The prehistoric settlement of Provadiya – Solnitsata (i.e. “The Salt Pit”) is located 6 km southeast of the modern-day town of Provadiya, Varna District, in Northeast Bulgaria. It is a prehistoric settlement mound which in a later historical period was turned into a large Ancient Thracian burial mound.
The prehistoric settlement mound has an archaeological layer of about 6 meters, and a diameter of 105 meters at the only rock salt deposit in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is has a territory of 7 decares (app. 1.75 acres).
The extraction of rock salt began during the Late Neolithic, about 5,400-5,000 BC, with the prehistoric residents of the town boiling water from a local salt water spring in ceramic vessels placed inside large domed kilns, and producing salt bricks which they traded and used for the preservation of meat.
The Salt Pit settlement near Provadiya is Europe’s earliest known case of the use of this salt-making technology making Provadiya the oldest salt producing center on the continent.
The life of the Providiya – Solnitsata settlement continued during the Mid Chalcolithic, i.e. between 4,600 and 4,500 BC, and the Late Chalcolithic, between 4,500 and 4,200 BC, when it developed further into a major salt making complex, with the initial kilns being replaced by open-air salt pits up to 10 meters in diameter.
The prehistoric people would light an open fire at the bottom of the pit to boil the salt water in large clay bowls. It is estimated that in this period the town was inhabited by about 350 people.
The Salt Pit settlement near Bulgaria’s Provadiya has yielded a number of other intriguing discoveries such as Europe’s earliest two-storey homes from the Late Neolithic which were used for both dwelling, and salt making, as well as a granary where the archaeologists have found four sickles made of deer horns.
The lucrative extraction and trade of rock salt are believed to have led to the accumulation of wealth by the prehistoric inhabitants of the Provadiya – Solnitsata settlement, and have been linked to the gold treasure of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis (4,500-4,200 BC), the oldest hoard of gold objects found in the world, which is located 37 km to the east.
The riches of the settlement had to be protected which is why during the Mid Chalcolithic its inhabitants built a fortification consisting of a moat and a rampart wall of oak poles covered with clay as well as two large-scale stone bastions.
The bastions were destroyed by an earthquake around 4,550 BC leading the prehistoric people to build new walls made of stone, which also were destroyed by an earthquake. The moat in front of the fortress walls had a diameter of about 100 meters, and was over 2 meters wide, and 3.3 meters deep.
The archaeological artifacts from the fortified prehistoric settlement Provadiya – Solnitsata are part of the collections of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and Provadiya Museum of History.
Europe’s oldest prehistoric town was first excavated in 2005, and has been studied ever since, by lead archaeologist Prof. Vasil Nikolov and Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.