Chester, England—Deeside.com reports that a Roman game piece and other artifacts were uncovered in an area slated for redevelopment in the walled city of Chester, which was founded as a Roman fort in A.D. 79.
Researchers at Chester Northgate’s £ 70 m building site have discovered Roman artifacts, including what is thought to be a rare gaming piece made from bone.
A highly polished piece with a lozenge-shaped shape, probably from use, is approximately 29mm long and features a common Roman decoration of a ring and dot motif.
Experts link this to the game of Ludus Latrunculorum, meaning the Game of Mercenaries, which was a two-player military strategy board game played throughout the Roman Empire, similar to draughts.
Finding it in part of a legionary barracks in Chester would back up this theory. Other artefacts found to date include another bone artefact, possibly a comb; a possible spearhead; and a pin or broach.
With the Northgate scheme well underway, contractor VINCI Construction UK and archaeologists Oxford Archaeology, have been carefully excavating to find signs of Roman life and other historical artifacts.
However, despite all of the activity on site at present, the construction will not result in any major intrusion into the important archaeological remains which remain undisturbed as the works proceed.
The new buildings have been carefully designed to avoid disturbance of archaeological remains as far as possible and a comprehensive mitigation strategy overseen by Historic England is in place to ensure intrusions into the most sensitive strata are kept to an absolute minimum.
Councillor Richard Beacham, Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration and Growth, said: “Chester is truly alive with history, and it is pleasing to see such interesting artefacts unearthed as we begin the long-awaited construction at Northgate.
“We will be treading very carefully to protect the sensitive archaeological remains on the site and we will be adding anything we find to our impressive collection of Roman artefacts at the Grosvenor Museum.”
Andrew Davison, Historic England’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments for the North West recently visited the Northgate site to inspect the work to date. He said: “Chester residents are unusually knowledgeable about the City’s heritage, including its archaeology, so these finds will excite great interest.
“They speak volumes about the quality of the archaeology we are dealing with at this very significant site and I look forward to seeing more finds from the site as work continues.”
Chinese skeletons found in roman cemetery promise to rewrite history
They were two powerful, ancient empires separated by more than 5,000 miles of imposing mountain ranges, barren desert, and exposed steppe grasslands.
Yet a collection of seemingly unremarkable bones discovered in a Roman cemetery in London has provided new insights into the links between the Roman Empire and Imperial China.
Analysis has revealed that two skeletons dating from between the 2nd and 4th Century AD unearthed at the site in the city’s Southwark area may have been Chinese.
The findings promise to rewrite the history of the Romans as it suggests these two great empires had far greater connections than previously believed. While it is known that there was extensive trade between China and ancient Rome along what became known as the Silk Road, the two empires are thought to have viewed each other warily.
Accounts from the time suggest the Chinese were curious about the ‘tall and virtuous’ people of Rome, while the Romans found their rivals in the east mysterious but valued their silk cloth.
Despite the trade between the empires, however, only one person of Asian ancestry has ever been found on sites dating back to the Roman Empire – an adult man unearthed at Vagnari in Italy.
But now research led by the Museum of London has revealed two more individuals of Asian ancestry, buried among the remains of other citizens of ancient Londinium. According to the Times, while experts have not been able to identify their exact origins, it is likely these people had come from China.
Writing in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Dr. Rebecca Redfern, an archaeologist at the Museum of London, said how they ended up there is a mystery.
She and her colleagues said: ‘The expansion of the Roman Empire across most of western Europe and the Mediterranean, led to the assimilation and movement of many ethnically and geographically diverse communities.
‘Its power and wealth meant that it also had trade connections for raw materials and products, such as silk throughout Europe, Africa and also to the east, including India and China.
‘Many people travelled, often vast distances, for trade or because of their occupation, for example in the military, or their social status, for example, if they were enslaved.’
However, other skeletons found in the same cemetery reveal another intriguing possibility. Forensics experts at Michigan State University matched the shape and morphology of 22 skulls found at the site to their ancestry.
It suggests at least four of the skeletons were from Africa while two were Asian. Isotope analysis also suggested that five of the individuals appear to have come from the Mediterranean. It suggests that the bustling suburb of London to the south of the River Thames had enjoyed a rich immigrant population who seemed to have a similar status to locals living in the area, at least in death.
This raises the possibility that perhaps these Chinese visitors had in fact settled in the area, even setting up their own trade in the busy heart of Roman Britain. While it may never be possible to unravel exactly what they were doing there, Dr. Redfern and her colleagues say it was clear there were more foreigners in Europe than had been previously realized.
They are hoping that DNA analysis of some of the remains might help to further unravel some of the ancestries of those who were buried in Southwark. For example, it may reveal whether the individuals had been relatively new arrivals from their distant lands or were the offspring of people who had been brought to Britain as slaves.
