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Archeology

Varna Man And The Wealthiest Grave Of The 5th Millennium BC

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Varna Man and the Wealthiest Grave of the 5th Millennium BC
Photo Credit: Yelkrokoyade/CC BY SA 3.0

In the 1970s, archaeologists in Bulgaria stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis from the 5th millennium BC containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered near the modern-day city of Varna. But it was not until they reached grave 43 that they realized the real significance of the finding. Inside burial 43 they unearthed the remains of a high status male buried with unfathomable riches – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.

Most people have heard of the great civilizations of MesopotamiaEgypt, and the Indus Valley, which are all noted for being the earliest known civilizations to feature urbanization, organized administration, and cultural innovation. But few have heard of the mysterious civilization that emerged on the shores of lakes near the Black Sea some 7,000 years ago.

The Amazing Varna Culture

The Varna culture, as it has come to be known, was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of what would become Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts.

Varna is also now home to the largest known prehistoric necropolis in south-eastern Europe, which reflects richness in cultural practices, complex funerary rites, an ancient belief system, and the capacity to produce exquisite and expertly-crafted goods. It has come to be known as the cradle of civilization in Europe.

The Varna man burial has some of the world’s oldest gold jewellery. (Yelkrokoyade/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Rise of Gold-Smithing and Wealth

Evidence suggests that it was between 4600 and 4200 BC when gold-smithing first started in Varna. As advances were made, and craftsmen mastered metallurgy of copper and gold, the inhabitants now had something extremely valuable to trade. Increased contacts with neighbours in both the north and south eventually opened up trade relations within the Black Sea and Mediterranean region, which was of great importance for the development of the society. The deep bay, along which the settlements of Varna, provided a comfortable harbour for ships sailing across the Black Sea and Varna became a prosperous trading center.

Increased trading activity allowed the metallurgists to accumulate wealth, and very quickly a societal gap developed with metallurgists at the top, followed by merchants in the middle, and farmers making up the lower class. Incredible discoveries made at a nearby cemetery also suggest that Varna had powerful rulers or kings – but we will come back to that.

And so, the foundations had been laid for the emergence of a powerful and flourishing culture, whose influence permeated the whole of Europe for thousands of years to come.

Discovering The Ancient Varna Civilization

The first evidence of Varna’s ancient civilization came in the form of tools, vessels, utensils, and figurines made from stone, flint, bone, and clay. Then an incredible chance discovery came to light, that made headlines around the world. In October, 1972, excavator operator Raycho Marinov stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis containing the oldest gold artifacts ever discovered.

It was to become one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Bulgaria. Extensive excavations were launched under the direction of Mihail Lazarov (1972–1976) and Ivan Ivanov (1972–1991), revealing for the first time the magnificent civilization of Varna.

More than 300 graves were uncovered in the necropolis, and between them over 22,000 exquisite artifacts were recovered, including 3,000+ items made from gold – with a total weight of 6 kg (13.23 lbs) Other precious relics found within the graves included copper, high-quality flint tools, jewellery, shells of Mediterranean mollusks, pottery, obsidian blades, and beads.

Golden objects found in the necropolis. (Yelkrokoyade/CC BY SA 3.0)

Analysis of the graves revealed that the Varna culture had a highly structured society – elite members of society were buried in shrouds with gold ornaments sewn into the cloth wrappings and their graves were laden with treasures, including gold ornaments, heavy copper axes, elegant finery, and richly decorated ceramics, while others had simple burials with few grave goods.

The Richness of Grave 43

While there were many elite burials uncovered, there was one in particular that stood out among the rest – grave 43. Inside grave 43, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a high status male who appears to have been a ruler/leader of some kind. More gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period. The male, who became known as the Varna man, was buried with a scepter – a symbol of high rank or spiritual power – and wore a sheath of solid gold over his penis.

The burial is incredibly significant for more than just the grave goods – it is the first known elite male burial in Europe. Prior to this, it was women and children who received the most elaborate burials.

Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian-American archaeologist, who was well-known for her claims that Neolithic sites across Europe provided evidence for matriarchal pre-Indo-European societies, suggested that it was the end of the 5th millennium BC when the transition to male dominance began in Europe. Indeed, in the Varna culture, it was observed that around this time men started to get the better posthumous treatment.

Complex Funerary Rites in the Varna Necropolis

The burials in the Varna necropolis have also offered a lot more than the precious artifacts found within them and discoveries relating to social hierarchies; the features of the graves have also provided key insights into the religious beliefs and complex funerary practices of this ancient civilization.

