Bulgaria Showcases World’s Oldest Gold, Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis Treasure, in European Parliament in Brussels
The world’s oldest processed gold, the almost 7,000-year-old Varna Gold Treasure from the Chalcolithic Necropolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, has been showcased at a special exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels.
The exhibit entitled “Varna – The Oldest Gold Treasure” was opened on October 14, and will be on display at the European Parliament’s Altiero Spinelli Building, on the 3rd floor, until October 16, 2015.
The Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, and, the Varna Gold Treasure, respectively, was first discovered in 1972 during the digs for the infrastructure of a canning factory in Northeast Bulgaria.
Created by the Chalcolithic Varna Culture, the treasure consisting of a wide range of gold artifacts from the funeral inventories of a number of prehistoric graves has been dated to 4560-4450 BC.
The Brussels exhibit features some of the most precious finds from the Varna Necropolis – the gold artifacts discovered in Graves No. 4 and 36 whose combined weight is more than one third of the total weight of the entire Varna Gold Treasure.
Learn more about the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis and the Varna Gold Treasure in the Background Infonotes below!
The opening of the “Varna – The Oldest Gold Treasure” exhibit was attended by the “Big Three” EU leaders – the President of the EU Council Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
Bulgaria was represented by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Kristalina Georgieva, Vice President of the European Commission, and by most of the 17 Bulgarian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
The exhibition of the Varna Gold Treasure in the European Parliament in Brussels has been initiated by Bulgarian MEP Emil Radev, a native of the Black Sea city of Varna.
“I would like for people to see that in addition to sunny beaches and nice ski tracks, Bulgaria has got ancient history, much more ancient than the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and that it has lots of interesting artifacts. This is our best advertisement – to show everybody in the heart of Europe that Bulgaria is unique, and that we are an ancient people with a rich history,” says Radev, as cited by the Bulgarian daily 24 Chasa.
He adds that it took him a year to organize the exhibit of the Varna Gold Treasure in Brussels.
The Varna gold has been exhibited all over the world in the 43 years since its discovery.
However, for the first time at the Brussels exhibit the organizers have invited Raycho Marinov, 65, the man who originally discovered the treasure and the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis while he was operating an excavator back on October 22, 1972, at the age of 22, reports Darik Varna.
Marinov came across several bracelets and a breastplate, collected them in a shoe box, and took them home. Having had no idea what he had stumbled upon, a couple of days later he informed the local archaeologists.
For his discovery back then, Marinov was awarded BGN 500, a substantial sum for the time equal to several monthly salaries. However, the intelligence services of the Bulgarian communist regime followed him around for a while to make sure he had not kept any artifacts for himself in order to sell them.
While he says that he is proud that the entire world can see the prehistoric gold treasure, the world’s oldest, which he discovered, Marinov also shares that because of the discovery his son later grew up to earn a degree in archaeology and history but is presently unemployed.
Bulgaria’s Varna Gold Treasure is considered the oldest processed gold in the world dating back to the time of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) Varna Culture (usually dated to 4400-4100 BC).
It was discovered in 1972 in the so called Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis during the construction of a canning factory. It was the operator of an excavator, Raycho Marinov, then aged 22, who stumbled upon several artifacts, collected them in a shoe box, and took them to his home. A couple of days later he informed the local archaeologists. For his discovery back then, Marinov was awarded BGN 500, a substantial sum for the time equaling several monthly salaries. However, the intelligence services of the Bulgarian communist regime followed him around for a while to make sure he had not kept any artifacts for himself in order to sell them.
A total of 294 Chalcolithic graves were unearthed at the necropolis which was excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists Mihail Lazarov (in 1972–1976) and Ivan Ivanov (in 1972–1991). About 30% of the estimated territory of the necropolis is yet to be excavated.
Using radiocarbon dating, in 2006, the Chalcolithic graves where the Varna Gold Treasure was found were dated to 4560-4450 BC.
The discoveries from the necropolis indicate that the Varna Culture had trade relations with distant Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. It likely exported rock salt from the Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit”) rock salt mine.
The shells of the Mediterranean mollusk Spondylus found in the graves in the Varna Necropolis and at other Chalcolithic sites in Northern Bulgaria may have been used as a form of currency.
Among the graves, several featured a wealth of gold artifacts indicating that as early as the Chalcolithic the Balkan Peninsula (Southeast Europe) already had some form of statehood and a royal institution.
The gold artifacts from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis were found in graves with skeletons (mostly male) as well as in symbolic graves without human remains.
One of the most interesting inventories was found in the so called Grave No. 43 which was unearthed in the central part of the Varna Necropolis in 1974. It belonged to a male aged 40-45 but of rather substantial size for the time, 1.70-1.75 meters tall (app. 5 feet 6 – 8 inches).
The numerous gold artifacts discovered in Grave No. 43 near Bulgaria’s Varna weighbb a total of 1.5 kg which one of the reasons to believe that the buried man was a very important member of his community.
The gold items include 10 large applications, a high number of rings some which were on strings, two necklaces, an item believed to be a gold phallus, beads, golden decorations for a bow, a stone ax and a copper ax with gold decorations, a bow with gold applications.
The funeral inventory also includes a large number copper artifacts such as a copper ax, a copper claw hammer, a copper chisel and a copper awl as well as lots of stone, flint, seashell, and bone artifacts including bracelets from the Spondylus mollusk, and 11 ornately decorated ceramic vessels.
In another grave of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, Grave No. 36, a symbolic grave, the archaeologists found over 850 gold items – a tiara, earrings, a necklace, a breastplate, bracelets, a belt, a gold hammer-scepter, a good model of a sickle, two gold lamellas representing animals, 30 models of heads of horned animals.
The artifacts were found covered with a gold-laced cloth. The gold items lined the contours of a human body with more artifacts on the right side which is deemed to signify that the grave contained a male funeral. The gold artifacts are interpreted as royal insignia.
Similar “royal” burials have also been found in graves No. 1, 4, and 5 of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis.
Another type of graves in the necropolis contains clay masks of human faces where the eyes, mouths, teeth, and noses are depicted with gold. Unlike the graves described above which contain smith tools, the graves with the mask contain clay vases, cups, and needles. That is why these are interpreted as female funerals depicting the Mother Goddess.
The closeness of the “female” symbolic graves No. 2, 3, and 15 with the symbolic royal graves No. 1, 4, and 5 are interpreted as ritual representations of holy marriages between a king and the Mother Goddess. These six funerals are believed to have been the core of the Chalcolithic Necropolis in Bulgaria’s Varna, and to have predated the rest of the graves.
Much of the meaning of the finds from the necropolis is seen as celebrating the role of the smith who in his role as a creator is seen as supplanting the role of the Mother Goddess transforming the matriarchal world into a patriarchal one.
The position of the smith in the Chalcolithic culture is seen as comparable to that of the king because during the Chalcolithic period metal was more of a status symbol than an economic means.
The Varna Gold Treasure is part of the collection of the Varna Museum of Archaeology.