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Author: Ekim Bonchev


Founders of Bulgarian geology

Two bright stars and great scientists appeared in the dawn of Bulgarian geology. The Frenchman Ami Boué (1794-1881) was doubtlessly a pioneer in the geological investigation of the Balkan terrains. In the pantheon of Bulgarian geology he stands beside the Bulgarian George Zlatarski (1854-1909). The creative activities of those two prominent explorers, whose life was separated by 60 years, were linked in an outstanding way with the history of Bulgarian science, and particularly, of Bulgarian geology.

Ami Boué was born in Hamburg, of a family of French Huguenots who had emigrated from Bordeaux. He studied in Bern, Geneva, Paris, then became a medicine graduate at the University of Edinburgh, and finally devoted himself to geology. He conducted investigations all over Europe (excluding Scandinavia) and was probably the first scientist who might be considered as an European geologist. After extensive preparation in 1836 A. Boué went on his first expedition in the Balkan Peninsula where he examined mainly its western parts.

During the next year, irrespective of the plague epidemic in the Balkans, A. Boué began his second expedition in those lands. At that time he explored mostly the present territory of Bulgaria, expanding his studies to the southeast of Istanbul.

A. Boué fulfilled his third trip in 1838 by visiting Serbia, Albania, Western Macedonia and Thessalia. In 1840 A. Boué published his capital work “La Turquie d’Europe” in four volumes. The geological section of this compilation “Esquisse geologique de la Turquie d’Europe” comprised 190 pages and actually laid the foundations of Bulgarian geology. It was translated in Serbian and German languages whereas the French version contained one geological map.

Apart from the comprehensive geological observations A. Boué presented in this work results from his studies on the geography, nature, vegetation and fauna of European Turkey, as well as its population, towns and villages, archeological sites, fortifications, etc. Much information regarding agriculture, trade, administration, road network, army and police, slavery in the empire, religions and so on, was also given. This capital work of A. Boué was practically a genuine encyclopedia about the European part of the Turkish empire for the first half of the XIX century.

The birth of George Zlatarski (1854) coincided with the climax in the investigation activity of A. Boué. He was born in Veliko Tarnovo in the family of a teacher (Nikola Zlatarski). G. Zlatarski studied in his native town, the Istanbul Lyceum, and finally Zagreb. In May 1880 he graduated at the Zagreb University and returned to his liberated fatherland.

On 1 June 1880 G. Zlatarski was appointed as geologist-mineralogist at the Ministry of Finances with the task “to prospect for mineral resources and examine the geological structure of the country”.

The first work of G. Zlatarski was “Ores in Bulgaria” — description of minerals from domestic deposits. It was followed by a number of publications treating the regional geology and stratigraphy of Bulgaria. Among the outstanding works of the first Bulgarian geologist one can mention the following summaries — The Triassic system, The Jurassic system, The Lower Cretaceous, The Upper Cretaceous, The Miocene in Bulgaria, Geological map in scale 1:300 000, as well as his posthumously published work “Geology of Bulgaria”.

Although G. Zlatarski came about 60 years after A. Boué, both of them were poorly related in terms of the terrain and geological systems they studied. However, there are still common features between the two prominent geologists — brilliant education, command of the major European languages, broad contacts with the European science elite, high erudition, vigour and self-organization, diligence and dedication to science, ever burning ambition to follow new horizons of knowledge and readiness for self-sacrifice. These are the real founders of Bulgarian geology.



Geological Institute at Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

For sixty years now the Geological Institute has been a leading research organization among the Earth sciences institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Basic and applied research studies for all the most important areas of Bulgarian geology are performed in the Institute. In the last decade the Geological Institute has developed as the largest national research and expert scientific organization in geology. Here the classical geological disciplines, as well as, the current challenges in the field of geo-science are successfully integrated. The main research activities in the Institute are directed to study of the geo-environment of the Bulgarian territory aiming to support the sustainable development of contemporary society and harmonic safe control of the issues associated with geohazards.

From the first years till now, side by side with the research activities closely related to the needs of the national economy and society, the scientists of the Institute have distributed their knowledge in university education and in international research collaboration. The scientists of the Institute have been, and still are among the leading university lecturers, supervising a significant number of M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. Presently, the Geological Institute has delegated experts in more than 20 international scientific and expert organizations.

The Geological Institute was founded in 1947. After only a few years it was recognized as a research organization of national importance where the scientific basis of a complex study of the geology of Bulgaria in all main geological disciplines — paleontology, stratigraphy, tectonics, mineralogy, geochemistry, petrology, hydrogeology and engineering geology had been established. The creative academic environment introduced by the first directors, Prof. Georgi Bonchev and Prof. Strashimir Dimitrov, attracted almost all famous Bulgarian researchers of geology into the Institute: Ekim Bonchev, Ivan Kostov, Todor Nikolov, Vasil Tzankov, Boyan Kamenov, Minko Minkov, Hristo Spasov, and Iordanka Mincheva. The consistent growth of the scientific qualification, expertise and competency of the researchers was an essential basis for the leading role of the Geological Institute in the implementation of almost all geological programmes, studies and projects of national importance during the second half of the last century. Such were the composition of different types of maps — 1) geological, tectonic, hydrogeological and gravimetric maps of Bulgaria in scale 1:200 000; 2) geological, metallogenic, engineering geological; 3) geological hazard maps of Bulgaria in scale 1:500 000; 4) map of the seismic zonation of Bulgaria in scale 1:1 000 000; 5) compilation and publishing of 92 sheets of Geological Map of Bulgaria in scale 1:100 000 with explanatory notes; 6) elaboration and publishing of the Fossils of Bulgaria (15 volumes and subvolumes), Stratigraphical Codex of Bulgaria, etc; 7) formation and development of the scientific bases for the utilization of the national mineral sources of raw materials; 8) advancing the theory of the underground hydrodynamics and regional studies of the groundwater characteristics; 9) highly qualified consultancy during the construction of some of the largest dams and other hydroengineering structures — such as, Iskar, Golyam Beglik, and Belmeken dams; 10) many other important for the national industry enterprises — such as, Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, Maritsa Iztok Thermo Power Plant, and Devnya Chemical Plant.

