Medieval cemeteries have since time immemorial in archaeological scholarship been used primarily as a study tool for ethnic composition of a certain area and materialization of ethnographic idiosyncrasies in order to bridge the gap in ethnic history between the Middle Ages and the Early Modern era.
But, since the Medieval period is also a time of intensive political, economic, religious and cultural contacts, it should not come as a surprise when certain phenomena appear as commonplace, as if underpinning the grand cultural milieu of Medieval Europe.
The cist burials certainly fall into the aforementioned group as they become ubiquitous in the High Medieval Period (c. 9-12 cent.), but are still far behind the plain simple pits in term of numbers. Their dramatic escalation in numbers, observed from the separate settlement to the pan-European level in the period mentioned above, certainly poses various problems about the importance and meaning of this specific element of the burial custom.
For the purpose of this paper certain adjustments to the concept of the cist grave should be considered, i.e. the decisive property in distinguishing the graves shall be the surrounding of the pit with stone slabs or even the crudest of masonry forming a faux-sarcophagus of sorts containing the mortal remains of the deceased. Flooring shall be considered of less importance to the general concept and the surviving of lintels (“cover stones” or “lids”) is in practice too dependent on post-burial disturbances (agriculture, grave-plundering etc).
Taking the territory of present-day Northern Bulgaria (delimited by the main ridge of the Balkan mountains, the Danube and the Black Sea shore) as the main focus of research, the paper will comment on the diachronic development of the grave type and its territorial proliferation whilst inevitably considering the methodological hurdles posed by the uneven state of research in the sub-regions of the Bulgarian Lower Danube. By means of analyzing the graves of the stone-lined/cist types as complexes together with the deceased and the (lack of) inventory within the individual cemeteries and their local groupings the paper will cautiously attempt to try and tackle various problems raised by this unquestionably effort-taking care for the dead: whether any social stratification can be stipulated from them, whether they represent a general trend or are upheld as a specific sub-regional feature unifying a group of cemeteries etc.
By contrasting the Northern Bulgarian situation with other regions with specific political and economic development some preliminary conclusion will be drawn whether the chronological and territorial proliferation of this grave type is locally determined: first and foremost, of course, the geographically and culturally adjacent are of the Wallachian plain and the Danube Delta hinterland; Thrace (stressing on rural vs. urban cemeteries); the Rhodope mountain region (with its peculiar cultural continuation); the Crimea (as a doorstep and redoubt of the Byzantine oikoumene) etc.