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Hotnitsa Gold Treasure – Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is officially dated to 4,300 – 4,100 BC, and is for sure one of the world’s oldest gold treasures – all five or six of which have been discovered in today’s Bulgaria. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is among the very top contenders for the title of the world’s oldest gold, i.e. the world’s oldest gold treasure or oldest human processed gold, together with several other prehistoric gold treasures from the 5th millenium BC, all of them found in Bulgaria.

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure was discovered during archaeological excavations of the Hotnitsa Settlement Mound in 1956 – 1957 by the team of archaeologist Nikola Angelov from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. It is dated to the second half of the 5th millennium BC, more specifically to 4,300 – 4,100 BC, i.e. the Late Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age).

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure consists of a total of 39 gold rings, one gold spiral, and four gold lamellas with a combined weight of 312 grams, with a gold purity of over 23 carats.

The largest item is the spiral which weighs 44 grams. The four lamellas have been likened to “persons" as they feature depictions of faces drawn with dots. They are thought to have been religious (cult) artifacts which were used by a high priest to communicate with the gods, as amulets, or as household idols. The rings were part of a chain which is believed to have been worn by the prehistoric priest who owned the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure.

The Hotnitsa Settlement Mound, where the treasure was discovered in the late 1950s, is a prehistoric settlement mound that dates back to the 5th-4th millennium BC, i.e. the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) located near the town of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, in Central North Bulgaria. Its archaeological layers are 6 meters deep. It was discovered by accident in 1955 during the construction of irrigation canals when workers stumbled upon pottery and stone tools.

Archaeologist Stefan Chohadzhiev has cautioned that nobody today knows for sure how exactly the artifacts from the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure used to be arranged in the 5th millenium BC. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is just one of five or six prehistoric gold treasures, all from the 5th milleniunim BC, the Late Chalcolithic, and of them discovered in Bulgaria, that claim the title of “the oldest gold in the world", that is, the oldest gold treasure or the oldest human processed gold. The other prehistoric gold treasures from the same time period are the Varna 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.

All of these treasures are the product of Europe’s first human civilization, which developed in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic in today’s Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, along the Lower Danube and the Western Black Sea coast, a prehistoric civilization referred to by some American scholars as “Old Europe".

At first, the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure was mistakenly classified as a Bronze Age treasure (i.e. from the 3rd millennium BC) despite the fact that it was found in a layer from the Chalcolithic period because at the time of its discovery there had been no knowledge of human-processed gold dating from before the Bronze Age.

Its dating was re-evaluated after the discovery of the Varna Gold Treasure in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast some 15 years later, in 1972, which proved unequivocally that the oldest gold artifacts in the world were produced by Europe’s first civilization in the 5th millennium BC. Further evidence of that came with the discovery of the Durankulak Gold Treasure in Northeast Bulgaria, also on the Black Sea coast, in 1979.

A black-and-white photograph shows the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure after its discovery back in 1957. Photo: Wikipedia

The rings from Hotntisa Treasure are believed to have been part of a chain worn by a priest – though nobody knows for sure if that is correct. Photo: BTA

There has been a hypothesis that the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is even older than the Varna Gold Treasure. The hypothesis focuses on the gold spiral of the Hotnitsa Treasure since it 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 humanmade gold artifact. The title is also claimed by a gold spiral hairpin from the Durankulak Gold Treasure, which could date to as early as the Middle Chalcolithic.

All in all, however, the Varna Gold Treasure is usually described as the world’s oldest gold treasure as it is the largest of all five or six prehistoric gold treasures, all found in Bulgaria.

Compared with the other of the “world’s oldest gold treasures", however, the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure is remarkable because it was found inside a prehistoric home, not in a grave or numerous graves from a prehistoric necropolis.

This fact has been construed to mean that the gold items from the Hotnitsa Treasure were worn and used by the prehistoric people in their everyday life, and not just for religious rituals.

The four lamellas from the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure have been likened to “persons” because they resemble human faces. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

Archaeologist Stefan Chohadzhiev, who has been excavating the prehistoric Hotnitsa Settlement Mound further in recent years, has hypothesized that part of the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure might have gone missing at the time of its discovery.

The Hotnitsa Gold Treasure, one of the world’s oldest, is kept at the Regional Museum of History in the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.

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