Posts Tagged With: Bulgaria

Varna Man and the Wealthiest Grave of the 5th Millennium BC…..


Varna Man

In the 1970s, archaeologists in Bulgaria stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis from the 5th millennium BC containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered near the modern-day city of Varna.  But it was not until they reached grave 43 that they realized the real significance of the finding. Inside burial 43 were the remains of a high status male and unfathomable riches – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.

Most people have heard of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, which are all noted for being the earliest known civilizations to feature urbanization, organized administration, and cultural innovation. But few have heard of the mysterious civilization that emerged on the shores of lakes of the Black Sea some 7,000 years ago in Bulgaria.

The Varna culture, as it has come to be known, was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts. Varna is also now home to the largest known prehistoric necropolis in south-eastern Europe, which reflects a richness in cultural practices, complex funerary rites, an ancient belief system, and the capacity to produce exquisite and expertly-crafted goods. It has come to be known as the cradle of civilization in Europe.

The Rise of the Varna Culture

Evidence suggests that it was between 4600 and 4200 BC, when gold smithing first started in Varna. As advances were made, and craftsmen mastered metallurgy of copper and gold, the inhabitants now had something extremely valuable to trade. Increased contacts with neighbours both north and south eventually opened up trade relations within the Black Sea and Mediterranean region, which was of great importance for the development of the society. The deep bay, along which the settlements of Varna, provided a comfortable harbor for ships sailing across the Black Sea and Varna became a prosperous trading center.

Increased trading activity allowed the metallurgists to accumulate wealth and very quickly, a societal gap developed with metallurgists at the top, followed by merchants in the middle, and farmers making up the lower class. Incredible discoveries made at a nearby cemetery also suggest that Varna had powerful rulers or kings – but we will come back to that.

And so, the foundations had been laid for the emergence of a powerful and flourishing culture, whose influence permeated the whole of Europe for thousands of years to come.

Discovering ancient Varna

The first evidence of Varna’s ancient civilization came in the form of tools, vessels, utensils, and figurines made from stone, flint, bone, and clay. Then an incredible chance discovery came to light, that made headlines around the world.  In October, 1972, excavator operator Raycho Marinov stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis containing the oldest gold artifacts ever discovered. It was to become one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Bulgaria. Extensive excavations were launched under the direction of Mihail Lazarov (1972–1976) and Ivan Ivanov (1972–1991), revealing for the first time the magnificent civilization of Varna.

More than 300 graves were uncovered in the necropolis, and between them over 22,000 exquisite artifacts were recovered, including 3,000+ items made from gold with a total weight of 6 kilograms. Other precious relics found within the graves included copper, high-quality flint, stone tools, jewellery, shells of Mediterranean mollusks, pottery, obsidian blades, and beads.

Golden objects found in the necropolis.

Golden objects found in the necropolis. Source: Wikipedia

Analysis of the graves revealed that the Varna culture had a highly structured society – elite members of society were buried in shrouds with gold ornaments sewn into the cloth wrappings and their graves were laden with treasures, including gold ornaments, heavy copper axes, elegant finery, and richly decorated ceramics, while others had simple burials with few grave goods.

Grave 43

While there were many elite burials uncovered, there was one in particular that stood out amongst the rest – grave 43.  Inside grave 43, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a high status male who appears to have been a ruler/leader of some kind – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.  The male was buried with a scepter – a symbol of high rank or spiritual power – and wore a sheath of solid gold over his penis.

The burial is incredibly significant as it is the first known elite male burial in Europe.  Prior to this, it was the women and children who received the most elaborate burials. Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian-American archaeologist, who was well-known for her claims that Neolithic sites across Europe provided evidence for matriarchal pre-Indo-European societies, suggested that it was the end of the 5th millennium BC when the transition to male dominance began in Europe. Indeed, in the Varna culture, it was observed that around this time, men started to get the better posthumous treatment.

A burial at Varna, with some of the world's oldest gold jewellery.

A burial at Varna, with some of the world’s oldest gold jewellery. Source: Wikipedia

Complex Funerary Rites

The burials in the Varna necropolis have also offered a lot more than the precious artifacts found within them and discoveries relating to social hierarchies; the features of the graves have also provided key insights into the religious beliefs and complex funerary practices of this ancient civilization.

It became apparent to researchers that the males and females were laid out in different positions within the graves – males were laid out on their backs, while females were placed in a foetal position. But most surprising of all, was the discovery that some graves contained no skeleton at all, and these ‘symbolic graves’ were the richest of them all in terms of the amount of gold and other treasures found within them. Some of these symbolic graves, or cenotaphs, also contained human-sized masks made of unbaked clay placed in the position where the head would have been.

