Archaeologists Discover 6,500-Year-Old Gold Jewels in Solnitsata (‘The Salt Pit’) Prehistoric Town in Bulgaria’s Provadiya
Several roughly 6,500-year-old gold artifacts have been discovered by archaeologists together with numerous other finds during the 2016 excavations of the Solnitsata (i.e. “The Salt Pit”) prehistoric settlement, which has been dubbed “Europe’s oldest prehistoric town“, located near Provadiya in Northeast Bulgaria.
More specifically, the newly found gold items date back to the period between 4,500 and 4,200 BC, lead archaeologist Prof. Vasil Nikolov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, has announced, as cited by local news site Darik News Varna.
The archaeological excavations of the prehistoric town “Provadiya – Solnitsata” made international headlines a year ago, in September 2015, with the discovery of a 6,300-year-old gold jewel.
Just recently, in September 2016, Nikolov announced the discovery of a roughly 6,400-year-old water well where the archaeological team had reached water at a depth of 8 meters.
However, the fact that more gold jewels have been discovered during the ongoing digs has been revealed only now, during a visit of Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov to the archaeological site of the Provadiya – Solnitsata prehistoric town.
One of the gold items is an applique which was probably cast in a wax mold, the lead archaeologist has explained.
A total of some 400 archaeological artifacts have been found by the research team during the 2016 excavations so far.
Nikolov has emphasized the importance of the Salt Pit settlement, and the fact that during the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) salt was the most precious resource, commodity, and even a currency.
He has reiterated his earlier comparison of the prehistoric town to Europe’s first mint pointing out that salt was shaped in bullion and traded with, whereas gold became more valued only later.
Not just the unearthed salt pits and gold jewels but also the extremely impressive size and scope of the three fortress walls of the Provadiyata – Solnitsata prehistoric indicate that Europe’s richest residents from the middle of the 5th millennium resided there.
It is considered no accident that the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure, was discovered nearby – 40 km to the east, in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis near Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna.
The archaeological team has also been working on the partial restoration of one of the fortification stone walls erected ca. 4,500 BC, using a method called “anestilosis“, i.e. reusing surviving original materials.
The prehistoric wall in question is at least 324 meters long, and up to 4.3 meters thick. It was almost 5 meters tall at a time (the Late Chalcolithic) when the rest of Europe barely had any stone fortifications.
“Even in the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, there were really such major facilities, and this here was 6,500 years ago. Try to imagine how advanced these people must have been in terms of military technology because they had to protect incredible wealth,” the lead archaeologist has told bTV referring to the rock salt extracted there.
Nikolov believes that just the surviving 6,500-year-old fortress wall itself is going to bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Salt Pit settlement, and that it is shaping to become the most attractive prehistoric monument in Southeast Europe.
Another significant discovery, in addition to the finds from the Chalcolithic, are Ancient Thracian artifacts from the Late Hellenistic period, and, most notably, fragments from the so called Megara cups produced in the south of Ancient Greece.
Up until now, Megara cups had been found in Bulgaria only in the Ancient Greek colonies on the country’s southern Black Sea coast. Nikolov points out that for the first time they have been discovered so deep inland, some 40-50 km away from the Black Sea coast.
The 2016 archaeological excavations of the Provadiya – Solnitsata prehistoric town have been funding with a total of BGN 37,000 (app. EUR 18,500) by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture. The team hopes that at least BGN 100,000 (app. EUR 50,000) will be allocated for the site in 2017 in order to expand and deepen their excavations and research.
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. It has been dubbed “Europe’s oldest prehistoric town.
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.