Archaeologists hope to obtain state funds in 2013 to continue excavations.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 14/01/13
Numerous gold items have been recovered at archeological sites in Bulgaria. [AFP]
Bulgarian archaeologists announced two major finds at the close of the 2012 excavation season, and hope to obtain state and other financial support to shed more light on the life and culture of the early Balkan civilisations.
Vasil Nikolov, former head of the country's National Archaeology Institute, unearthed Europe's oldest urban settlement near Provadia, 50 kilometres west of Varna on the Black Sea, which is dated between 4700 and 4200 BC.
The site is more than 100 metres in diameter, is encompassed by a 3-meter high stone wall and has two-story structures housing nearly 350 residents.
The settlement is one part of a much larger complex from the same period, which includes a salt production unit, a sanctuary and a necropolis.
"A thorough study of the site will take many years. ... There is work for at least seven generations of archaeologists at the site," Nikolov told SETimes.
Archeologists said they believe Provadia's ancient residents made a living by producing salt. They suspect production began in 5500 BC and by 4500 BC produced 5,000 kg annually.
The salt trade helped the ancients obtain raw materials, some of which were used to craft luxury goods like jewelry, and also gain enormous economic power, Nikolov added.
The Provadia finds may provide significant clues about the origin of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis riches, dating back to around 4300 BC.
The latest find -- a wooden chest containing two different sets of gold treasure, but from a much later period and left behind by the Getae, a Thracian tribe -- was unearthed at the largest mound on the site of the Sboryanovo Historical and Archaeological Reserve in northeastern Bulgaria.
Weighing more than 1.8kg, the treasure was from the late 4th or early 3rd century BC, buried as part of the funeral of a Getic ruler, archeologist Diana Gergova said.
"We found the chest in a vesicle at a depth of 8 metres ... Inside were two sets of gold objects. The first was a set of women's jewelry, including a unique tiara of a type never found before. There were also four spiral bracelets and a ring with an incredible haut-relief image of a lion," Gergova told SETimes.
The other set comprised an iron bridle and a number of gold items the bridle was decorated with, including horse harness decorations and buttons, as well as two large round pieces with the image of the goddess Athena and an exquisite forehead piece with a horse head.
Gergova and Nikolov are due to continue fieldwork at the two sites next summer, but excavations are dependent on funding.
The Bulgarian culture ministry told SETimes that it channelled 1.3 million euros in 2012 for archaeological excavation and conservation across Bulgaria and for the preservation of 10 historical sites.
Finance Minister Simeon Djankov promised last year to set aside more than 5 million euros for archaeology in the 2013 state budget.
Nikolov said although the budget was passed, he still does not know the amount the government will provide him.
"The minimum amount needed for the two-month excavation campaign stands at 61,000 euros," he told SETimes.
Given the volatility of government funding, archeologists said the excavations would not have been possible without private support.
"We would not be able to continue without private donations," Nikolov said.