Soon after the establishment of the Institute a number of scientific journals and magazines began to be published. Firstly, the Proceedings of the Geological Institute were published in the period of 1951-1974, transferred later on into six specialized series. During the period 1959-1966 works on the Geology of Bulgaria consisting of five specialized series were published. Currently the Geological Institute publishes two journals — "Geologica Balcanica" and "Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Petrology". In addition the "Review of the Bulgarian Geological Society" is co-published with the Bulgarian Geological Society. Nowadays the Geological Institute employs around 160 people. The research activities are pointed in two major scientific priorities, both are closely related and complement one another:

1 - Regional studies in order to achieve a complex geological knowledge for the territory of Bulgaria, the Balkan Peninsula and the Eastern Mediterranean, based on the classical geological disciplines: stratigraphy, sedimentology, geotectonics, regional geology, geochemistry, paleontology, mineralogy and petrography.

2 - Geoecological investigations, that study and estimate the geohazard processes directed toward reducing the risk and to support the sustainable development of the country. These activities involve studies in seismotectonics, hydrogeology, engineering geology, environmental geotechnics and geochemistry.

The structure of the Institute consists of:

— Department of Paleontology, Stratigraphy and Sedimentology;

— Department of Geotectonics and Regional geology;

— Department of Mineralogy and Mineral resources;

— Department of Geochemistry and Petrography;

— Department of Hydrogeology;

— Department of Geohazards;

— Department of Environmental Geotechnics;

From the position of the leading national organization in geological investigations, with its highly qualified and experienced staff, the Geological Institute executes extensive applied research and consulting activities. Recently these activities have an increasingly essential role not only because they provide additional funding for a better running of the Institute, including maintenance of the laboratory equipment and support of the fundamental studies, but more importantly the accomplishing of these activities is clear evidence of the significance of the Geological Institute for the Bulgarian society and economy and that the research of the Institute is fulfilling the present-day requirements and needs of the country.



Addendum: We wish to make few commentaries on the early institutional history of Geological science in Bulgaria. Prof. Georgi Zlatarski was one of the founding fathers of Sofia University and its second constituent faculty — the "Physico-Mathematical Faculty". The Institute of Geology functioned since the inception of this faculty (1894), and has integrated its teaching curriculum within the "Department of Natural Sciences", sic. Therefore, the agenda of the classical geological disciplines (stratigraphy, sedimentology, geotectonics, regional geology, geochemistry, paleontology, mineralogy and petrography) were included in the course of the students of natural sciences at the Sofia University.

The death of G. Zlatarski in 1909 left a gap in the university circles for some time, but after 1923 there was a new resurgence in the discipline. This coincided with the establishment of the Bulgarian Geological Society (28 February 1925) and its publishing organ — "Zeitschrift der Bulgarischen Geologischen Gesellschaft". As seen from the Statute of the Society, participating members were all leading geologists in the country from the period between the World Wars:

— Prof. Georgi Bonchev, specialized in mineralogy and petrography. He created a register of minerals in Bulgaria with list of mineral species, varieties and synonyms; altogether, some 1264 items has been classified and his work was continued post-war by his substitute and successor Prof. Ivan Kostov.

— Prof. Stefan Bonchev, specialized in geotectonics and regional geology. Although wearing same names these two professors are seemingly unrelated and have different genealogy, the latter being from Gabrovo and the former from Jeravna. The direct successor of Stefan Bonchev is his son Ekim, author of the book at hand and long years titular at the Institute of Geology. Prof. Ekim Bonchev's theory of the Kraishtide brought him world fame as he explained the early geological history of the tectonic plates in the Balkan Peninsula.

— Prof. Petar Bakalov, specialized in paleontology and sedimentology. His heritage is not well studied, while he was contributing author to the multi-volume monograph series "Fossils in Bulgaria" from the 1950s and 1960s. The contributions of P. Bakalov are numerous and he remains authority in the Natural Sciences, per se. He was the first to create a theory of extinct species on the Balkans and proved it with his many early finds. While his paleontological discoveries sounded as sensation in the first half of the 20th century, nowadays the geological map of Bulgaria provides a fuller taxonomy on flora and fauna from past ages. Further details should be found at paleontological sites: 1) Deinotherium from Ezerovo, Asenovgrad district; 2) Mammuthus from Galovo, Lom district; 3) Equidae and Girraffidae from Hadjidimovo, Gotse Delchev district; 4) Mosasaurus and Ornithosaurus from Drashan, Vratza district. As it goes we could logically expect fossiliferous finds from early hominids or Homo Erectus specimens, since the geological map of Bulgaria and neighboring Georgia are much identical. Recently at Dmanisi, near capital Tbilisi, were excavated the remains of hominid which gave on Palaeomagnetic Time Scale a period of 1.7 million years, which is complementary to the Olduvai Gorge geological stratum, ditto.


Pictures 1 & 2: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). Prof. Georgi Bonchev (1866-1955) and Prof. Stefan Bonchev (1870-1947).


(ii). "Zeitschrift der Bulgarischen Geologischen Gesellschaft" and the Statute of the Society (28 February 1925).



Copyright © 2009 by the author.