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.
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.