at ease telling the story of the Ovcharovo tell as she was comfortable in arguing for the earliest copper metallurgy in the Balkans.

Full of ideas, energetic and inspiring, 'The Lady' was relentless in fieldwork and academic research, in leadership and publications. There will never be anyone quite like her in Bulgarian archaeology.