By Sergei KORENEVSKY, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Archeology; Tatyana MISHINA, staff member of the same Institute
To begin with, it seems it would be quite fair to say that Europe has long been used to what we call "old gold". Strikes of this kind were made in the tombs of the ancient Mycenaean Kingdom, at burial sites of the ancient Celts, Scythians and Sarmatians... But all of these "treasure troves" were dated not earlier than 2nd century B.C. And then, all of a sudden, a Bulgarian digger, doing some excavations near the Varna resort in 1972, struck a trove of 222 unique objects made of gold which, according to archeologists, were no less than 6 thous. years of age.
The highly advanced culture of the ancient cattle-breeders and land-tillers of the Balkans, flashed, like a shooting star, across the sky of history some 6 or 7 thous. years ago and sunk into the oblivion of Lethe. Some obscure tribes and ethnic groups of the distant past, which spoke none of the Indo-European languages we know now, left behind all sorts of valuable memorabilia. The find near Varna belongs to this category.
Archeological studies were launched in the area without delay with the active participation of the Bulgarian expert Prof. Ivan Ivanov and the director of a local museum, Dr. Mikhail Lazarov. During three seasons they excavated more than 80 burial sites of what is known as the Varna Necropolis (5000 - 4250 years B.C.) which occupied an area of about 2 thous. m 2 . The dead were buried in elongated graves and next to them there were clay vessels, copper arms, decorations made of gold and conches, and objects of marble. The experts also dug out some symbolic tombs which contained no human remains, but plenty of gold and other ancient artifacts.
Some of the tombs were real treasure-troves, filled with precious metal decorations: hollow beads, bracelets, brackets of all shapes and sizes and figurines of beasts. One of the tombs contained a unique clay mask, bristling with decorative bits and pieces made of gold. The eyeholes contained shiny yellow discs, the mouth was covered by a golden plate and stuck in the lower lip were 8 "pins" with caps. Ears were adorned with 5 rings each and there was a crown-like ring on the forehead. It turns out that pierced ears and lips with all kinds of decorative pendants were very much in the vogue in that time...
Archeologists excavating the Varna Site also found several ancient weapons-a stone ax and a hammer with handles decorated with ornaments of precious metals. Later on such decorations came into vogue with many nations.
According to experts, objects found in the burials were made of gold mined in Phracia*, but tracing the decorations to any particular goldmines turned out to be quite a problem. Three years of excavations yielded a toll of more than 2,000 objects of gold with a total weight of 4,321 g. It is interesting to note that there are no cast- metal objects among the decorations, which are all made of thin plates. In some of the tombs the amounts of gold decorations were especially large, and one such site contained 1.5 kilos of precious bric-a-brac.
But why did the ancients have to fill the tombs of their kin with objects so precious? The reasons for that could be several. To begin with, this must have been part of the burial traditions which reflected the social position of the deceased in his clan. The higher it was the more treasures went into the tomb. This was so because it was commonly believed that otherwise the status of the dead in the other world could be in question.
* Phracia - historical region in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula.- Ed.
What is more, we really do not know the actual "price" of gold in those ancient communities. For example, the ancient Inks in Peru, who were literally "rolling in gold", valued more copper and iron which were in short supply. And it could well be that at the time of the Varna Necropolis gold was not the standard of value. What we know for sure is that the bright yellow metal, which never looses its shine, was for most of the ancients the symbol of Sun, which they all venerated.
Apart from the golden decor, burials of the Varna Necropolis contained large numbers of heavy bronze tools (pickaxes, punchers) and copper wedges. But most of the tools were made of bone and stone. The shapes of the ceramic objects made it possible for the archeologists to link the site with some familiar tribes which populated once the basin of the Danube and the Balkan. Experts associate them with the Goumelnitsa culture whose "members" settled on the planes of present-day Bulgaria, Romania and in some areas of Moldova and the Ukraine.
They mainly inherited the skills of making tools of stone and ceramics from the more ancient tribes of the Danube region. These tribes engaged in land-tillage and cattle- breeding. It appears that there were no saddle-horses, but horse-flesh could be part of their diet.
Members of these tribes dwelled in what are called telli* villages, or settlements. Tribesmen preferred to reside on the ruins of their forefathers rather than move to new places. What we call the telli zone was densely populated and there are now more than 600 such historical sites on the territory of Bulgaria alone.
Archeologists of Bulgaria, Romania and Russia have established that telli villages consisted of densely spaced houses and were surrounded by fences, without any trenches or fortifications. The absence of man-made fortifications is an interesting feature of the epoch, but is no sign of pacifism of the tribesmen.
Judging by clay models-two and single-storey houses had twin-sloped roofs and could have round windows. They were provided with hearths, but no "tall" fires were lit for reasons of safety. As for the furniture of the period, the evidence seems to be absolutely improbable. We know from clay models that tribes of the Goumelnitsa culture used ordinary chairs and tables,
* Artificial hillocks, or mounds, consisting of wastes and garbage piled up over the centuries.- Ed.
dinner sets and bone spoons and probably also wooden spoons. Meals were served on tables and the food was kept in pots with lids.
Potters of the period achieved high levels of skill in the making of attractive tablewear. There were pots in the shape of the human body and also of rams, bulls, pigs and birds. This tablewear was adorned with intricate ornaments and even gold paint. One intriguing mystery are ornaments on clay tablewear, which look like inscriptions, although these are not real writings.
