Europe’s oldest prehistoric town unearthed in Bulgaria [Photos, Actual footage]

The oldest prehistoric town in Europe has been unearthed after a marathon seven-year dig. The settlement remains near the town of Provadia, eastern Bulgaria, date back as far as 4,700BC. Parts of two-storey houses, a gate and a series of pits used for rituals are among the finds. “We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC,” said Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archeology.

Nikolov and his team have worked since 2005 to excavate the Provadia-Solnitsata settlement, located near the Black Sea resort of Varna.

Archeologist Krum Bachvarov from the National Institute of Archeology qualified this latest find as “extremely interesting” due to the peculiar burial positions and objects found in the graves, which differed from other neolithic graves found in Bulgaria.

“The huge walls around the settlement, which were built very tall and with stone blocks … are also something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in southeast Europe so far,” Bachvarov added.

The remains of a man and two children in the necropolis of a small settlement made of two-story houses near the town of Provadia in eastern Bulgaria

Grave: Skeletons of man and two children were also found at the site

Well fortified, a religious centre and most importantly, a major production centre for a specialised commodity that was traded far and wide, the settlement of about 350 people met all the conditions to be considered the oldest known “prehistoric town” in Europe, the team says.

“At a time when people did not know the wheel and cart these people hauled huge rocks and built massive walls. Why? What did they hide behind them?” Nikolov asked.

The answer: “Salt.”

The area is home to huge rock-salt deposits, some of the largest in southeast Europe and the only ones to be exploited as early as the sixth millennium BC, Nikolov said.

This is what made Provadia-Solnitsata what it was.

Nowadays, salt is still mined there but 7,500 years ago it had a completely different significance.

“Salt was an extremely valued commodity in ancient times, as it was both necessary for people’s lives and was used as a method of trade and currency starting from the sixth millennium BC up to 600 BC,” the researcher explained.

Excavations-at-Provadia-Solnitsata-1--186753 (1)

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata /// In the Neolithic period – around 5500-5200 BC – brine was collected in specially made thin-walled ceramic bowls and placed in massive dome-shaped kilns throughout houses in the settlement producing an output of around ten tons of rock cakes most likely intended for export.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata As time passed, the settlers improved the process with a new type of ceramic container which had relatively thick walls and two everted lugs on the rim, and the process took place in large purpose dug structures rather than individual houses, improving output by around 4 times.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata /// As time passed, the settlers improved the process with a new type of ceramic container which had relatively thick walls and two everted lugs on the rim, and the process took place in large purpose dug structures rather than individual houses, improving output by around 4 times.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata Later still, around 4700-4500 BC, ceramic pots were improved further and placed in deep wide pits, and a major industrial complex was established next to the settlement. It's possible this led to the wealth of Varna, located just 40km from the site, where the oldest and richest gold grave goods were ever found.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata /// Later still, around 4700-4500 BC, ceramic pots were improved further and placed in deep wide pits, and a major industrial complex was established next to the settlement. It’s possible this led to the wealth of Varna, located just 40km from the site, where the oldest and richest gold grave goods were ever found.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata The accumulated wealth meant the fortune of the salt-producers needed to be defended and substantial defensive structures have been found at the site. Furthermore, three ritual sites have also been found at the location.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata /// The accumulated wealth meant the fortune of the salt-producers needed to be defended and substantial defensive structures have been found at the site. Furthermore, three ritual sites have also been found at the location.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata At the current rate, excavation could take another 20-30 years, so we are working with the municipality to provide more funding and try to increase the excavation to four months per year rather than two. We are also planning to improve access and infrastructure at the site so that it can eventually be developed as a tourist attraction.

Excavations at Provadia-Solnitsata /// At the current rate, excavation could take another 20-30 years, so we are working with the municipality to provide more funding and try to increase the excavation to four months per year rather than two. We are also planning to improve access and infrastructure at the site so that it can eventually be developed as a tourist attraction.

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