Human-sized clay head found at Varna necropolis.

Human-sized clay head found at Varna necropolis. Photo source.

The graves contained the clay masks were also found to contain gold amulets in the shape of women placed in the position where the neck would have been. These amulets, associated with pregnancy and childbirth, indicate that the ‘burials’ were those of females. Further evidence of this is the fact that there were no battle-axes found in these cenotaphs, but each of them had a copper pin, a flint knife and a spindle whorl.

Replica of a symbolical burial of an antropomorphous face made from clay. The original was found at the Varna Chalkolithic Necropolis (grave 2) and dates to the fourth millennium BC.

Replica of a symbolical burial of an antropomorphous face made from clay. The original was found at the Varna Chalkolithic Necropolis (grave 2) and dates to the fourth millennium BC. Photo source: Wikipedia

The Downfall and Legacy of the Varna Culture

By the end of the fifth millennium BC, the once strong and powerful Varna culture began to disintegrate. It has been hypothesized that the downfall of the Varna was the result of a combination of factors including climate change, which turned large areas of arable land into marshes and swamps, as well as the incursion of horse-riding warriors from the steppes.

Although the Varna civilization did not leave any direct descendants, the members of this ancient culture did leave behind many lasting legacies and set the stage for the emergence of subsequent civilizations throughout Europe. Their skills in metallurgy were unprecedented in Europe and indeed throughout the world, and their society demonstrated many features of a highly advanced and developed civilization. They also developed the societal structure of a centralized authority – a person or institution to monitor and ensure the proper functioning of the society.  All the fundamental principles of modern society had been found – a model of civilization that we still follow to this day.

Read more: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/varna-man-and-wealthiest-grave-5th-millennium-bc-002798#ixzz3X8O5OO4m
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Ancient Thracian gold hoard unearthed in Bulgaria……




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Bulgarian archaeologists unearthed ancient golden artefacts, including bracelets with snake heads, a tiara with animal motifs and a horse head piece during excavation works at a Thracian tomb in northern Bulgaria, they said on Thursday.
The new golden artefacts are dated back to the end of the fourth or the beginning of the third century BC and were found in the biggest of 150 ancient tombs of a Thracian tribe, the Getae, that was in contact with the Hellenistic world.
The findings also included a golden ring, 44 applications of female figures as well as 100 golden buttons.
“These are amazing findings from the apogee of the rule of the Getae,” said Diana Gergova, head of the archaeologist team at the site of the ancient Getic burial complex situated near the village of Sveshtari, some 400 km northeast from Sofia.
“From what we see up to now, the tomb may be linked with the first known Getic ruler Cothelas,” said Gergova, a renown researcher of Thracian culture with the Sofia-based National Archaeology Institute.
One of the tombs there, known as the Tomb of Sveshtari, is included in the World Heritage List of U.N. education and culture agency, UNESCO, for its unique architectural decor with half-human, half-plant female figures and painted murals.
The Thracians, ruled by a powerful warrior aristocracy rich in gold treasures, inhabited an area extending over modern Romania and Bulgaria, northern Greece and the European part of Turkey from as early as 4,000 BC.
They lived on the fringes of the Greek and Roman civilizations, often intermingling and clashing with the more advanced cultures until they were absorbed into the Roman Empire around 45 AD.
Archaeologists have discovered a large number of artefacts in Bulgaria’s Thracian tombs in recent decades, providing most of what is known of their culture, as they had no written language and left no enduring records.

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Europe’s oldest prehistoric town unearthed in Bulgaria….



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Archaeologists in Bulgaria say they have uncovered the oldest prehistoric town found to date in Europe.

The walled fortified settlement, near the modern town of Provadia, is thought to have been an important centre for salt production.

Its discovery in north-east Bulgaria may explain the huge gold hoard found nearby 40 years ago.

Archaeologists believe that the town was home to some 350 people and dates back to between 4700 and 4200 BC.

That is about 1,500 years before the start of ancient Greek civilisation.

The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks, which were traded and used to preserve meat.

Salt was a hugely valuable commodity at the time, which experts say could help to explain the huge defensive stone walls which ringed the town.
“The huge walls around the settlement, which were built very tall and with stone blocks… are also something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in south-east Europe so far,” he told AFP.

Similar salt mines near Tuzla in Bosnia and Turda in Romania help prove the existence of a series of civilisations which also mined copper and gold in the Carpathian and Balkan mountains during the same period.

BBC Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says this latest discovery almost certainly explains the treasure found exactly 40 years ago at a cemetery on the outskirts of Varna, 35km (21 miles) away, the oldest hoard of gold objects found anywhere in the world.

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