Bulgaria: Home of Europe’s First Civilization?

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clay head found at Varna necropolis

According to archaeologists, day Bulgaria first attracted human settlement as early as the Neolithic Age, about 5000 B.C. The first known civilization in the region was that of the Thracians, whose culture reached a peak in the sixth century B.C. Because of disunity, in the ensuing centuries Thracian territory was occupied successively by the Greeks, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans. Pottery from Bulgaria has been dated to 5500 B.C. [Source: Library of Congress]

In the Valley of the Roses archeologists have excavated houses, dating back to 6000 B.C., made of plastered mud that have ovens for baking bread and making pottery. Their most advanced tool was an antler sickle impeded with blades made from pieces of chipped flint. [Source: Colin Renfrew, National Geographic, July 1980 ==]

Describing the ancient inhabitants of Bulgaria, Heredotus wrote in the 5th century B.C., "The Thracians are the most numerous nation in the world after the Indians, and if they were ruled by one man, or if they could agree among themselves, they would be invincible and by far the most powerful of all people...But they are unable to unite and it is impossible that they ever could.” ==

The first residents of Bulgaria to be recorded in the written historical record were Thracians who are believed to have been around since at least 3000 B.C. according to the archaeological record. The Thacians had no written language so all that we know about them is inferred from Greek or Roman accounts or the archeological excavations. A mound discovered near Varna, dated to 1000 B.C., contained a four wheeled chariot and the skeletons of three horses, one with silver bit and harness. Next to them was the skeleton of a woman with a spear in her chest that may have been a human sacrifice. Another grave contained a 30-year-old man with 70 bronze arrows and silver and gold armor, and a an 18-year-old woman with a golden crown and knife blade lodged in here ribs. ==

"Among the Thacians," Herodotus wrote, "it is customary for a man to have many wives; and when one of them dies, there is great rivalry between his wives, vehemently supported by their friends, as to which was best loved by the husband. She who is found worthiest of this honor is much praised...and then killed over her husband's tomb by her next of kin and buried with him. The other wives grieve for their misfortune.” ==

Good Websites Archaeology News Report archaeologynewsreport.blogspot.com ; Anthropology.net anthropology.net : archaeologica.org archaeologica.org ; Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com ; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org ; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com; Livescience livescience.com/

Bulgaria: Home of Europe’s First Civilization?

Golden amulet, 4600-4200 BC, Varna

A team of archaeologists have unearthed evidence of what may have been Europe’s first civilization at a site located near the town of Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria.According to Popular Archaeology: “Known as Yunatsite, it is a Tell (mound containing archaeological remains) about 110 meters in diameter and 12 meters high, rising above fields next to a small Bulgarian village by the same name. The Tell contains remains of an urbanized settlement dated at its earliest to the early fifth millenium B.C. [Source: Popular Archaeology, December 12, 2012 /*/]

“Directed by Yavor Boyadzhiev of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museums, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, excavators have unearthed artifacts such as weapons, Spondylus jewels, decorated fineware pottery, shards marked by characters/pictograms, and evidence of structures dated to 4900 B.C., including fortifications and a recently discovered wooden platform that was likely the floor of a building that had been destroyed by fire. /*/

“The excavations are revealing an age-old story of warfare and human cruelty. Writes Boyadzhiev, et. al. at their website: the Balkan Heritage field school “The Copper age settlement was destroyed by invaders around 4200-4100 cal. B.C. Among the ruins of the last Chalcolithic horizon are found the skeletons of its last inhabitants (mainly children and elderly men and women): a testimony of a cruel massacre. Those who survived returned and resettled for a while the devastated settlement but soon even they left it and Tell Yunatsite was abandoned for more than 1000 years”. /*/

“Research has shown that, beginning in the seventh millennium B.C., the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway or corridor through which Neolithic culture, including farming and animal husbandry, spread from Anatolia and the Near East. Beginning in the fifth millennium B.C., human populations in the central and eastern Balkans began developing metal-processing technologies, notably that of Copper, into a relatively large-scale industry for the first time in world history. The world’s oldest copper mines, for example, were found by archaeologists near Rudna glava, Serbia and Mechikladenets/Ai bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