Archeologists of Bulgaria, Russia and Yugoslavia investigated some bigger pits in the telli zone which must have been used for copper mining. An outstanding discovery in this respect belongs to a Moscow University Professor N. Ryndina who proved that miners of that epoch were already able to smelt copper from deep-lying high-melting sulfide ores (it was earlier believe that such methods originated in Europe 3 to 4 thous. years later). Prof. Ryndina also established that ancient metallurgists were able to cast big copper items in graphite molds. Later on the "secret" of this casting technique was lost, and it was restored in Europe only in the 19th century.
Tribes dwelling in telli settlements along the Danube left behind a multitude of clay human figures. Most of them are figures of women with a slim waist, thick thighs and massive buttocks. The arms, knees and heads were represented schematically as being of only secondary importance for the prolongation of the kin. The ears of the figurines were pieced with holes for ear-rings, and lower lips were also pierced for wearing all kinds of pendants. The body was adorned with all sorts of intricate patterns in spirals and squares. These probably imitated some magic tattoos and scholars believe that such images represented the Mother Goddess-the protectress of fertility. Her veneration occupied a place of central importance in the ancient cults of land-tillers and cattle-breeders whose very existence depended on the forces of Nature. Sacred Dolls were buried in the Varna region tombs as a plea for the resurrection of the near and dear ones. One of the mounds of the area contained statuettes, carved of marble and adorned with gold. And there were also some female deities enthroned.
Scientists of the USSR Academy took a very active part in studies of Bulgaria's past, especially what are called its copper-stone and bronze epochs. Russian experts participated in the Russian-Bulgarian archeological expedition of 1962 which was headed by a leading expert Prof. Nikolai Merpert, now the Cavalier of the Bulgarian Order of Sts. Cyrill and Methodius.
During the first ten years the expedition conducted excavations of the Ezero telli near the city of Novaya Zagora. Their findings were summed up in a theoretical study "Ezero" (1979). In the early 1980s archeologists launched studies of a telli near the vil-
Range of radiocarbon datings from cultural monuments in Goumelnitsa within the pattern of climate changes of Blitni-Sernander (concept ofS. Korenevsky).
lage of Yunatitse, 8 km south of the town of Pazerjik. The studies continued till the year 2000 and at the present time the findings are being processed by Prof. Merpert in conjunction with two researchers of the RAS Institute of Archeology - V. Balabina and T. Mishina.
The Yunatitse telli is 12 m high and 75 m in diameter. This settlement was founded by tribes of the Maritsa culture (basin of a Bulgarian river of the same name), which preceded the Goumelnitsa culture. Tribal life originated there more than 7 thous. years ago and continued, with intervals, until the establishment of the Roman Empire. Excavations were started in 1987 by Bulgarian scholars who were later joined by their Russian colleagues headed by the well-known expert Prof. V. Titov.
The area of these excavations now amounts to some 2,800 - 3,000 m 2 and the depth to 6 m. Opened up have been the layers of the Roman time, Halstadt period (late Bronze epoch and early Iron Age). The investigations have revealed the peculiar planning of the local houses-similar to buildings of Asia Minor and Greece. The houses were located along the perimeter with the center being left unoccupied. A ditch divided the settlement into two parts, with one being built up and the other left empty and used for religious ceremonies with the burning of sacred bonfires.
After a short while the archeologists reached the strata of the Iron Age. As different from the Varna Necropolis, no gold was found there; but the scientists were in for a surprise. A layer of the end of the Goumelnitsa period contained traces of a battle, indicating that the village was suddenly attacked by some enemies who set it on fire. Many of the residents died in their homes, others were buried under the ruins and others still were killed in the streets. Some of the skulls carried holes from heavy copper pickaxes and stone axes. Anthropolists investigating the remains established that all of them belong only to women, children and old people and no male bones were found among them. One can only guess where the other villagers were at that time. Corpses scattered among the ruins were left unattended and only some were buried outside the village which remained deserted for a long time after.
The level of technical skills of eneolithic tribes of the Balkans-Danube Region and of the Goumelnitsa culture was one of the highest in Europe for that period. Nevertheless they did not invent a bronze knife or a bush (socket) axe...
Centuries of life in telli villages produced traditions of conservatism with cultural transformations progressing at a slow pace. One can assume that there was plenty of food available and there were signs of an emerging elite. Their tombs contained plenty of ritual burial objects made of gold and bronze. An exchange trade of rare decorations was booming with some metal ornaments reaching the Dnieper and the Middle Volga.
There can be no doubt that a high level of development of crafts of the Danube Region singled out local tribes from the natives of other geographical zones of Europe and Asia Minor. But they were still far and away from what we call true civilization, representing but one of many modes of development of primitive land-tilling communities which reached an early stage of the pre-statehood period. And they never reached a high stage of social organization characterized by a military elite.
The tribes, which had not yet reached the level of statehood, were primarily concerned with what was their main tasks-adaptation to external conditions, maintaining their livelihood and proliferation. The eneolithic tribes coped with these problems successfully and their disappearance coincided with sharp changes of climate during transition to the second and final part of the Atlantic Holocene period. During that period life in these near-Danube telli villages came to a halt and reappeared centuries later.
This catastrophic finale for the early land-tillers and cattle-breeders was their common destiny, since far from all of them could adapt to the changing environment. Migratory processes were sharply intensified on the verge of global climatic cataclysms. The highly developed (by our standards) Goumelnitsa culture could also be threatened by enemy inroads which were difficult to resist and foil. The society of that period was subordinated to the ruthless mechanism of natural selection.
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