6,000-Year-Old Cranial Amulet Discovered in Kozareva Mogila Prehistoric Settlement near Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast
A round amulet made out of a human skull has been discovered during the 2016 archaeological excavations of the Kozareva Mogila (“Goat Mound”) prehistoric settlement near Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Pomorie.
The prehistoric cranial amulet from the 5th millennium BC is the sixth of its kind to have been found by archaeologists so far since the Kozareva Mogila settlement was first excavated in 1991.
The archaeological settlement near the town of Kableshkovo, Pomorie Municipality, in Southeast Bulgaria, has been researched by the team of Assoc. Prof. Petya Georgieva from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, reports the 24 Chasa daily.
It is said to be especially interesting because its preserved Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) structures and necropolis keep shedding new light on life in Southeast Europe in the 5th millennium BC.
Not unlike the five similar finds, the newly discovered cranial amulet from Kozareva Mogila was made from the top of a human skull, i.e. the frontal bone and the parietal bones, has a round shape, and a hole in the middle.
Georgieva is quoted as saying that the human skull “rondellas” (meaning “washers”, as they are referred to in Bulgarian, because of their resemblance to the respective machine hardware) have not been rare finds in European archaeology.
A lot of them were discovered in Western Europe in the 19th century, especially around megaliths in France dating back to the 4th-3rd millennium BC. Later, more round cranial amulets were found in Eastern Europe, namely, in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. One such bone artifact was found near the town of Rakla, Varna District, in Northeast Bulgaria.
Now, counting in the latest find, a total of six skull amulets have been discovered in the Kozareva Mogila settlement mound which is located about 5 km away from today’s Black Sea coast.
“The logical question is whose head did it come from – an enemy’s head or a friend’s head,” Georgieva told BNT in an earlier report.
The discovery of a male skeleton from the necropolis of the prehistoric settlement also seems to be connected with the peculiar cranial amulets. The man was found buried in a regular grave, in fetal position but the archaeologists found that parts of his skull were missing, and discovered them buried separately.
“It’s not very clear what they were used for but there are ethnographic parallels,” Georgieva says, referring to archaeological discoveries in graves in the Americas, including two sets of two cranial amulets each tied together, sealed with skin, and filled with small stones, which were apparently used as rattles during rituals dances.
The tradition of placing bone “rattles” in graves is said to exist even today but the “rattles” are made of tortoise shells.
The lead archaeologists has noted that in Native American cultures the removal of scalps or skull parts was used in order to steal an enemy’s powers, and that a similar tradition survived in Europe into the Early Middle Ages.
For example, after he defeated Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I, Battle of Varbitsa Pass in 811 AD, Khan Krum (r. 803-814), ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, had his skull made into a wine cup (chalice). Knyaz Sviatoslav I (r. 945-972) of Kievan Rus had a similar fate when he was killed by the Pechenegs almost 200 years later.
“The rondellas [cranial amulets] have been found in the houses where are also finding idols, pottery, table models, claw hammers, axes – all in one place. That is, these people who made the pottery lived in their workshop,” explains Georgieva.
The 2016 archaeological excavations focused on the research of a fourth building from an archaeological layer that was sealed by a large fire and was thus preserved from compromising human activity in later historical periods.
“What’s interesting about the Kozareva Mogila settlement is that it was probably a pottery production center. This shows that a very simple local production such as pottery making was already included in exchange. The Late Aeneolithic is a time when the structure of society changed, it became more complex, ceramics trade started. This shows a societal shift because it is normal to trade with rare goods, whereas clay is found everywhere, and if I am asked if this was a society at the threshold of civilization, the answer is positive,” elaborates the archaeologist.
She points out that the inventory of the graves from the Kozareva Mogila necropolis show a clear division between male warriors and females. The military men indicate group violence, which in turn is said to emerge whenever civilization emerges.
Georgieva also notes that the unearthed numerous unfinished and finished ceramic vessels of various size demonstrate that her team has been excavating not just a pottery making workshop but in fact an archaeological layer demonstrating that the entire settlement was involved in ceramics production.
What is more, in Chalcolithic, the Kozareva Mogila settlement was located at a crossroads between the deposits of copper near today’s Black Sea town of Sozopol (ancient Apollonia Pontica) and the deposits of rock salt and gold near Provadiya (home to the Salt Pit settlement – Provadiya – Solnitsata) and Varna (home to the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis where the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure, was discovered).