Prehistoric People Owned 40-Million-Year-Old Sea Urchin Fossil, Carpathian Obsidian, Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s Ohoden Pushed Back to Mesolithic
A string of exciting and mysterious finds have been discovered during the 2020 archaeological excavations of the Ohoden Neolithic settlement near the city of Vratsa in Northwest Bulgaria – including blades of obsidian from the Western Carpathian Mountains in today’s Romania, and a 40-million-year-old sea urchin fossil seemingly kept by the prehistoric people – while new analysis has shown that the settlement is 1,000 years older than previously thought and goes back to the end of the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age).
The Ohoden Early Neolithic settlement, more precisely known as “Valoga”, after the name of the respective locality near the town of Ohoden, belongs to the so called Gradeshnitsa-Karcha Early Neolithic Culture, which developed in today’s Northwest Bulgaria and Southwest Romania.
The finds from the Ohoden excavations indicate that the Balkan Peninsula was the center of the first European prehistoric civilization which spread to the rest of Europe.
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.
Up until now, the Ohoden Early Neolithic (“New Stone Age) Settlement was considered 8,000 years old but after the latest findings, it is now believed to be 9,000 years, going back to the very end of the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period.
During its 2020 archaeological excavations of the prehistoric settlement at Ohoden near Bulgaria’s Vratsa, the archaeological team excavated an Early Neolithic dwelling covering a plot of 30 square meters.
The researchers have unearthed a large amount of archaeological materials, including pottery fragments, stone tools, flint tools, and bone tools, lead archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski, Director of the Vratsa Regional Museum of History, who has been researching the Ohoden prehistoric settlement for two decades, has announced.
In addition to that, the archaeologists have discovered a total of four blades made of obsidian, i.e. volcanic glass.
“What has impressed us the most [from among the finds] this year, is that we have recovered four obsidian blades. That is volcanic glass which has the quality of being able to be split easily,” Ganetsovski has told BTA.
“Rational early agriculturalists immediate used this quality [of the obsidian] in order to fashion cutting edges out of it,” he adds.
According to the archaeologists, the obsidian the prehistoric blades had been made of seems to have been brought from the Western Carpathian Mountains, today in Bulgaria’s northern neighbor Romania, beyond the Danube River, some 400 kilometers to the north.
“Our research shows that this obsidian was delivered from the region of the Western Carpathians. It is interesting that this raw material was brought from a distance of more than 400 kilometers. That is something which changes our perceptions about the level of development of these early human agriculturalist communities,” Ganetsovski points out.
Back in 2016, the discovery of a single obsidian blade at the Ohoden Early Neolithic Settlement led the archaeologists to hypothesize that the obsidian that it had been made of might have originated from the Caucasus Mountain region in today’s Armenia.
Another of the astonishing finds from the 2020 digs in Ohoden, is a trapezoidal microlith, a tiny stone tool.
“One of the mysteries from the Neolithic period among our finds is a trapezoidal microlith. What’s interesting in it is that the ancient craftsmen did the retouches in such a fine matter that we now need to use magnifying glass in order to view them, whereas they didn’t have optical instruments,” Ganetsovski says.
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However, the most interesting item discovered in the latest excavations of the Ohoden Neolithic Settlement, which he himself describes as “surprising”, is a fossil of a sea urchin found in the archaeological layer of the Neolithic people.
The specific sea urchin species, whose fossil has been found in Ohoden, and was apparently in possession of the prehistoric people, inhabited the territory of today’s Bulgaria some 40 million years ago.
The conventional assumption has been that throughout much of the Cretaceous and Tertiary paleontological periods much of Bulgaria’s territory was covered by a shallow, warm continental sea.
(Which would explain the findings of fossils of marine reptiles, prehistoric whales, and prehistoric fish (and of prehistoric land mammals from later periods) but virtually no dinosaur fossils – however, recent discoveries of some dinosaur fossils have started to cast doubt on the continental sea hypothesis.)
The world’s oldest fossils of echinoids, or sea urchins, date back to the Ordovician period 450 million years ago.
The sea urchin fossil was discovered inside the Neolithic archaeological layer of the Valoga – Ohoden settlement leading the archaeologists to conclude that the fossil might have previously been found by the prehistoric people who like it, and decided to keep it.
“We’ve found the sea urchin fossil within the context of the Early Neolithic Settlement. We’ve found it in one of the two large pits, which has given us reasons to believe that these ancient agriculturalists had just as much curiosity and interest in the environment and the remains from even more ancient eras [as we do, so much] so that they kept it,” Ganetsovski says.