It became apparent to researchers that the males and females were laid out in different positions within the graves – males were laid out on their backs, while females were placed in a fetal position. But most surprising of all was the discovery that some graves contained no skeleton at all, and these ‘symbolic graves’ were the richest in terms of the amount of gold and other treasures found within them. Some of these symbolic graves, or cenotaphs, also contained human-sized masks made of unbaked clay placed in the position where the head would have been.

Human-sized clay head found at Varna necropolis. (CC BY SA 4.0)

The graves containing the clay masks were also found to contain gold amulets in the shape of women placed in the position where the neck would have been. These amulets, associated with pregnancy and childbirth, indicate that the ‘burials’ were meant for females. Further evidence of this is the fact that there were no battle-axes found in these cenotaphs, but each of them had a copper pin, a flint knife, and a spindle whorl.

Replica of a symbolical burial of an antropomorphous face made from clay. The original was found at the Varna Chalkolithic Necropolis (grave 2) and dates to the fourth millennium BC. (Ann Wuyts/ CC BY 2.0)
The Downfall and Legacy of the Varna Culture

By the end of the fifth millennium BC, the once strong and powerful Varna culture began to disintegrate. It has been hypothesized that the downfall of the Varna civilization was the result of a combination of factors including climate change, which turned large areas of arable land into marshes and swamps, as well as the incursion of horse-riding warriors from the steppes.

Although the Varna civilization did not leave any direct descendants, the members of this ancient culture did leave behind many lasting legacies and set the stage for the emergence of subsequent civilizations throughout Europe. Their skills in metallurgy were unprecedented in Europe and indeed throughout the world, and their society demonstrated many features of a highly advanced and developed civilization.

They also developed the societal structure of a centralized authority – a person or institution to monitor and ensure the proper functioning of the society. All the fundamental principles of modern society had been found – a model of civilization that we still follow to this day.

This article (Varna Man And The Wealthiest Grave Of The 5th Millennium BC) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Archeology

Fortified Hellenistic Center And Underwater Site Found In Bulgaria

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Fortified Hellenistic Center And Underwater Site Found In Bulgaria
Photo Credit: Burgas Municipality

In Bulgaria, a fortified Hellenistic center has been found on the country’s Black Sea coast. A fortress has been discovered on the shore and, what’s more, a large underwater site has been located in the waters nearby the coastal fortress site. The experts believe they may have located an important fortified Hellenistic center that could provide new insights on this important historical period.

Experts from the National History Museum in Sofia and the local Regional History Museum in Burgas carried out investigations on Cape Chiroza. They concentrated their work on the area between the village of Chengene Skele, on Burgas Bay, and the Kraimorie district. Unusually, the archaeological investigations involved both land-based and marine archaeology.

The Clues Found At This New Ancient Hellenistic Stronghold

On a headland that overlooks a bay, a team of archaeologists found a massive structure. It was theorized, based on the scale, that it was a stronghold, especially given that there was an outline of some walls and a ditch, which was probably a moat. Archaeology News Network quotes a statement from the team that “The fortification had an area of 800 square meters and was protected by a stone wall and a large moat.” The moat was 4 feet (1.3 meters) deep and was 12 feet (4 meters) wide.

A few of the ancient decorated ceramic fragments found at the Cape Chiroza site. (Burgas Municipality)

An enormous range of ceramic artifacts were uncovered on the headland. According to a statement “An indicator of the dating of the site is the ceramic material,” reports The Sofia Globe. “Some 260 fragments of ceramics have been excavated and “40% are made of Thracian  ceramics – vessels made by hand, with plastic decoration and a polished surface.” The Thracians were a people who dominated much of the Eastern Balkans for centuries. They were a martial people, with probably the most famous individual from this ethnicity being Spartacus.

How The Ceramic Artifacts Were Dated

Among the ceramics found were pieces of amphorae, which were used to store products such as wine. Also found were pieces of imported and locally made cups and some lacquered ceramics with ornate decorations including embossed work. Some of the amphorae came from the Aegean island of Kos and some of the other pieces came from wares that originated in Pergamum, a Hellenistic center in what is now Turkey.

There was no organic material found at the site and this meant that carbon dating was not possible. However, given the large number of ceramic artifacts found, experts were able to date the center. Sofia News Network reports that “A reliable marker for dating the site are the handles, the bottoms of bone amphorae (from the island of Kos) and the ceramic fragments of presumed origin from the area of ancient Pergamum.” Based on this it was established that the fortress was built and occupied in the 1st or 2nd century BC.

