Archaeologists Discover 7,000-Year-Old Fortress Wall in Prehistoric Settlement near Bulgaria’s Hotnitsa

Students from Veliko Tarnovo University "St. Cyril and St. Methodius" are seen working during the 2015 excavations of the prehistoric settlement mound near Bulgaria's Hotnitsa. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

Students from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” are seen working during the 2015 excavations of the prehistoric settlement mound near Bulgaria’s Hotnitsa. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

A 7,000-year-old defensive, i.e. fortress wall has been discovered by archaeologists during the 2015 excavations of a prehistoric settlement mound near Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, in Central North Bulgaria, which dates back to the Chalcolithic (Aenolithic, Copper Age).

The newly found prehistoric fortress wall in Bulgaria’s Hotnitsa is made of wooden pillars, 40 cm in diameter each, which were plastered with clay on both sides.

The wall was about 80 cm wide, and probably up to 3 meters tall. It encircled the entire prehistoric settlement, which itself had a diameter of 50 meters. The defensive wall existed for a period of 1,000 years, the archaeologists’ finding indicate.

The prehistoric fortress wall has been discovered by the team of archaeologists Assoc. Prof. Stefan Chohadzhiev from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius" and his son, Alexander Chohadzhiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, reports local daily Yantra Dnes.

Undergraduate and graduate archaeology students from Veliko Tarnovo University have participated actively in the excavations.

The prehistoric settlement in Bulgaria’s Hotnitsa, which was inhabited in the 5th-4th millennium BC, is also known for the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure which dates back to the same period as the gold treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna. The Varna Gold Treasure is known as the world’s oldest gold but the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is said to be just as old.

The discovery of the Chalcolithic fortress wall in the southern part of the Hotnitsa settlement mound “is the result of 8 years of excavations", the report says.

“I hope that in the following years we will continue to research in depth this section because the fortress wall was moved with the expansion or shrinking of the settlement, and was maintained the entire time by its residents," archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev is quoted as saying.

“This discovery is very important for us because the period of the Copper-Stone Age is usually associated with peaceful existence whereas now it turns out that this was not the case. There were no major battles, of course, but there probably was some kind of a local conflict because we found two arrows by the wall," he elaborates.

In addition to the defensive wall surrounding the Chalcolithic settlement in Hotnitsa, the archaeologists have also unearthed a burned home with well preserved charred wood from the walls, floor, and the casing of what was a window or a door.

“The jointing of the individual wooden elements is very visible. I am dazzled by these people’s ability to process wood in such a precise way, and only using stone tools," Chohadzhiev Jr. says.

Archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History showing an artifact discovered in the Hotnitsa prehistoric settlement. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

Archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History showing an artifact discovered in the Hotnitsa prehistoric settlement. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

In a small pit under the floor of the prehistoric home, the team has found a hand mill, a ceramic vessel, and two flint artifacts. The pit had been dug up before the home was built which is taken to mean that the placing of the artifacts was a prehistoric ritual that later became known as “construction sacrifice".

“We have found such pits in other prehistoric settlements, too. In 2001, on this site, we found a collective find of animal legs also placed in a hole under the floor that had been specially made. These were legs from goats, sheep, pigs, and were placed in an anatomically correct order. In Orlovets, in one of the homes we found a model of a miniature vessel that was incorporated and plastered into the floor. Late year, in [the prehistoric settlement in] Petko Karavelovo, I discovered a large vessel with ashes placed under the floor. The test results of the ashes are not ready so we don’t know yet what exactly was burned," explains the archaeologist.

“But all these discoveries prove some sort of a custom for which there was no specific rules. Apparently, everyone offered construction sacrifice using different types of household items, animals, and food products," he adds.

In his words, the most interesting find from the 2015 digs in the Hotnitsa settlement mound is a 6,400-year-old wooden floor, which was probably preserved because it was destroyed by a flooding, not a fire.

A section of the wooden floor which is 4.6 meters long and 4.3 meters wide was revealed in the excavations. The wooden boards fit perfectly together, and are placed on wooden beams which are about 1 meter from each other.

“Apparently, even back then the people were excellent specialists with great carpenter skills. Not every can make almost identical matching boards," Chohadzhiev says.

During the 2015 excavations of the Hotnitsa prehistoric settlembent, the archaeologists have found some 500 artifacts, mostly flint tools made from top quality flint from in the Razgrad region in today’s Northeast Bulgaria.

These tools include a bone dagger, a copper needle, different bone decorations, decorations made from the shells of freshwater mollusks and snails, awls, arrow tips, stone claw hammers, and ceramic vessels.