“So it would be no wonder if the collecting [of fossils by humans] dates as early as back then, [the Neolithic],” he comments.
Another new development with respect to the Early Neolithic prehistoric settlement at Ohoden near Bulgaria’s Vratsa is not connected with the 2020 archaeological excavations but with a new radiocarbon analysis of an altar with deer horns.
The prehistoric deer horn altar in question was discovered in the Ohoden Neolithic Settlement back in 2011, and is presently on display at the Vratsa Regional Museum of History.
Its first radiocarbon dating was carried out in a laboratory in Poznan, Poland. However, the archaeological team has now received the results from a new radiocarbon dating analysis carried out in the UK, in Glasgow, Scotland.
The new radiocarbon analysis shows that the earliest layer where the deer horn altar was discovered is about 1,000 years older than previously thought. That would mean that the Valoga – Ohoden Settlement goes back to 7,000 BC, or that it is 9,000 years old, i.e. from the very end of the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age).
“It has turned out that the site has an even earlier layer since the time of the end of the Middle Stone Age, or the Mesolithic. This is of crucial significance since there has been no such other site discovered in Bulgaria so far where preceding structures are found below the Early Neolithic layer,” Ganetsovski explains.
“This is giving us the rare opportunity to trace the key moment of transition of these human communities – from hunting and gathering towards sedentary life and agriculture,” he adds.
“So if the Early Neolithic period was in 6,000 – 5,900 BC, these dates are taking us 1,000 years further back in time, meaning the settlement in the Valoga locality is 9,000 years old,” the lead archaeologist elaborates.
He points out once again the Neolithic settlement near Ohoden is a “normal residential place” of the sort that people of all ages have been creating in many places. The archaeologist adds that the dwellings were always built on top of pits, which were designed to serve for both drainage and heat isolation.
“It is inside the filling of these pits that we discover the richest archaeological materials,” Ganetsovski explains.
However, the prehistoric settlement in Ohoden, near the city of Vratsa in Northwest Bulgaria, is remarkable, in addition to its ancientness, because of several of the prehistoric burials discovered there which convey their ritual character because of the way the graves were structured, and shaped, and the specific placing of the human remains in them.
The Ohoden site is also remarkable because of its two prehistoric shrines. One of them is seemingly a sun shrine, whereas the other one is believed to been dedicated to fire because of the several sacrificial pyres found in it.
In previous interviews, lead archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski has explained how the Ohoden Early Neolithic Settlement contains evidence of the merging of Mediterranean and Proto-European prehistoric people into the first European civilization.
The Early Neolithic settlement in the area called Valoga near the town of Ohoden, Vratsa Municipality, in Northwest Bulgaria is one of the earliest human settlements in Europe dating back to the 6th millennium BC. It consists of prehistoric homes, a necropolis, and a fertility and sun temple. It features what might be the earliest known sun temple which is about 8,000 years old, as are the prehistoric human skeletons found there.
The analysis of the artifacts found at the Ohoden Early Neolithic settlement shows that it belongs to the so called Gradeshnitsa-Karcha Early Neolithic Culture which developed in today’s Northwestern Bulgaria and Southwestern Romania. The finds from the Ohoden excavations indicate that the Balkan Peninsula was the center of a prehistoric civilization that spread to the rest of Europe.
Back in 2011, the archaeologists excavating Ohoden discovered a shrine with a prehistoric altar decorated with huge trophy elk horns placed 2 meters away from the ritual burial of a man discovered in 2010. The scholars have stipulated that the altar was used to glorify the buried man’s hunting achievements.
The shrine is believed to have been a fertility and son temple as its floor was paved with U-shaped stones directed to the east; it contained dozens of clay and stone disc symbolizing the sun disc, respectively the sun cult, in early agrarian societies. These finds that are unique of their kind in the entire world have led the scholars to hypothesize that it might be the world’s oldest temple dedicated to the sun.
The first grave excavated at Ohoden was found in 2004. It belonged to a woman who was named with the Bulgarian female name “Todorka” by the local archaeologists. Todorka’s burial is exhibited in the Vratsa Regional Museum of History.
Three more Early Neolithic graves have been discovered at Ohoden.The Early Neolithic homes whose remains were discovered at Ohoden showed traces of beams and columns 45 cm in diameter which is evidence of massive walls and roofs.
The 8,000-year-old Early Neolithic settlement in Ohoden in Northwest Bulgaria was first found in 2002. It has been excavated by a team of archaeologists from the Vratsa Regional Museum of History led by archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski.
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