Fortified Hellenistic Centres: A Linked Defensive Network

The discovery of the remains of the fortified Hellenistic center demonstrates that there were a series of Greek fortresses on the cape, possibly part of a defensive network. This find roughly dates from the same time as the already known Hellenistic fortified locations found at “Primorsko, Sinemorets, Brodilovo and Izvor,” according to the Archaeology News Network article. There is the possibility that the remains on the cape are those of an enclosure from a religious sanctuary, which were common in the classical world.

Elated researchers posing with a perfect amphorae and a worked stone found underwater, just off the coast of Cape Chiroza. (Burgas Municipality)

An underwater archaeological survey was carried out over the summer. The archaeologists found a structure that covered an area of .25 acres (0.1 hectares) under the sea waterThe Sofia Globe reports that “Several scatterings of stones were found on an underwater terrace east of Cape Chiroza at a depth of four meters.” Many stones that clearly show that they had been processed, because of their shape, were photographed.

One of the amphorae, in perfect condition, found just off the coast from the fortified Hellenistic center recently found at Cape Chiroza. (Burgas Municipality)
Underwater Finds: Ancient Tiles, A Stone Anchor, Amphorae

Interestingly, many ceramics from buildings, specifically tiles, were found at the underwater site. Some were Greek in origin and some were “Roman tegulas and imbrexes (overlapping roof tiles used in ancient Greek and Roman architecture as a waterproof and durable roof covering),” reports Archaeology News Network. Some tiles from late antiquity period (4th to 6th century AD) were also identified and this may indicate that the center was occupied for many years.

In total, 100 ceramic pieces were found, a stone anchor, almost intact amphorae, and a cannonball. The Sofia Globe, quoting a statement from the authorities, stated that “At this stage of the underwater research, it is assumed that the site at the foot of Cape Chiroza covered an area of 2000 square meters.” Further investigations are planned for both the land and underwater sites. This may reveal more about the history of the fortress and the settlement, their role in the region, and why they were abandoned.

This article (Fortified Hellenistic Center And Underwater Site Found In Bulgaria) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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A Viking Buried In A Strange Way Puzzles Archeologists

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Photo Credit: Getty

Paul SeaburnGuest Writer

We know more about dead Vikings than we do about live ones, which makes interpreting graves, burial rites and funeral artifacts all the more important. Take the grave discovered recently while excavating Viking burial grounds in Vinjeøra, Norway, so European highway 39 can be extended through the town. His remains were found with his sword on his left side, rather than the traditional placement on a Viking’s right side. Why is this unusual and why are archaeologists struggling to explain it?

“The fact that he was buried with a full set of weapons tells us that this was a warrior, and in Viking times and the early Middle Ages, most warriors were free men who owned their own farms.”

Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum and project manager for the excavation, explains to Science Norway something that normally doesn’t get mentioned on the various Viking TV shows or in movies – that the men were required to acquire their own weapons. The shield could be build and the axe was probably the first obtained since that was something that could also be used on the farm, but spears and swords had to be forged by a blacksmith and obviously cost more. Nothing unusual so far.

“What makes this grave a little special is that the sword is on what we assume was the deceased’s left side.”

Why would this be “special”? The sword is normally sheathed and carried on the left side so the warrior can grab it with his right hand. However, Viking men have always been found buried with their swords on the right side – not so they can carry them in the afterlife but because the Viking culture believed the afterlife was a mirror image of life. Thus, the dead Vikings were ready to fight again in the mirror world… except for this one.

“Maybe he was left-handed, and they took that into account for the afterlife? It’s hard to say.”

Of course! This was an opposite-handed Viking – Erik the Left perhaps? Being left-handed may have given him an advantage like a modern baseball pitcher and made him a better warrior because this Viking was found buried in an honoured place – a ditch. A what?

“We’ve seen lots of examples of reused graves on this burial ground. People were buried in the same grave or partly inside older graves. It was obviously important to lie next to or in the burial mounds and the ring ditches around them.”

This Viking was buried on his farm to protect it and his descendants – another tradition that goes against the commonly depicted Viking burial in a flaming ship at sea. Speaking of flaming burials, another grave found nearby contained the ashes of a female from an earlier time that was buried with a large number of bones. The researchers don’t know if they belonged to the woman or were placed there because they had magical powers from another person.

Whether the explanations for these questions are found or not, the graves show once again that the deaths of Vikings were as interesting as their lives, and may give us clues about how those lives were lived. While fighting and pillaging make better TV shows and movies, the Real Lives of Viking World just might be more interesting.