“Moreover, writes Boyadzhiev, et. al.: “Archaeological evidence shows that in the fifth millennium BC these prehistoric cultures enjoyed a constant rise in population and wealth, meanwhile experiencing social stratification due to intensive trade with metal products, salt and other goods with the rest of prehistoric Europe and Asia. These Balkan Copper age cultures had all the characteristics of the first civilizations, including: the very first urban settlements in Europe (Tell Yunatsite, Durankulak and Provadia in Bulgaria), dense networks of settlements, “industrial” proportions of production of goods, especially metal products and salt, developed trade, distinguished social and professional stratification, pictograms and characters interpreted by some scholars as the world’s oldest script (Gradeshnitsa tablet for instance dates back to the sixth or early fifth millennium B.C.) as well as precious artifacts made of gold, pottery, bone and stone (the world’s oldest gold treasure was found in the Varna Copper age necropolis)”.

Europe’s ‘Oldest Town’ Near Varna, Bulgaria

Tell Yunasite

In 2012, a Bulgarian professor said he had found Europe’s ‘oldest town’ near Varna in Bulgaria. The Sofia Globe reported: “Europe’s oldest urban settlement is near Provadia, a town of about 13,000 people about 40 kilometers inland from Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, according to archaeology Professor Vassil Nikolov, citing evidence from work done at the Provadia – Solnitsata archaeological site in summer 2012. [Source: Sofia Globe, October 8 2012, from Sofia, Bulgaria]

“The team of archaeologists headed by Nikolov excavated stone walls estimated to date from 4700 to 4200 B.C.” about 1,500 years before the start of ancient Greek civilisation. “The walls are two metres thick and three metres high, and according to Nikolov are the earliest and most massive fortifications from Europe’s pre-history. There were about 300 to 350 people living at the site in those times, living in two-storey houses and earning their living by salt mining. To this day, Provadia is an important salt centre, with a large-scale foreign investor represented in the area. Estimates are that salt has been extracted in the area for about 7500. Nikolov said that salt was the currency of ancient times, both in terms of value and prestige. As the only place in the Balkans used to produce salt at the time, Provadia –Solnitsatsa of the fifth century B.C. was the “mint” of the region, Nikolov said.

“He said that finds of gravesites at a necropolis showed that people in the town were wealthy. Ritual burial practices also were strange and complex, he said. Copper needles and pottery found in graves at the site showed that people had been wealthy, but in some cases the corpses had been cut in half and buried from the pelvis up.”

The BBC reportedly: 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 [Source: October 31, 2012 |::|]

“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. Excavations at the site, beginning in 2005, have also uncovered the remains of two-storey houses, a series of pits used for rituals, as well as parts of a gate and bastion structures. "We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC," Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology, told the AFP news agency. |::|

Archaeologist Krum Bachvarov from the institute said the latest find was "extremely interesting". "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.” |::|

Svetla Dimitrova wrote in se times.com: “The site is more than 100 metres in diameter.The settlement is one part of a much larger complex from the same period, which includes a salt production unit, a sanctuary and a necropolis. Archeologists said they believe Provadia’s ancient residents made a living by producing salt. They suspect production began in 5500 BC and by 4500 BC produced 5,000 kg annually. The salt trade helped the ancients obtain raw materials, some of which were used to craft luxury goods like jewelry, and also gain enormous economic power, Nikolov added. The Provadia finds may provide significant clues about the origin of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis riches, dating back to around 4300 B.C. [Source: Svetla Dimitrova, se times.com. January 18, 2013]

Gold artifacts found with a skeleton at the Varna necropils

From Bulgaria: World’s Oldest Gold Artifacts and Gold-Filled Treasure Chest

The world's oldest known gold artifacts, a couple of 6000-year-old goat figures with holes punched in them, were not found in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley or Egypt, they were discovered in 1972 in a grave by a tractor operator laying some electric cable in northeastern Bulgaria. [Source: Colin Renfrew, National Geographic, July 1980]

The largest golden goat was about two-and-a-inches long. It was discovered along with about 2,000 other gold pieces (weighing more that 12 pounds) in 250 excavated graves in an ancient cemetery near the Black Sea town of Varna. The pieces included golden necklaces, breastplates, chains, bracelets, earrings, a hammer, and a bowl painted in gold.

