Unique golden dagger unearthed in Bulgaria

09/08/2006

A 5,000-year-old dagger and more than 500 other gold items found recently by archaeologists in central Bulgaria shed new light on ancient Thracian civilisation.

(The Independent, UPI - 08/08/06; AP, ABC, Sofia News Agency, Focus News Agency - 07/08/06; Reuters, DPA, BBC, VOA, The Scotsman, Sofia News Agency - 06/08/06)

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A Thracian golden dagger and pieces of jewellery dating back to the 3rd millenium BC are exhibited at the National History Museum in Sofia. [Getty Images]

A recently unearthed golden trove, including a rare, 5,000-year-old dagger, goes on display at the National Museum of History (NMH) in Sofia on Wednesday (9 August).

The 16cm dagger and 545 pieces of Thracian golden jewellery, dating back to the 3rd millenium BC, were discovered near the central Bulgarian village of Dabene, about 120km east of the capital, during excavations headed by archaeologist Martin Hristov.

"It's really a sensational discovery," NMH Director Bozhidar Dimitrov said on Sunday, when the treasure trove was announced. "The dagger, which we believe is made of gold and platinum, most probably belonged to a Thracian ruler or to a priest. No item of this type was found even in the legendary city of Troy," he added.

The dagger is perfectly preserved and extremely sharp, so that one could even "shave with it", according to Dimitrov.

Excavations near Dabene began nearly two years ago after two NMH archaeologists saw a farmer's wife wearing an exquisitely wrought gold necklace. The woman told them that her husband had come across it while ploughing his fields with his tractor.

After ten months of digging at three mounds near the village, archaeologists said they had unearthed more than 15,500 miniature beads and rings that were elements of different pieces of jewellery, said to be more than 4,000 years old. The items may have been worn as part of funerary regalia. The craftsmanship is said to be expert -- for example, the point where some of the rings are welded is invisible with an ordinary microscope.

Archaeologists initially assumed they had found the remains of an ancient metalsmithing centre. Having found no trace of a settlement or a temple at the Dabene site so far, however, they now believe the site was used to pay tribute to the gods, especially Gea, the goddess of earth.

"The mounds seem to be part of a complex," Hristov said. "Some of them resemble tombs, while others appear to be ritual sites where ancient people buried gifts for the gods."

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According to some sources, the Thracians lived in present-day Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia and Turkey between 4,000 BC and the 8th century AD, when invading Slavs assimilated them. Others say they were absorbed much earlier --around 45 AD. Although the Thracians inhabited those lands for at least 4,000 years, little is know about their mysterious civilisation, as they had no written language and left no enduring records.

Some experts suggest that the dagger and the golden jewels found so far at Dabene were the work of a people preceding the Thracians.

The past two years have been extremely productive for Bulgarian archaeologists. Less than a month before the more than 15,000-piece Dabene treasure trove was announced in August 2005, archaeologists unearthed a unique, 50-item collection of 2,400-year-old Thracian riches, including a golden wreath with an image of the Greek goddess Nike.

In 2004, a solid gold mask the size of a dinner plate, resembling the "Mask of Agamemnon" discovered by Schliemann in Troy, was unearthed in central Bulgaria.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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