Recommended Articles by Paul Seaburn
About the Author

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as “The Tonight Show”, “Politically Incorrect” and an award-winning children’s program. He’s been published in “The New York Times” and “Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humour. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humour to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn’t always have to be serious.

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Stone Age Rock Tombs Found Near Göbekli Tepe Provide More Ancient Clues

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Stone Age Rock Tombs Found Near Göbekli Tepe Provide More Ancient Clues
Photo Credit: AA News Broadcasting System (HAS)

Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey, is regarded as one of the most important Stone Age archaeological sites in the world. It has changed our view of how civilization developed. Recently, archaeologists working not far from Göbekli Tepe have made further discoveries related to the Stone Age complex

They have found a large number of Stone Age rock tombs that could help to solve some of the mysteries of this prehistoric complex and the area that surrounds it. The excavation of the Stone Age rock tombs is near to the place where a Stone Age figure known as the Balıklıgöl statue or Urfa man, dating to 9000 BC, was also found.

Experts from the Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality were collaborating with personnel from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, who were investigating the Kizilkoyun Necropolis area, when they discovered the Stone Age rock tombs. They came across the burial site in the Old Town of Şanliurfa, not far from where some stunning mosaics of hunting Amazons were previously unearthed. The rock tombs are believed to have been part of the same cultural area as Göbekli Tepe.

The Urfa Man Is Much Like The Eye-Idols Found At Göbekli Tepe

The enigmatic Urfa man figure appears to be related to the distinctive T-shaped statues found at Göbekli Tepe, in particular in their ‘”double V-shape neck design”, according to Ancient Origins. The haunting empty staring eyes of the Urfa man have been likened to the so-called eye-idols found at Göbekli Tepe. The Urfa man figure is about 6 feet (1.80 meters) high and was most likely used for ceremonial or religious purposes and was possibly an idol. Hurriyet Daily News states that it has been called by experts the “oldest naturalistic life-sized sculpture of a human.”

The Urfa Man with its empty eyes, which was found not far from the recently discovered Stone Age rock tombs in Turkey. (Alistair Coombs)

According to Zeynel Abidin Beyazgül, the mayor of the Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality, “a total of 662 shanty houses were demolished in the area and 61 rock tombs unearthed.” The rock tombs come in a variety of sizes and they appear to have been built later than Göbekli Tepe. However, it is believed that these tombs will provide evidence on the prehistoric site and its builders.

One of the so-called eye-idols found at Göbekli Tepe. (Metropolitan Museum of Art / CC0)
The Stone Age Mysteries of the Incredible Göbekli Tepe Site

Göbekli Tepe is a tell or massive earthen mound in the south-east of Turkey, a 30-minute drive from the city of Şanlıurfa. Göbekli Tepe dates to approximately 10,000 BC and was built and used by Stone Age people. It is home to the world’s oldest megalithic structure , which is comprised of 200 monumental T-shaped standing stones arranged in circular formations. The function of the site is not known but it was probably religious, and many view it as the world’s oldest temple. Göbekli Tepe is providing new evidence for the development of civilization and has already proven that Stone Age societies were much more sophisticated than once thought. In 2018, the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, but much of it is unexcavated and there are still many mysteries surrounding this incredible site.

The massive Göbekli Tepe earthen mound in the south-east of Turkey, a 30-minute drive from the city of Şanlıurfa, where the Stone Age rock tombs were recently discovered. (Teomancimit / CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is what makes the recent finding of the Stone Age rock tombs so exciting.  The Mayor of Şanlıurfa told Yeni Şafak “We believe that the excavations we will carry out in the area where artifacts similar to the discoveries in Göbekli Tepe are going to be very significant.” Any links between the tombs at Kizilkoyun, and the UNESCO Heritage site is important because it could throw new light on Stone Age civilizations. The Mayor is quoted by Turkish Express as saying that “the excavations around the Kızılkoyun Necropolis will contribute to solving the mystery in surrounding Göbekli Tepe.” The Göbekli Tepe burial site is famous for the variety of its burials and funerary art.

More Discoveries Expected From The Kizilkoyun Necropolis

Investigations at the Kizilkoyun Necropolis area Stone Age rock tombs will continue, and any artifacts found at the site will be interpreted to determine if they are connected to Göbekli Tepe. There is great hope that the digs at the rock tomb site will solve some of the Göbekli Tepe öysteries that are still unsolved.

