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27 January 2016
Ancient gold and a 7,000-year-old fortress wall in Bulgaria

A 7,000-year-old defensive wall from the Copper Age has been discovered at a prehistoric settlement mound near Hotnitsa, in north central Bulgaria. The palisade was made of wooden pillars 40 centimetres in diameter, and plastered with clay on both sides. The finished wall surrounding the 50 metre diameter settlement was about 80 centimetres wide, probably up to 3 metres tall, and maintained for 1,000 years.
     The settlement was inhabited from the 5th to 4th millennium BCE by people engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and gathering. Discovered in 1955, its archaeological layers are 6 metres thick. It is known for the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure, from the same period as the gold treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis on the Black Sea. One of the gold spirals found at Hotnitsa was more than a metre deeper than any from Varna, and could be the world's oldest gold.
     In a small pit under the floor of a burned home with well-preserved charred wood, the team found a hand mill, a ceramic vessel, and two flint artefacts. The pit was dug before the home was built. A pit previously discovered beneath a different home on this site yielded a collection of legs from goats, sheep, and pigs, placed in an anatomically correct order. A pit plastered into the floor of a home in another settlement held a model of a miniature vessel. A pit within a home in a third settlement contained a large vessel with ashes.
     Large finds from 2015 at Hotnitsa include a section of 6,400-year-old wooden floor, preserved by a flood. The boards fit perfectly together, supported by beams about one metre apart. Small finds comprise some 500 artefacts, mostly flint tools made from prime quality flint from northeast Bulgaria. Other tools include a bone dagger, a copper needle, stone claw hammers, awls, and arrow tips. Ceramic vessels, and ornaments made of bone or the shells of freshwater mollusks and snails were also found. Among the most interesting artefacts is a vertical loom for weaving.
     Truly remarkable is a 6,400-year-old ceramic vessel lid with a depiction of a male head with a large nose and a pointy chin. Signs shaped like butterflies, possibly tattoos, are visible on the man's cheeks. He wears a small cap represented with by dots. Archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev says: "This is a very rare find because the anatomical features of the face are presented in great detail. We have found other depictions of male heads with beards but the presence of a cap shows that this man enjoyed a more special status. In the past, we have found a similar lid in Petko Karavelovo - a male head with beard braids wearing the same kind cap but it was depicted with spirals, not dots.
     His team has also found two bone figurines with female human features, one of them 8.5 millimetres long and only 3 millimetres wide. Another new find is a miniature model of a ceramic vessel - the second of its kind found at Hotnitsa.
     Excavations first took place at Hotnitsa between 1956 and 1959. Finds included 20 perfectly aligned thatched roof one-room homes made with wooden poles plastered with mud, as well as ceramic vessels, and artefacts made of copper, bone, stone, and flint. In one home, archaeologists found 40 gold rings, and four thin gold plates with depictions of faces drawn with dots. In another were found a large quantity of prehistoric idols made of bone, not all of them finished. From 2000 to 2007, the northern half of the mound yielded 6 more homes and over 5,000 artefacts, including gold items, copper tools, and figurines of humans and animals.
     Some artefacts are interpreted as proving Hotnitsa had commercial ties with the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and north of the Danube.
     The settlement may have been destroyed in an invasion of nomadic tribes from the north, who, after 800 years of convergence with the local population gave rise to the highly developed civilisation of Ancient Thrace.

Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (21 January 2016)

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