Oldest known Gold Jewelry in Europe Discovered at Bronze Age Bulgarian site
The first gold jewelry known to have been fashioned in Europe, about 6,600 years ago in Bulgaria, has been discovered in what the lead archaeologist calls the oldest prehistoric town in Europe. The gold pendant is small—just 2 grams—but it is an important find.
Archaeologists uncovered the precious piece in what they call Solnitsata—a Bronze Age settlement near the town of Provadiya in the Varna region that had two-story houses about 4,400 BC. The gold, plus the houses and other developments prompted a researcher to speculate that the people of northern Bulgaria were highly advanced.
“There used to be a highly developed civilization on these territories. It was concentrated in two locations,” Solnitsata lead archaeologist Vassil Nikolov of the Bulgarian National Institute of Archaeology told Cherno More agency, as quoted in The Daily Mail. “There was a major center for the processing of copper and gold near the Varna lakes, and here, in the prehistoric settlement Solnitsata, there was the extraction of salt. This society developed for about 200-300 years.”
“What's interesting regarding the gold jewel that we have found now is that it wasn't discovered inside one of the graves but between them, which might testify to some kind of a more special ritual,” Professor Nikolov told the Cherno More agency .
Other prehistoric gold artifacts have been discovered in the Varna region, including in 1973 at the Varna Necropolis east of Provadia—the world’s first known hoard of gold from about 4,400 BC.
The hoard from Varna, which is not far from Solnitsata, is the oldest known cache of gold in Europe. (Photo by Yelkrokoyade/Wikimedia Commons)
Professor Nikolov said the gold piece from Solnitsata may have been worn as a sign of status by either a man or a woman.
It is possible salt was used as currency before gold and other metals were mined by these Bronze Age people, he said. Later ancient Rome paid its legions in salt, from which is derived the word salary.
In 2012, news outlets reported on researchers’ finding of fortifications at Solnitsata, which led them to speculate, perhaps presciently, that the site held riches. They found stone walls around the settlement that measure 3 meters (10 feet) tall by 1.8 meters (6 feet) thick. Professor Nikolov told National Geographic the walls were further evidence of an advanced Copper Age trade network in the Balkans.
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The settlement of Solnitsata is the subject of some dispute. The lead researcher there say it’s Europe’s oldest town, but another archaeologist said he worked on bigger, older settlements in Serbia. ( National Geographic photo )
National Geographic wrote:
“Long before the first wheel rolled through Europe, precious goods were likely crisscrossing the Balkans on pack animals and possibly in carts with sledlike bottoms. Salt, essential for preserving meats, joined gold and copper among the most prized cargo. And with its rare and coveted brine springs, Solnitsata, near present-day Provadiya, was a key producer, boiling off the salt and baking it into ready-to-trade blocks to supply its region with the essential mineral.”
A couple of archaeologists who did not work on the Solnitsata site told National Geographic that they questioned whether it was truly Europe’s oldest town. Estimates of the settlement’s population range from 150 to 350.
The presence of the fortifications lends further credence to a theory that the salt trade made southern Europe rich. Excavations at other sites have bolstered the theory.
Featured image: This is the actual size of the gold piece made in Bulgaria’s prehistoric fortified settlement of Solnitsata. (Photo: Trud daily)
By: Mark Miller