6,500-Year-Old Gold Amulet, Child Skull in Building Foundations Discovered in Bulgaria’s Yunatsite Settlement Mound

The newly discovered anthropomorphic gold ammulet – a round applique – from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound in Southern Bulgaria dates back to the 5th millennium BC. Photo: Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History

An anthropomorphic gold amulet which is some 6,500 years old has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the prehistoric Yunatsite Settlement Mound near Pazardzhik in Southern Bulgaria.

Another very intriguing find from the 2017 archaeological excavations there so far is a child skull built into the foundations of a building.

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound contains the remains of dozens of settlements dating back as early as the Chalcothic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), and has been inhabited consistently for the past 7,000 years.

In August-September 2016, it made international headlines with the discovery of a golden bead that could be the oldest processed gold in the world, and is certainly among the world’s oldest gold items.

The newly discovered gold item from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound is a round applique with a diameter of 2.8 cm, the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History has announced.

It has been classified as an anthropomorphic gold amulet, of the type known from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, the home of the world’s oldest gold treasure.

The newly discovered prehistoric gold amulet from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound is dated back to the second half of the 5th millennium BC. It has been added to the collection of the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History.

The amulet is seen as one more piece of evidence of the high material and spiritual culture of the Chalcolithic population which inhabited the settlement mound near Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik.

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound near Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The spot where the gold amulet was discovered underneath charred nuts, most likely acorns. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Yavor Boyadzhiev from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who has been in charge of the excavations at Yunatsite, has revealed that the gold amulet was found under a pile of charred nuts, most probably acorns.

“The gold applique was literally under the nuts, probably acorns," Boyazdzhiev has told the Bulgarian National Television.

“The gold applique is from the time of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis. These appliques are well known with respect to the Chalcolithic Age. They are best known from the Varna Necropolis but have been discovered at other spots as well. These are the so called gold amulets," the lead archaeologist elaborates.

It is hypothesized that the charred acorns under which the gold item was found might have been used in a religious ritual, which would not be surprising given that numerous cultures around the world are known to worship the oak as a sacred tree.

“[The people who lived here] certainly had a very good diet judging by the large amount of [animal] bones that we have found, so for sure they did have to resort to using the acorns for food," Boyadzhiev explains, emphasizing that all finds from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound so far – including the ceramic vessels encrusted with white paint – point to a wealthy and comfortable lifestyle.

A child skull was found built into the foundations of a building. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The lead archaeologist also notes that the discovery of a child’s skull built into the foundations of a building remains unexplained for the time being.

“[This is] a funeral among the buildings – it looks very strange," Boyadzhiev says.

The first inhabitants of the Yunatsite Settlement Mound in Southern Bulgaria are known to have come from Asia Minor. The local they settled in is situated among three mountains, and next to two rivers.

All of the excavated structures point to a well-organized urban settlement, “The City of Birds", which had in the 5th millennium BC a fortified citadel (acropolis), streets, public buildings, well-developed crafts, and commerce with the coast of the Mediterranean (Aegean) Sea some 150 km to the south.

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The excavation site at the Yunatsite Settlement Mound. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Background Infonotes:

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound is a prehistoric settlement mound dating back to the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) located near the town of Yunatsite, Pazardzhik Municipality, in Central South Bulgaria.

It is also known as “The City of Birds" because of the numerous bird depictions discovered there signifying a well-established religious cult for birds.

“Yunatsite" is the modern-day name of the town, and its meaning roughly translates in English as “the heroes".

The mound is 12 meters tall, and has a diameter of 110 meters. It is located next to the old bed of the Topolnitsa River, before the spot where it flows in the Martisa River.

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound encompasses the remains of a number of settlements from different Prehistory and Antiquity periods built on top of one another: eight Copper Age settlements from the 5th millennium BC, 17 Early Bronze Age settlements from the end of the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC, and two Late Iron Age settlements.

On top of the Yunatsite Mound, there was a Roman Age fortification, and a medieval necropolis.

The first archaeological excavations of the Yunatsite Settlement Mound began in 1939 but were terminated during the period of World War II. The research was resumed in 1976, and from 1982 until 2000, the excavations were carried out together with archaeologists from the Soviet Union / Russia.

Between 2002 and 2011, the digs at Yunatsite continued with the participation of archaeologists from Greece.

In recent years, the prehistoric Yunatsite Settlement Mound has been a priority research site for Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

International volunteers from countries such as the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, and others have been participating in the digs under a cooperation contract between the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History and the Balkan Heritage Foundation.

The Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History says that the archaeological excavations from the past decade (as of 2016-2017) have demonstrated that what today is known as the Yunatsite Settlement Mound is just a small part of a much larger settlement with a total area of over 100,000 square meters, which emerged at the beginning of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), ca. 5,000 BC.

About 4,750-4,650 BC, the highest point of the Yunatsite settlement was walled off. The wall made of rammed clay was about 4 meters wide, and was probably at least 5 meters tall, but has survived only up to 2.5 meters in height.

The wall was surround with a moat, which was over 10 meters wide, and 4 meters deep, thus creating the prehistoric settlement’s earliest known acropolis (citadel).

The complex and massive fortification and various sophisticated items discovered in both the citadel and the wider settlement are seen as indicative of the high material and spiritual culture of the inhabitants of the place as early as the Chalcolithic period.

The Pazardzhik Museum notes that the finds from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound speak of developed crafts and trade (reaching the coast of the Mediterranean (Aegean) Sea about 150 km to the south) which are typical of urban centers that emerged some 2,000 years later.

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound was inhabited for over 7,000 years. The results from over 50 years of archaeological research of the site have been published in over 80 papers in Bulgarian and international journals, a two-volume compilation, and a book called “The Golden Fifth Millennium" compiling the reports from a 2009 archaeological conference.

In August-September 2016, the Yunatsite Settlement Mound made international headlines with the discovery of a golden bead that could be the oldest processed gold in the world, and is certainly among the world’s oldest gold items.

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