Discovery of 8,000-Year-Old Veiled Mother Goddess near Bulgaria’s Vidin ‘Pushes Back’ Neolithic Revolution in Europe
Part of a ceramic figurine depicting the head of the Mother Goddess, the earliest deity of Europe’s first agriculturalists, has been discovered by archaeologists in an 8,000-year-old Early Neolithic prehistoric settlement near the town of Mayor Uzunovo, Vidin District, close to the Danube River, in Northwest Bulgaria.
The find is seen as emblematic of the Neolithic Revolution, i.e., the transition from hunting and gathering to farming, in Europe. In fact, according to the team’s lead researcher, its discovery pushes back the known timing of the transition well into the 7th millennium BC.
The 8,000-year-old prehistoric settlement near Mayor Uzunovo, in Bulgaria’s very Northwest, was explored by archaeologists only once before, back in 2013, in rescue excavations designed to stave off the brutal encroachments of treasure hunters.
The first large-scale archaeological excavations with government funding took place in the first weeks of October 2018.
Its results have been presented in the Danube city of Vidin by lead archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski, an expert in prehistory who is also the Director of the Regional Museum of History in Vratsa, another district in Northwest Bulgaria, and by Fionera Filipova, Director of the Regional Museum of History in Vidin.
Ganetsovski is known, among other things, for his comprehensive research of the Early Neolithic archaeological site Valoga near Ohoden in Northwest Bulgaria, one of the earliest European settlements from the time of the Neolithic Revolution.
Bulgaria’s Vidin District is located between the Danube River and the Balkan Mountains in the country’s northwestern “corner”, and borders Romania to the north and Serbia to the west.
The stone figurine of the Mother Goddess and the other newly discovered artifacts and structures from the prehistoric settlement in Mayor Uzunovo push back the known timing of the transition during which the hunter – gatherers transformed themselves into farmers in Europe, namely to the 7th millenium BC, according to Ganetsovski.
He points out that the discoveries in Mayor Uzunovo have revealed similarities to Neolithic prehistoric settlements in Serbia, more specifically, in the region of the Iron Gates gorge of the Danube River, which lies to the northwest of Bulgaria’s Vidin District.
These include the famous Lepenski Vir site representative of the Mesolithic Iron Gates Culture (also referred to as the Lepenski Vir Culture).
“What has made us happiest has been the discovery of this figurine presenting the female origination: the Mother Goddess, the most ancient deity of the ancient agriculturalists,” Ganetsovski has said, as cited by Radio Vidin.
“The face of the ceramic head [features] the typical stylized depictions of the eyes, the nose… What we at first thought to be some kind of decoration turned out to be [the depiction of] a veil covering the head, with ornaments along its edges,” the lead archaeologist adds.
“This stylized sculpting corresponds precisely to the Lepenski Vir Culture (Iron Gates Culture) where stone figurines sculpted using the same techniques have been found,” he says.
“This find shows that we can push back substantially the timing of the emergence of the transition from “an economy of appropriation” to “an economy of production”, namely, to the 7th millennium BC. For me, this is a unique find, I hope we’ll be able to find the lower part of the Mother Goddess figurine,” Ganetsovski elaborates.
The head of the ceramic Mother Goddess from Mayor Uzunovo has been discovered in a prehistoric dugout home, part of which has been exposed by the archaeologists.
“Unfortunately, it turned out to be larger than we expected. It is partially a dugout because back then the climate was different, it was harsher, and the people had to put their homes partly into the ground,” the archaeologist says.
The prehistoric structure in question covers an area of about 40 square meters, and its remains have been damaged by bioturbations, i.e., damages resulting from the life of animals and plants.
The exposed part of the building was used as a home altar for rituals that were believed to guarantee fertility and procreation.
Inside the Neolithic settlement in Mayor Uzunovo, the researchers have also found a total of three ceramic labrets depicting horns taken as symbols of “the male origination.”
Other artifacts discovered during the 2018 excavations in Mayor Uzunovo include pottery discs which are believed to have been used for rituals, an arrow with a broken bone tip probably used for fishing, retouched flint tools, bone tools, pottery vessels, and other artifacts including a truncated ceramic cone and a ceramic spindle whorl. During the previous digs, a very intriguing bone harpoon was discovered.