The find was shocking. Most cultures still used stone tools in this period, a few had developed copper axes and awls, and the development was bronze was a thousand years away, and iron two thousand years. The gold pieces date back to at least 4000 B.C., and they may go as far back as 4600 B.C.

On a wooden chest containing two different sets of gold treasure left behind by the Getae, a Thracian tribe at the largest mound at the Sboryanovo Historical and Archaeological Reserve in northeastern Bulgaria, Svetla Dimitrova wrote in se times.com: “Weighing more than 1.8kg, the treasure was from the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C., buried as part of the funeral of a Getic ruler, archeologist Diana Gergova said. We found the chest in a vesicle at a depth of 8 metres … Inside were two sets of gold objects. The first was a set of women’s jewelry, including a unique tiara of a type never found before. There were also four spiral bracelets and a ring with an incredible haut-relief image of a lion,” Gergova told SETimes. The other set comprised an iron bridle and a number of gold items the bridle was decorated with, including horse harness decorations and buttons, as well as two large round pieces with the image of the goddess Athena and an exquisite forehead piece with a horse head.” [Source: Svetla Dimitrova, se times.com. January 18, 2013]

Gold artifacts from Varna

Tiny Bead from Bulgaria May Be World's Oldest Gold Artifact

In 2016, archaeologists announced that a 15-centigram gold bead found near the village of Yunatsite in southern Bulgaria may be the world’s oldest gold artifact. Angel Krasimirov of Reuters wrote: “It may be just a tiny gold bead — 4 mm (1/8 inch) in diameter — but it is an enormous discovery for Bulgarian archaeologists who say they have found Europe's - and probably the world's - oldest gold artifact. The bead, found at a pre-historic settlement in southern Bulgaria, dates back to 4,500-4,600 B.C., the archaeologists say, making it some 200 years older than jewelry from a Copper Age necropolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, the oldest processed gold previously unearthed, in 1972. "I have no doubt that it is older than the Varna gold," Yavor Boyadzhiev, associated professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, said. "It's a really important discovery. It is a tiny piece of gold but big enough to find its place in history." [Source: Angel Krasimirov, Reuters, August 10, 2016]

“Boyadzhiev, believes the bead was made at the site, just outside the modern town of Pazardzhik, which he says was the first "urban" settlement in Europe, peopled by "a highly-cultured society" which moved there from Anatolia, in today's Turkey, around 6,000 B.C. "I would say it is a prototype of a modern town, though we can say what we have here is an ancient town, judged by Mesopotamian standards," Boyadzhiev said. "But we are talking about a place which preceded Sumer by more than 1,000 years," he added, referring to what is usually considered the first urban civilization, based in southern Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq.

“The gold bead, weighing 15 centigrams (0.005 ounce), was dug up two weeks ago in the remains of a small house that would have stood at a time when metals such as copper and gold were being used for a first time. The settlement unearthed so far is between 10 and 12 hectares (25-30 acres) and would have had a 2.8-metre-high (9-foot) fortress wall. Anything over 0.7-0.8 hectares is regarded as a town by researchers working in Mesopotamia, Boyadzhiev said. More than 150 ceramic figures of birds have been found at the site, indicating the animal was probably worshipped by the town's people. The settlement was destroyed by hostile tribes who invaded from the north-east around 4,100 B.C. The bead will be exhibited in the historical museum in Pazardzhik once it has been thoroughly analyzed and its age confirmed, a museum worker said.”

