The Prehistoric Settlement Mound near the town of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, in Central North Bulgaria, dates back to the 5th-4th millennium BC, i.e. the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age). Its archaeological layers are 6 meters thick. It was discovered by accident in 1955 during the construction of irrigation canals when workers stumbled upon pottery and stone tools.
The first archaeological excavations of the Hotnitsa Prehistoric Settlement Mound took place in 1956-1959, and were conducted by archaeologists from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.
Back then, they unearthed a total of 20 one-room homes made with wooden poles plastered with mud, with thatched roofs; the homes were perfectly lined indicating early urban planning; they had an inventory of ceramic vessels and artifacts made of copper, bone, stone, and flint.
In one of the homes, the archaeologists found a gold treasure of 40 rings and four lamellas. The so called Hotnitsa Gold Treasure has a combined total weight of 0.35 kg. The lamellas feature depictions of faces drawn with dots. They are thought to have been religious (cult) artifacts which were used by a priest to communicate with the gods, or as amulets. In 1958, the archaeologists found in one of the Hotnitsa homes lots of prehistoric idols made of bone. Because of their large number and the fact that not all of them were finished, it was hypothesized that this was a prehistoric workshop for bone figurines.
The archaeological excavations of the Hotnitsa settlement were resumed in 2000, and have been continuing ever since. In 2000-2007, the Veliko Tarnovo archaeologists excavated 300 square meters in the northern half of the mound finding over 5,000 artifacts. They unearthed six more homes, and found new gold items, copper tools, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines. In 2000, three gold lamellas were found; in 2001, a gold spiral; and in 2006, another gold spiral.
The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure dates back to the same time period as the Varna Gold Treasure found in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, which is known as the oldest gold in the world.
There have been speculations that the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is even older than the Varna Gold Treasure. One of the arguments for that is that one of the gold spirals from Hotnitsa was found in a layer that is located 1-1.5 meters deeper compared with the archaeological layers in Varna. This spiral-shaped artifact could be the world’s oldest gold.
What is more, the gold decorations from Hotnitsa were found in a home, not in a grave or a necropolis as is the case with the Varna Gold Treasure. This is taken to mean that the gold items were worn and used by the prehistoric people in their everyday life, not just for religious rituals.
The pottery found in the Hotnitsa settlement mound is also similar to the pottery from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis. One of the most interesting artifacts from Hotnitsa is a vertical loom. The settlement was inhabited by a sedentary population dealing with agriculture and cattle breeding, with some hunting and gathering.
Some of the artifacts are interpreted as proving the early residents of Hotnitsa had commercial ties with other prehistoric settlements located on the Black Sea coast, the Mediterranean, and north of the Danube River.
From the animal bones found in Hotnitsa, Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia has identified bones from 8 bird species: mute swan (Cygnus olor), black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), western marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), great bustard (Otis tarda), common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) and domestic chicken (Gallus gallus f. domestica).
The Hotnitsa prehistoric settlement was inhabited until the 4th millennium BC, and may have been destroyed in an invasion of Proto-Thracian nomadic tribes from the north. Historically, this was followed by a period of some 800 years of convergence of the local prehistoric population and the Proto-Thracians that gave the start to the highly developed civilization of Ancient Thrace.