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Grave 43 – an elite male burial at Varna. Inset: The small golden bead found in Bulgaria.

Tiny Bead Found in Bulgaria May Be Oldest Known Gold Artifact in the World

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A tiny bead found in Bulgaria is believed to be the oldest worked piece of gold in the world, an archaeologist says. Researchers discovered the precious bauble in a settlement dating back 6,600 years—the oldest “urban” settlement or town in Europe.

The tiny bead is 1/8 inch (4 mm) in diameter. It was probably made in the settlement, which is outside the town of Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria, Reuters reports . It will be on display in the town museum of Pazardzhik after restorers clean it and experts make a final confirmation on its age.

The gold bead weighs just 0.005 ounce of 15 centigrams. Archaeologists found it in July in the remains of a small, very old house. The artisan who made the bead was working at the beginning of the Copper Age, when humans first started working metals like gold and copper.

Reuters reports that Professor Yavor Boyadzhiev of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as saying that the bead predates jewelry from a Copper Age cemetery in Varna, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea. Those pieces of jewelry were excavated in 1972 and were the oldest gold artifacts known in the world until this one was found.

“It's a really important discovery,” Dr. Boyadzhiev told Reuters. “It is a tiny piece of gold but big enough to find its place in history.”

He called the town Europe’s first urban settlement, a prototype of a modern town in Mesopotamian standards of civilization. He said a “highly cultured society” of people lived there after moving from Anatolia around 8,000 years ago.

Around 4100 BC, tribes coming from the northeast invaded and destroyed the town, he said.

He added that this town predates the civilization of Sumer of southern Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq by more than a thousand years. Sumer is widely considered to be the first civilization in the world.

The town or settlement measures between 25 to 30 acres (10 to 12 hectares). Archaeologists believe it had a defensive wall standing 9 feet (2.8 meters). In Mesopotamia, researchers consider a prehistoric settlement of more than 0.7 to 0.8 hectares as a town, Boyadzhiev told Reuters.

Researchers have also found 150 ceramic figurines of birds at the settlement. They think the people of the town worshiped birds.

While this gold bead find is important for its extreme antiquity, the Varna horde was vastly more impressive in quantity.

As Ancient Origins reported in 2014, in the 1970s, archaeologists in Bulgaria stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis from the 5 th millennium BC containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered near the modern-day city of Varna. But it was not until they reached grave 43 that they realized the real significance of the finding. Inside burial 43 were the remains of a high status male and unfathomable riches – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.

Golden objects found in the necropolis at Varna.

Golden objects found in the necropolis at Varna. Source: Wikipedia

Most people have heard of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, which are all noted for being the earliest known civilizations to feature urbanization, organized administration, and cultural innovation. But few have heard of the mysterious civilization that emerged on the shores of lakes of the Black Sea some 7,000 years ago in Bulgaria.

The Varna culture, as it has come to be known, was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts. Varna is also now home to the largest known prehistoric necropolis in southeastern Europe, which reflects a richness in cultural practices, complex funerary rites, an ancient belief system, and the capacity to produce exquisite and expertly-crafted goods. It has come to be known as the cradle of civilization in Europe.

Top image: Grave 43 – an elite male burial at Varna. Photo source . Inset: The small golden bead found in Bulgaria. Credit: Dimitar Kyosemarliev.

By Mark Miller

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