8000-Year-Old Bulgarian Fortified Town

Yunasite Tell

Ivan Dikov wrote in Archaeologyinbulgaria: “The Early Neolithic settlement located in an area known as Karabilyuk near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District, dates back more than 8,000 years ago, to the 7th millennium B.C. The site was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia. Between 2000 and 2012, it was excavated by archaeologists led by Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and Dr. Vanya Petrova. Ancient Thracian finds from the Late Iron Age, and finds from the Middle Ages have also been discovered there. [Source: Ivan Dikov, Archaeologyinbulgaria =||=]

“Archaeological excavations have revealed that the Early Neolithic settlement had major fortifications. It did not grow over time but was built at once as a huge and complex urban structure covering a circle with a diameter of 2.5 kilometers, with an area of approximately 5 square kilometers. Its fortified core had the area of about two modern stadiums. It had the shape of a circle or an ellipse with a diameter of 210 meters, with two entrances to the north and the south, and was fortified with 3 moats in concentric circles with a circumference of 450-500 meters each, plus a clay-stone wall between the innermost and the middle moat, which was at least 4 meters tall; the moats were deep 3-4 meters, and wide up to 5 meters. They have been located and explored with contemporary methods for geophysical exploration. According to Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov, the labor invested in the construction of this Early Neolithic proto-city is comparable with the effort for the construction of the earliest Egyptian pyramids. =||=

“The fortified urban core, which seems way ahead of its time, and could have been seen as typical for much later time periods because of its structure and complexity, appears to not have been conquered for a long time. Inside it there were rows of houses with stone foundations, each with the area of modern-day three-bedroom apartments, with an oven or hearth. The entire core was built-up, without any yards, but with paved passages with a width of 1.5-2 meters between the homes, and with drainage ditches. It is estimated that each house had about 10-12 inhabitants in extended families of three generations meaning that the total population of this Early Neolithic prehistoric city was maybe 2,000-3,000 people. =||=

“The Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo also appears to be the earliest known site with metallurgy in Europe. Tests carried out in the Berlin Museum of Natural History of smelted copper discovered at Yabalkovo in 2003 have proven that this was the earliest case of metallurgy in all of Europe pushing back by 1,500 years the time when metallurgy appeared on the European continent. The copper ore was probably mined under Mount Aida in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. =||=

“A number of artifacts from the Antiquity and Middle Ages have also been discovered on the archaeological site near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, one of the most unique ones being an Ancient Thracian bronze statue of a lion with its head turned backwards. The lion statue was found in 2011. It is dated to the 5th-4th century B.C., and is the only one of its kind known in world archaeology.” =||=

Inhabitants of the 8000-Year-Old Bulgarian Fortified Town

Tell Yunasite

Ivan Dikov wrote in Archaeologyinbulgaria: “The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was a complete and complex society with all elements to satisfy a civilized human’s needs: economic, social, religious. The carbon dating of 14 human bones found near Yabalkovo has revealed that the people buried there died in 6,200-6,100 B.C. They indicate that the Early Neolithic women who lived there were slim and had an average height of 165 cm (appr. 5 feet 5 inches), while the men were burly, and had an average height of 175-180 cm (5 feet 9-11 inches). The wearing out of the men’s vertebrae indicates that they carried heavy loads on their backs, and that they had rheumatic diseases which, however, were treated successfully. Their teeth indicate that they ate mostly meat and less bread. DNA tests in a laboratory in Ireland have found DNA similarities with bones from Early Neolithic settlements in Anatolia in today’s Turkey. [Source: Ivan Dikov, Archaeologyinbulgaria =||=]

“Contemporary archaeology hypothesizes that Neolithic cultures spread to Europe, i.e. the Balkans, from Asia Minor either through migration, or through cultural exchange between neighboring human societies. Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov believes that both hypotheses are valid, and that the Early Neolithic people who settled in the Balkans from Asia Minor were not colonists but exiles or refugees chased away by their brethren because they developed a new and distinct culture very quickly. This is taken to mean they were not attached to the place where they came from, and were not colonists driven by a demographic explosion. Several prehistoric cultures formed in the Balkan Peninsula in this way. They do not seem to stem from a single fatherland in Anatolia but instead have more in common with one another, while each one of them has some common features with some of the Early Neolithic cultures in Anatolia. It is assumed that the residents of the Early Neolithic proto-city of Yabalkovo came from Northwest Anatolia, as their settlement shares some similarities with a recently discovered Neolithic settlement near Bursa, Turkey. At the same time, however, the settlement near Yabalkovo reveals characteristic that are more typical of Neolithic settlements in the eastern-most part of Anatolia such as a male deity symbolized by a phallic structure while lacking the female idols or zoomorphic figures found in other Neolithic settlements in Southern Bulgaria. =||=