One of the most interesting artifacts is a 6,400-year-old ceramic vessel lid with a depiction of a male head. The image depicts either a real man who lived during the Chalcolithic, or a mythical creature with a large nose and a pointy chin. Signs shaped like butterflies, possibly tattoos, are visible on the man’s cheeks. He also has wears a small cap depicted with dots.

“This is a very rare find because the anatomical features of the face are presented in great detail. We have found other depictions of male heads with beards but the presence of a cap shows that this man enjoyed a more special status. He probably was a priest. In the past, we have found a similar lid in Petko Karavelovo – a male head with beard braids wearing the same kind cap but it was depicted with spirals, not dots. It is now part of the collection of the Veliko Tarnovo Museum of Archaeology," Chohadzhiev points out.

During the 2015 digs in Hotnitsa, his team has also found two female bone figurines. One of them is 8.5 long and only 3 mm wide. It was possibly worn on the neck as an amulet.

Still another intriguing newly found artifact is a miniature model of a ceramic vessel; it is the second of its kind to have been found in Hotnitsa in the last 16 years. It is hypothesized that the small clay jar may have been made as a gift for some deity.

Students from Veliko Tarnovo University "St. Cyril and St. Methodius" are seen working during the 2015 excavations of the prehistoric settlement mound near Bulgaria's Hotnitsa. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

Students from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” are seen working during the 2015 excavations of the prehistoric settlement mound near Bulgaria’s Hotnitsa. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

Background Infonotes:

The Prehistoric Settlement Mound near the town of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, in Central North Bulgaria, dates back to the 5th-4th millennium BC, i.e. the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age). Its archaeological layers are 6 meters thick. It was discovered by accident in 1955 during the construction of irrigation canals when workers stumbled upon pottery and stone tools.

The first archaeological excavations of the Hotnitsa Prehistoric Settlement Mound took place in 1956-1959, and were conducted by archaeologists from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.

Back then, they unearthed a total of 20 one-room homes made with wooden poles plastered with mud, with thatched roofs; the homes were perfectly lined indicating early urban planning; they had an inventory of ceramic vessels and artifacts made of copper, bone, stone, and flint.

In one of the homes, the archaeologists found a gold treasure of 40 rings and four lamellas. The so called Hotnitsa Gold Treasure has a combined total weight of 0.35 kg. The lamellas feature depictions of faces drawn with dots. They are thought to have been religious (cult) artifacts which were used by a priest to communicate with the gods, or as amulets. In 1958, the archaeologists found in one of the Hotnitsa homes lots of prehistoric idols made of bone. Because of their large number and the fact that not all of them were finished, it was hypothesized that this was a prehistoric workshop for bone figurines.

The archaeological excavations of the Hotnitsa settlement were resumed in 2000, and have been continuing ever since. In 2000-2007, the Veliko Tarnovo archaeologists excavated 300 square meters in the northern half of the mound finding over 5,000 artifacts. They unearthed six more homes, and found new gold items, copper tools, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines. In 2000, three gold lamellas were found; in 2001, a gold spiral; and in 2006, another gold spiral.

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure dates back to the same time period as the Varna Gold Treasure found in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, which is known as the oldest gold in the world.

There have been speculations that the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is even older than the Varna Gold Treasure. One of the arguments for that is that one of the gold spirals from Hotnitsa was found in a layer that is located 1-1.5 meters deeper compared with the archaeological layers in Varna. This spiral-shaped artifact could be the world’s oldest gold.

What is more, the gold decorations from Hotnitsa were found in a home, not in a grave or a necropolis as is the case with the Varna Gold Treasure. This is taken to mean that the gold items were worn and used by the prehistoric people in their everyday life, not just for religious rituals.

The pottery found in the Hotnitsa settlement mound is also similar to the pottery from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis. One of the most interesting artifacts from Hotnitsa is a vertical loom. The settlement was inhabited by a sedentary population dealing with agriculture and cattle breeding, with some hunting and gathering.

Some of the artifacts are interpreted as proving the early residents of Hotnitsa had commercial ties with other prehistoric settlements located on the Black Sea coast, the Mediterranean, and north of the Danube River.

From the animal bones found in Hotnitsa, Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia has identified bones from 8 bird species: mute swan (Cygnus olor), black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), western marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), great bustard (Otis tarda), common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) and domestic chicken (Gallus gallus f. domestica).

The Hotnitsa prehistoric settlement was inhabited until the 4th millennium BC, and may have been destroyed in an invasion of Proto-Thracian nomadic tribes from the north. Historically, this was followed by a period of some 800 years of convergence of the local prehistoric population and the Proto-Thracians that gave the start to the highly developed civilization of Ancient Thrace.