Odd 8,000-Year-Old Neolithic Burials, Oldest in Sofia Valley, Discovered in Bulgaria’s Capital

Odd 8,000-Year-Old Neolithic Burials, Oldest in Sofia Valley, Discovered in Bulgaria’s Capital

One of the weirdest burials ever found in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is the newly discovered grave of a man which one of his arms left beneath his body. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

A total of four Neolithic burials from almost 8,000 years ago, which are both peculiar and the earliest graves to have even been found in the Sofia Valley, have been discovered by archaeologists in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in what is today a densely populated residential quarter of the Bulgarian capital.

The 8,000-year-old Slatina Neolithic Settlement located in Sofia’s Slatina Quarter is one of the earliest major settlements from Europe’s civilization, the prehistoric civilization which emerged in the Neolithic on the territory of today’s Bulgaria and parts of the neighboring countries such as Romania and Serbia, in the Balkans and the Lower Danube Valley and near the Black Sea.

This prehistoric civilization from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, which had the world’s oldest gold, Europe’s oldest town, and seemingly some of the earliest forms of pre-alphabetic writing, is referred to some scholars as “Old Europe". It predates the famous civilizations of Minoan Crete, Mycenaean Greece, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia by thousands of years.

Highly intriguing discoveries from the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Sofia made in recent years include huge Neolithic homes from 8,000 years ago, and a very intriguing prehistoric artifact, a nephrite frog-like swastika, the third of its kind to have been discovered in Bulgaria.

A total of four prehistoric burials dating back almost 8,000 years have been found in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement during the 2020 archaeological excavations, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has announced.

The Slatina Neolithic Settlement has been excavated since the 1980s by archaeologist Prof. Vasil Nikolov, Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who has even been given a special award by the city of Sofia precisely for this research.

“Together with the two graves we found [in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement] last year, these four newly found graves are the earliest human graves known from the territory of Sofia and the Sofia Valley," Nikolov is quoted as saying.

“For the first time ever, we’ve come across such extremely rare finds from the [settlement’s] ritual complex," he adds.

The newly found 8,000-year-old Neolithic burials are of a child, a woman, and two men. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

The four newlyf found Neolithic burials in 2020 and two burials discovered in 2019 are the oldest human burials ever found in the Sofia Valley, dating back nearly 8,000 years. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Nikolov points out that the Slatina Neolithic Settlement as a “cultural phenomenon" which can be construed as one of the places that gave the start of human civilization in Europe.

The Slatina Neolithic Settlement itself existed for about 500 years, from about the end of the 7th millennium BC until the middle of the 6th millennium BC.

“The newly discovered graves date back to the beginning of the 6th millennium BC, and very little is known about religious rituals from this period," the release of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences says.

Although in previous seasons, the archaeological team has unearthed vast prehistoric homes, the dwellings likely associated with the graves discovered this year seem to have been destroyed.

The people buried in the 8,000-year-old Neolithic graves found by the archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, part of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, are two males, one female, and a child.

The first two burials are technically found in a single grave which contains the remains of two people – a child and almost certainly a man.

The other two burials are also peculiar. One of them is of a woman who was buried face down, lying on her stomach.

The other newly found Neolithic burial from the Slatina Settlement in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is also odd: it contains the remains of a man who was laid to rest with one of his arms beneath his body.

Prof. Vasil Nikolov showing the latest discoveries from the Slatina Neolithic Settlement which he has been researching for nearly 40 years. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

The surviving part of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement is supposed to become an archaeological park for cultural tourism. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

The 2020 excavations of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement were rescue digs for residential construction. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Showcasing of prehistoric artifacts discovered during the 2020 excavations of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement. Photo: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

The 8,000-year-old human remains are now to be studied by the Institute of Experimental Morphology, Pathology, and Anthropology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, with DNA analysis expected to show whether the two men, one woman, and one child were related.

The prehistoric artifacts discovered during the 2020 excavations in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Sofia include pottery vessels, loom weights, a spindle whorl, and a furnace plug shaped like a human face.

The 2020 archaeological excavations in the Slatina Neolithic Settlement have been rescue digs conducted as part of a residential construction project in the Slatina Quarter in Sofia.

Learn more about the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in the Background Infonotes below!

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Background Infonotes:

The 8,000-year-old Slatina Neolithic Settlement is located in the Slatina Quarter in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.

It was discovered by accident in 1950 by construction workers near the Shipchenski Prohod Blvd. During the first archaeological excavations of the site in 1958, the archaeologists found remains from prehistoric homes, including clay-plastered poles, hearths, and ceramic vessels.

The prehistoric settlement mound was found to be located on the left bank of the Slatinska River. At first, the settlement was dated back to the 3rd millennium BC.

However, new rescue excavations starting in 1985 revealed additional information, and based on the new data and more modern dating methods, in 1987, the settlement was dated to about 6000 BC, i.e. the Early Neolithic. Back then, the archaeologists excavated nine homes and discovered dozens of axes and claw hammers, flint knives, sickles, handmills, loom weights, as well as funerals of Neolithic people.

Since 1985, the prehistoric settlement in Slatina has been excavated and studied by Prof. Vasil Nikolov, from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Thus, the Slatina Neolithic Settlement is the earliest human settlement on the territory of the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia. It was settled in the Early Neolithic by people who came from Asia Minor.

The Slatina Neolithic Settlement had a total territory of 80 decares (app. 20 acres). Unfortunately, during urban construction in the 1970s, most of it was destroyed, and today only 8 decares (app. 2 acres), have been preserved.

The Neolithic homes in Slatina were built of wattle plastered with clay. The ceilings were made of wood, and covered with straw or reed. The prehistoric people’s main food was wheat grown nearby; the archaeologists also found there 8,000-year-old lentils. The livestock was kept outside of the settlement.

The Slatina Neolithic homes had granaries inside them as well as kilns, cult (religious) hearths, and wooden beds. The materials used by the prehistoric people there include wood, clay, stone, flint, bone, and horns. Some of the clay vessels feature geometric motifs. One of the most interesting finds has been a part of a marble figure of the Mother Goddess used for fertility rituals.

The Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s Sofia belongs to the first phase of the Neolithic period when the first agriculturalists and livestock breeders settled down in today’s Bulgaria. They came from Asia Minor to the Balkan Peninsula, gradually advancing from the south and southeast to the north, deeper into Europe.

Thus, similar Neolithic settlements found in the Struma Valley in Southwest Bulgaria such as the Mursalevo Neolithic Settlement are about 50-100 years older than the Slatina settlement in Sofia.

The Slatina Neolithic Settlement was a large one and had contacts with all neighboring regions – it is believed that some ceramic vessels and other items were brought from today’s regions of Southern Bulgaria (Thrace), Southwest Bulgaria (the Struma Valley), Serbia, and Northwest Bulgaria.

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