“The people of Yabalkovo are believed to have came from Asia Minor by sea, sailing from a location south of today’s Izmir in Turkey to Europe’s Aegean Sea coast and reaching the region of today’s Haskovo through the Eastern Rhodope Mountains or by going up the valley of the Maritsa River. At least two Neolithic settlements similar to the one near Yabalkovo have been found in Southern Bulgaria along this alleged migration route – one near the city of Kardzhali and another one near the town of Krumovgrad. The proto-city near Yabalkovo probably controlled the raft trade traffic on the Maritsa River because the archaeologists have found there “imported” items from other parts of modern-day Bulgaria – flint from today’s Northeast Bulgaria, nephrite from an unknown distant location, precious stones from the Rhodope Mountains, and copper ore from the Eastern and Northern Rhodope Mountains. The richness of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is believed to have led to its demise. It existed for about 600 years. Its mighty fortifications indicate that its inhabitants had a lot to be afraid of. In one of the moats the archaeologists have found the bones of a warrior, a defender, with a 6 cm incision in his skull caused by a stone ax blow. He was probably killed when the proto-city was looted and burned down. The archaeologists have found no necropolis, only several funerals near the Maritsa River indicating that the prehistoric people connected the afterlife with the river. =||=

“Families probably specialized in different crafts since the Bulgarian archaeologists have found different tools and products in different homes: broken ceramic vessels in one home; a vertical loom in another; more than a dozen of stone tools in a third; a furnace with traces of smelting copper in a fourth. There were also richer families who were in possession of exotic items such as ostrich eggs, elephant ivory, hippopotamus bones, or rare stones. A cult area in the northern part of the fortified city has revealed a stone arrow, a stone 1-meter phallic structure, the graves of a man and a woman in unusual positions, and a large building with a zoomorphic vessel depicting a bull in its foundations which is similar to prehistoric cult buildings found in Ancient Anatolia – in Catalhoyuk and Hacilar in modern-day Southwest Turkey. The building was probably a sanctuary or the seat of a chieftain.” =||=

People in Bulgaria’s Ate Domesticated Chickens 8,000 Years Ago

Ivan Dikov wrote in Archaeologyinbulgaria: “The prehistoric people inhabiting the Early Neolithic settlement near today’s town of Yabalkovo in southern Bulgaria, had domesticated hens some 8,000 years ago, meaning that chickens were raised in Europe much earlier than previously thought, Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov revealed. Leshtakov, who is a professor of archaeology and prehistory in Sofia University excavated the Neolithic proto-city, which dates back to the 7th millennium B.C., between 2000 and 2012. The settlement near Yabalkovo was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia who found bones from domesticated birds there, and was then excavated by archaeologists. [Source: Ivan Dikov, Archaeologyinbulgaria =||=]

“Until recently it had been thought that domesticated chickens became widespread in Europe only after the Arab invasions in the Early Middle Ages (even though there is evidence that domesticated chickens were also known but not widespread in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome). However, some 8,000 years ago, the prehistoric people at Yabalkovo produced a breed of larger broody hens which could not fly, as indicated by the bones of four broody hens found there Leshtakov has also explained that the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the largest one of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula. Its civilization first came from Anatolia in today’s Turkey, settled the plain around today’s city of Haskovo as well as the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and probably numbered several tens of thousands which is a fairly large number for that time period. =||=

