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Dabene Gold Treasure – Dabene, Karlovo, Bulgaria

The Early Bronze Age Dabene Gold Treasure features a wide variety of more than 21,000 gold artifacts. Photos: National Museum of History

The Dabene Gold Treasure is a vast Early Bronze Age treasure dating back to the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, more specifically to the period between 2,450 BC and 2,100 BC.

Its first known elements were discovered in 2004 by accident near the town of Dabene in the Karlovo Valley in Central Bulgaria. More gold artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure have been discovered in subsequent years, and already consists of a total of more than 21,000 different gold items such as beads, spirals, hairpins, amulets, earrings, parts of necklaces, and a dagger among other artifacts.

The Dabene Gold Treasure’s discovery was purely accidental back in 2004 when archaeologists were excavating an Ancient Roman road station along a Roman road nearby, near the town of Sopot, which is located near the town of Karlovo, Plovdiv District.

One day two archaeologists from excavation team entered a local grocery store, and noticed that the shop assistant was wearing a string of gold beads which were very reminiscent of ancient gold artifacts.

It turned out that the gold beads had been discovered by the shop assistant’s husband in a nearby agricultural field while plowing with a tractor. The man, Ivan Dimitrov, took the archaeologists to the respective place, and emergency excavations began shortly thereafter.

The field where the low-height Bronze Age ritual mounds with the Dabene Gold Treasure have been discovered. Photo: National Museum of History

The excavation site whether the Dabene Gold Treasure has been discovered. Photo: National Museum of History

The gold dagger from the Dabene Gold Treasure is the only Bronze Age artifact of its kind in the entire world. Photo: National Museum of History

The field in question turned out to harbor hundreds of low-height ritual mounds from the Early Bronze Age. Only some of them contained gold artifacts while the others contained a wide range of very valuable other items such as pottery, bronze, and silver vessels.

The over 21,000 gold artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure discovered over the course of the excavations in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 were made of 18 – 23 carat gold, with the smallest ones being just 1.5 millimeters in diameter, a very fine craftsmanship that surprised the archaeologists given their prior knowledge of Bronze Age technology. The rescue excavations in 2004 were led by archaeologist Martin Hristov from the National Museum of History in Sofia.

The place where the low-height Early Bronze Age rituals mounds are located near Dabenewas also surprising since the closest known prehistoric settlement, dating to the 4th – 3rd millennium BC, is situated quite a few kilometers away.

The discovery site of the Dabene Gold Treasure features no traces of a settlement or different buildings, nor indications that it had been an ancient necropolis, or any other archaeological that might have been destroyed in a fire, for instance. About 15 of the hundreds of mounds have been excavated by archaeologists so far.

The archaeologists have hypothesized that the gold and other artifacts may have buried as part of sacrifices to an unknown deity, possibly the Great Mother Goddess worshipped by the Ancient Thracians but also by the people of the preceding prehistoric civilization.

There are two hypotheses about the origin of the Dabene Gold Treasure – one is that it is Ancient Thracian, and the other one is that it is Proto-Thracian, i.e. of the first people who conquered and/or displaced the original population of Europe’s first prehistoric civilization developed in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic.

Since no human bones or other human remains whatsoever have been discovered in the ritual mounds of the Dabene Gold Treasure, there is a hypothesis that a prehistoric production or manufacturing center existed in the Karlovo Valley in today’s Central Bulgaria in the Early Bronze Age, and that it might have exported gold to other parts of Southern and Central Europe.

The first artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure discovered in 2004 were exhibited for the first time in Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia in August 2015 without any restoration work because they had been found in perfect condition.

One of the most intriguing artifacts from the Early Bronze Age Dabene Gold Treasure is the dagger discovered in 2006, which is made of an alloy of high-purity gold, platinum, and other metals. The dagger is 16 centimeters long, and weights 42.8 grams. It was discovered in “Ritual Structure No. 5" of the Dabene archaeological site.

The Dabene Gold Treasure dagger is the only Bronze Age artifact of its kind in the entire world, and is believed to have been a symbol of royal or priestly power.

During their excavations in 2007, the archaeologists found a deep ritual pit filled up with stones. In it they discovered eight different ceramic vessels and a cup, and a gold spiral made of a tube of high-purity gold.

Another very intriguing artifact from the Dabene Treasure is a small box with a lid made of pure silver – also a first of its kind for human prehistory.

The gold artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure were probably buried as part of various rituals in the second half of the 3rd millenium BC. Photos: National Museum of History

According to the National Museum of History in Sofia, the artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure from Central Bulgaria are reminiscent of artifacts found in Ancient Troy in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) and in the Bronze Age settlement of Poliochne on the island of Lemnos, Greece.

It points out to the hypotheses that a gold production center existed near Dabene in Central Bulgaria in the Bronze Age, while another such center likely existed in the region of Kyustendil in today’s Western Bulgaria. Given the nature and number of artifacts, it is also hypothesized that they might have been manufactured by highly specialized artisans.

The precise nature of the rituals in which the artifacts from the Dabene Gold Treasure were buried remains unclear, and it is possible that they were not uniform but varied in purpose and time within the said period in Early Bronze Age.

The Early Bronze Age gold treasure from Dabene could be deemed as a symbolic connection between the oldest gold treasures in the world – all prehistoric gold treasures discovered in Bulgaria from the 5th millennium BC, i.e. 2,000 years earlier (he Varna Gold Treasure, the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure, the Durankulak Gold Treasure, the gold artifacts from the Yunatsite Settlement Mound near Pazardzhik, the Sakar Gold Treasure as well as gold items such as beads and jewels found in the Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit") Settlement Mound) and the also glorious Ancient Thracian treasures from the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age / Antiquity (such as the Valchitran Gold Treasure, the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the Rogozen Silver Treasure, among many others).

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