The mayor is quoted by Hurriyet Daily News as saying that “Şanlıurfa is already preparing for more discoveries, let humanity expect new surprises.” The burial ground is only one of many historic locations in the Turkish city, known as Edessa in ancient times, a strategically important center to several empires in classical antiquity.

This article (Stone Age Rock Tombs Found Near Göbekli Tepe Provide More Ancient Clues) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Archeology

Nineveh: Exploring The Ruins Of The Crown City Of Ancient Assyria

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Nineveh
Image Credit: CC BY SA 4.0

Nineveh was the last capital of the Assyrian Empire, as well as its most populous city. It has even been claimed that Nineveh was the most populated city in the world for a period. In recent times, the remains of Nineveh have suffered much damage as a consequence of the war that has been raging on in the region.

Nineveh – Mashki Gate. (Omar Siddeeq Yousif/ CC BY SA 4.0)
Beginnings

The ruins of Nineveh are located on the outskirts of what is today the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on the east bank of the Tigris River. Archaeological excavations have shown that the city has its origins in the 7th millennium BC. During that time, the site was occupied by a small Neolithic settlement.

The history of Nineveh in the subsequent millennia is told through the material culture found at the site. The pottery assemblage found at the site, for instance, consists of Hassuna-Samarra and Tall Halaf painted pottery, which were characteristic of northern Mesopotamia during the Chalcolithic Age. On the other hand, clay sickles of the type used during the Ubaid period suggest that the pre-historic inhabitants were in contact with their southern neighbours.

Relief from Nineveh, about 695 BC of a hunting scene. Alabaster relief. Pergamon Museum. (Ealdgyth/ CC BY 3.0)

From a small settlement, Nineveh grew into a town of some importance by the early part of the 2nd millennium BC. During this time, it was a cult center of the goddess Ishtar, and it was due to its religious function that the town became significant. Several centuries later, the city was a vassal of the Hurrian Kingdom of Mitanni but it was subsequently captured by the Assyrians.

It seems that the status of Nineveh did not change much during the Middle Assyrian Empire. Whilst inscriptions of such Middle Assyrian rulers as Shalmaneser I and Tiglath-Pileser I have been found on the city’s Acropolis, there is little evidence to suggest that the Assyrians were carrying out large building projects in Nineveh during this time.

The Neo-Assyrian Period

It was only during the Neo-Assyrian Empire that Nineveh became a city of great importance. The city’s architectural expansion began during the reign of Ashurnasirpal II in the 9th century BC and reached its peak during the reign of Sennacherib in the following century. Ashurnasirpal and his successors founded new temples and palaces and repaired older ones. It was, however, Sennacherib who made Nineveh the new capital and initiated a building project that befitted the city’s new-found status.

The Temple of the Sun in Nineveh (Iraq). (Paul K/ CC BY 2.0)

The king’s building activities were recorded on a stele and include new streets and squares, walls, and, of course, a new palace. It has been estimated that during the reign of Sennacherib, the city had as many as 100,000 inhabitants. Others have suggested that there were 120,000 souls in Nineveh, making it the most populated city in the world at that time.

The Royal Lion Hunt at the British Museum from the North Palace Nineveh 645-635 BC. The king is shooting arrows while attendants repulse an attack from a wounded lion. (Mark.murphy/ CC BY SA 3.0)
The Slow Fall of Nineveh

Nineveh’s fortunes did not last for long, however, as the empire suffered a great defeat at the hands of a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians, and Medes in 612 BC. The Assyrians never recovered from this, and came to an end a few years later, whilst their capital was sacked by the enemy. The city, however, was not abandoned, and people continued to reside there all the way until at least the 16th century. Moreover, during the 13th century, the city even prospered somewhat under the Atabegs of Mosul.

John Martin, ‘The Fall of Nineveh.’ (CC BY SA 4.0)
The Modern Period

Modern exploration of Nineveh occurred as early as the 19th century. In 1849, for instance, Sir Austen Henry Layard discovered Sennacherib’s ‘Palace Without Rival’. Other important archaeological discoveries made in Nineveh include the famous ‘Library of Ashurbanipal’, and the palaces of several Assyrian kings.

Today, however, the conflict in the region has prevented further archaeological work from being carried out and has caused much damage to the ruins of this ancient city. In 2016, for instance, it was reported that the Mashki and Adad Gates, two of the city’s gateways, had been destroyed, whilst objects unearthed from the site, which were housed in the Mosul Museum, were either damaged or destroyed.

This article (Nineveh: Exploring The Ruins Of The Crown City Of Ancient Assyria) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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