“Based on his findings, the Bulgarian archaeologist says that in addition to chickens the prehistoric people of Yabalkovo also had domestic pigs, alcohol, white and yellow cheese (called kashkaval in Bulgaria), and raised large herds of goats, sheep, and cattle. These Early Neolithic people also smelted copper which is the earliest case of metallurgy in Europe. Another interesting topic explored in Leshtakov‘s book is connected with the fact that the DNA of the Neolithic inhabitants of the region of Haskovo loosely matches the DNA of today’s residents of the same region, which is taken to mean that the genetic heritage of the prehistoric people who lived there 8,000 years ago is greater than previously imagined. =||=

“The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was first found by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Zlatozar Boev after he discovered there bones from 5 domesticated bird species: mute swan (Cygnus olor), two undetermined species resembling geese from the Anser genus, Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), and the bones of four domesticated hens (Gallus gallus f. domestica) which were selected by the prehistoric people to produce a breed of larger broody hens that could not fly. Thus, the Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the earliest known case of the raising of domestic chickens in Europe. The excavations have also revealed a lot of bones from domesticated livestock such as pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle, and few bones of wild herbivores meaning the Early Neolithic people from Yabalkovo were agriculturalists who did little hunting. Only 3% of their meat is estimated to have come from hunting. They were picky about their rich diet as 75% of the discovered animal bones are from young animals. As indicated by the fish bones and snail shells, they also fished for 10-kilogram carps in the nearby Maritsa River, ate snails (a total of 900 snail shells have been found in a pit on the site). They also grew pistachios, made their bread of spelt (dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, Triticum spelta), and had wine. They also had beer made of sour apples (interestingly, the name of today’s town of Yabalkovo comes from “yabalka”, the Bulgarian word for apple), and probably used formic acid for the beer’s fermentation.” =||=

Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar: World’s Oldest Copper Mines

Rudna Glava in Serbia and Mechikladenets-Ai Bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria are regarded as Europe’s — and perhaps the world’s — oldest copper mines. William A. Parkinson wrote in “Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 :Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World”: “Extensive research by eastern European scholars has reshaped our understanding of early copper ore mining techniques that were used during the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age in the Balkans. Since the late 1960s, archaeological investigations at two copper mines—Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar—have revealed the complexity of early copper metallurgical techniques and revised our understanding of early copper exploitation strategies and their relationship to other socioeconomic processes. One of the most well-known prehistoric copper mines is the site of Rudna Glava in eastern Serbia. The site, located 140 kilometers east of Belgrade on the Romanian border, was a magnetite mine until the late 1960s. Archaeological excavations by Borislav Jovanović in the 1970s revealed over twenty prehistoric mine shafts that followed veins of copper ore throughout the limestone massif. [Source: William A. Parkinson, "Early Copper Mines at Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar." “Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World.” Encyclopedia.com]

“The mine was excavated in antiquity using techniques that had been employed for thousands of years to exploit lithic resources, such as chert. Armed with stone mauls and antler picks, the prehistoric miners followed the vertical veins of copper ore into the hillside. They employed a method of heating and cooling to break up the ore and facilitate quarrying. First they would light fires along the wall face. Then they would throw water onto the hot rock, causing it to crack and thus making it easier to chip apart. Some of the veins were followed 15 to 20 meters into the center of the hill, with small horizontal access platforms extending off the main shaft. In those cases where the shaft appeared to be in danger of collapsing the miners built stone supporting walls out of the debris they excavated. /~\

“The mine at Rudna Glava is well dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age, a period also known as the Chalcolithic, which took place during the second half of the fifth and the first half of the fourth millennium B.C.. This dating is based on pottery from the Vinča culture that was found in the mine shafts. Jovanović recorded three different accumulations of pottery in the shafts. The oldest, which was found on an access platform in the mine along with a damaged antler tool and a large stone maul, dates to the transitional phase, known as the Gradac phase, between Early and Late Vinča, during the fifth millennium B.C. The two other pottery concentrations are characteristic of Late Vinča culture and date to the early fourth millennium B.C. /~\

“Another early copper mine was excavated at the site of Ai Bunar in northern Bulgaria in the Sredna Gora Mountains of central Bulgaria. The mine at Ai Bunar is roughly contemporary with the mine at Rudna Glava, and the miners used similar techniques. They excavated narrow open trenches to follow the veins of copper carbonates into the hills. As at Rudna Glava, archaeologists found antler picks and stone mauls in the mine shafts, in addition to two shaft-hole copper tools and the remains of three human individuals. /~\