“These finds are representative of a mysterious civilization which used forgotten techniques that we are now trying to reconstruct… What makes the site significant is the very, very early period. It dates to the first years of the emergence of the contemporary European civilization,” Ganetsovski says.
“This was the time when for the first time humans started to produce an artificial matter, the first artificial material, namely, pottery. Pottery bears the technological and structural messages of the historical eras and the people who lived in them. Every period’s pottery is different, that’s is why we call it “the alphabet of archaeology”. So it is thanks to this pottery, which, I underscore, is the earliest pottery in Europe, that we can trace the chronology of the site and its importance. In my view, [the research of this site] is a substantial breakthrough,” the lead archaeologist elaborates.
He adds that the prehistoric settlement in Mayor Uzunovo is comparable to the one in Valoga, Ohoden, near Vratsa, some 150 kilometers to the southeast, which he has been researching for the past 18 years.
However, the newly discovered site has the potential to yield even more exciting results because thanks to its geography in a previously unexplored location it offers the opportunity to fill a blank spot on the map of Neolithic Europe.
Some of the ceramic vessels found in the Mayor Uzunovo have remained intact in the ground for more than 8,000 years. This pottery features the characteristics of a Neolithic culture known as Protostarchevo from the western part of the Lower Danube region.
“During the [Neolithic] transition, the people who inhabited this region transformed themselves from hunters – gatherers into agriculturalists and builders rapidly changing the environment around them. They contributed to the emergence of a brilliant prehistoric civilization that existed for 2,000 years,” Ganetsovski says.
“We’ve been looking for information how exactly this occurred so that these early human societies all of a sudden accrued the knowledge for a qualitative leap forward,” he adds.
“The settlement in Ohoden (some 150 kilometers to the southeast – editor’s note) has provided answers to this question, and our colleagues in Serbia have also found relevant data, including in the region of the Iron Gates gorge of the Danube (further to the northwest). However, the Vidin district inbetween those locations has been a blank spot. This is the missing link and the potential to discover more valuable information is huge,” the lead archaeologist elaborates.
“The retouched flint tools, retouching is a very specific technique for tool sharpening, are especially valuable. Flint was the raw material the entire prehistoric economy was dependent on. 8,000 years ago flint was sort-of what steel is in today’s economy. That is why flint provides plentiful and valuable information,” he says.
“The discovered bone tools and blades are also very intriguing because here we find them in a very good condition. That is rare because bone is rather perishable,” Ganetsovski adds.
The Neolithic settlement in Mayor Uzunovo covers a territory of about 18 decares (4.5 acres). Part of that is agricultural land whose status the archaeologists want to change in order to be able to first research the site and then set it aside and develop it for visitors.
“It is very interesting how learned there is a prehistoric settlement in Mayor Uzunovo,” reveals Fionera Filipova, Director of the Vidin Regional Museum of History.
“Some 10 years ago, we hired our young colleague Nikolay Kazashki, who is not so young any more. Shortly after that, he came to work one day, and said, ‘In my villa in Mayor Uzunovo, there is a Neolithic settlement.’ This situation was of great help because we did not have to wait for the permission of other property owners to check it out. We called immediately Georgi Ganetsovski, who is one of the established researchers of Neolithic cultures,” she explains.
The first rescue excavations in Mayor Uzunovo were carried out five years ago with funding from a private donor to the museum, Ivan Lishkov. Another donor, from Germany, then gave the money needed for the geophysical surveying of the prehistoric settlement, which turned out to be substantially larger than expected.
For the first time, in 2018, the two regional museums in Vidin and Vratsa received government funding from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, and were able to carry out excavations.
“Five years after the first field research we managed to convince the Ministry of Culture of how important this site is. That is a major achievement because it was a very long struggle,” Ganetsovski says, adding the government has provided only part of the funding the archaeological team had asked for.
“Five years ago our rescue digs found a site that had ‘enjoyed’ considerable interest on part of treasure hunters. They had incurred serious damage to [the prehistoric settlement] including using heavy equipment. So we had to intervene to prevent its further destruction,” he emphasizes.
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