“The ceramics found at Ai Bunar are characteristic of the ceramics found in the sixth layer at the Karanovo tell (Karanovo VI) and date to the late fifth millennium B.C. While this discovery demonstrates that the mines at Ai Bunar were in use during the later fifth millennium B.C., other evidence suggests the mines probably were in use somewhat earlier, possibly as early as the end of the sixth millennium B.C. Copper objects and ore that have been demonstrated chemically to have derived from the sources at Ai Bunar were found at several sites in south-central Bulgaria that are contemporary with Karanovo V, a phase that dates to the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C. /~\

“Chemical analyses, primarily lead isotope analyses, carried out by E. N. Chernykh, Noël H. Gale, and several Bulgarian specialists have demonstrated that Ai Bunar and Rudna Glava were not the only sources for copper ore in prehistory. The analysis of copper artifacts from several sites in south-central Bulgaria suggests that at least four other copper sources were exploited, though they remain unidentified. /~\

“A handful of other copper mines have been located in northern Thrace, one of which contained Karanovo V and VI pottery, and another prehistoric mine also is known to have existed at Mali Sturac, a site in the Rudnik mountain range in central Serbia. Unfortunately, none of these sites has been extensively explored, and little has been published about them.” /~\

8000-Years-Old Bulgur Wheat Porridge from Bulgaria

Bulgur (also bulghur or burghul) is a cereal food made from several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat. Its use is most common in Middle Eastern cuisine and in Greece. Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News: “Breakfast 8000 years ago wasn’t that much different from what we enjoy today, according to a study that describes the world’s oldest known cooked cereal. Dating from between 5920 to 5730 B.C., the ancient cereal consisted of parboiled bulgur wheat that Early Neolithic Bulgarians could refresh in minutes with hot water. “People boiled the grain, dried it, removed the bran and ground it into coarse particles,” lead author Soultana-Maria Valamoti says. “In this form, the cereal grain can be stored throughout the year and consumed easily, even without boiling, by merely soaking in hot water,” Valamoti, an assistant professor of archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, says. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, abc.net.au, November 30, 2010]

“She and her colleagues studied the Bulgarian grain, excavated at a site called Kapitan Dimitrievo, as well as 4000-year-old grains of barley and wheat from northern Greece. Very high magnification by microscope revealed precise details about the individual cereal grains, including their composition. The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

“The analysis shows that starch within the Bulgarian grains was swollen, twisted and, at times, fused together. Such starch modifications were more extreme toward the outer layers of the bulgur, consistent with grains that had been penetrated by boiling water. The grains had also been charred, not in a way indicative of intentional toasting, but rather by a fire that appears to have burnt down the houses where the grain was stored.

“The scientists also cooked and processed modern wheat and hulled barley, putting the results through the same analysis. The fine details and internal structure of the modern boiled, dried and ground cereals matched what the researchers saw in the ancient Bulgarian grains. I think bulgur could have well been a staple ingredient of Mediterranean cultures in the past,” Valamoti says. “It is very nutritious and easy to make a meal out of it throughout the year, once it is prepared.”

“She says the early southeastern Europeans must have gathered it in the summer, when they could have dried it under the hot sun. Such early, simple preparations passed down through the generations, leading to dishes still enjoyed in the region and other parts of the world today. “Bulgur and trachanas (preparations often consisting of ground grain mixed with milk or yogurt) were staple foods of Greek people until very recently,” she says.

Dr Stefanie Jacomet, a leading archaeobotanist at Basel University‘s Institute of Prehistory and Archaeological Science in Switzerland, says that “until now, simply almost nothing was known about this”, explaining that this latest study is the first to explore ancient cooked cereal in such detail. Other researchers have, however, analysed early evidence for bread-making in the same regions. The first-known bread predates the cereal, so it’s possible the ancients enjoyed some toast with their hot, cooked bulgur.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2024

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