The remains of one teenage girl who was found at the site were also discovered with an ivory folding knife carved into the shape of a leopard. Similar styles of knives have been found to be linked to Carthage. Isotopes from her teeth suggested she had grown up in North Africa, suggesting she had been brought to London after growing up in Africa.
However, DNA tests revealed the teenager had blue eyes and a maternal ancestry that could be traced to south-eastern Europe and west Eurasia, at the eastern fringes of the Roman Empire. It is possible she had been a slave captured during one of the many wars between Rome and Carthage, say the archaeologists.
At the time when the people are thought to have lived, the Roman Empire was at its peak before it split into two halves. China was in the hands of the Han Dynasty, considered to be the most prolific period of cultural and technological advances in the ancient empire.
Writing in the journal, Dr. Redfern said: ‘It may well be that these individuals were themselves or were descended from enslaved people originating from Asia, as there were slave-trade connections between India and China, and India and Rome.’
Isotope analysis has also provided some clues about the diets of those buried in the cemetery. Dr. Redfern and her colleagues added: ‘Diets were found to be primarily C3-based with limited input of aquatic resources, in contrast to some other populations in Roman Britain and proximity to the River Thames.’
1,300-year-old colorful mosaics Discovered by Archaeologists in Israel
The remains of a 1,300-year-old church in the Circassian village of Kfar Kama in Israel were discovered by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Kinneret Academic University.
“The church measures 12 by 36 m (39.4 by 118 feet) and includes a large courtyard, a narthex foyer, and a central hall,” said Dr. Nurit Feig, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Actually, the excavators suspect the villagers carried out their devotions at a smaller local church with two chapels in the village dating to about the same time, which had been discovered half a century ago. The newly discovered, rather bigger edifice may have been a monastery, the archaeologists think, based on adjacent rooms that remain underground after being discovered by Shani Libbi using ground-penetrating radar.
Kafr Kama’s proximity to the iconic site of Mount Tabor – where some believe Jesus underwent the Transfiguration and began to radiate light – piqued the interest of Archbishop Youssef Matta, the head of the Greek Catholic Church in Israel. He was invited by the Israel Antiquities Authority and came to see the site in person.
“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart; And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” – Matthew 17:1.
The main body of the newly discovered church is 12 by 36 meters (39 by 118 feet), which is medium-sized for the region, says Prof. Moti Aviam of the Kinneret Academic College, who is researching the Byzantine period in the Galilee and is collaborating with the Israel Antiquities Authority on this dig.
The discovery of the church was not expected, said Nurit Feig, the archaeologist leading the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This was a small salvage excavation that we expanded,” she told Haaretz. Usually, a salvage excavation of this sort is defined in scope, but then she began to see the border of the nave wall and an apse – and realized they were on top of an ancient church. Now they know the area includes a courtyard, a narthex foyer, a central hall, and three apses. Churches in the Galilee normally have one or three apses, Feig and Aviam explained.
Wondrously, the archaeologists also found a reliquary: a stone box used to hold “sacred relics.” Sad to relate, it was empty. “The other ancient church found in Kafr Kama also had a reliquary, a closed one, that had bones inside,” Aviam said.
“In light of our many studies in Israel in general and the Galilee in particular, we know there were a lot of village rural monasteries. The monks weren’t hermits like in the desert monasteries. They lived alongside the villages, sometimes inside the villages, with villagers working at the monastery,” Aviam said. He added that they have no proof this new discovery is actually a monastery – no inscriptions have been found, for instance. But that’s his gut feeling.
Nor is there evidence for how the monks made their living if monks there were. It has been found that at other Galilean monasteries, the monks engaged mostly in agriculture, producing olive oil and wine, Aviam said.
Church or monastery, it had mosaics on the floor of the nave and apses, which is very much the norm for the Galilean churches. But they were badly damaged, Aviam said. All we can see are geometrical motifs and some flowers in blue, black, and red, but there may have been other images that are now gone.
Faith in the Galilee
In fact, the two sixth-century churches of Kafr Kama fit the bigger picture that Aviam is discovering in his research of the Byzantine Galilee, conducted with Jacob Ashkenazi of the Kinneret Institute of Galilean Archaeology in the Kinneret Academic College. In Western Galilee alone, there are about 100 churches from the Byzantine time, very roughly speaking, Aviam told Haaretz.
The western side of the Upper Galilee was actually Christianized in the Byzantine period while the eastern side was Jewish, he explained. Down in the Lower Galilee, the towns were almost entirely Jewish, but Christianity gradually penetrated – resulting in villages like Kafr Kama, with its two churches. Or one church and one monastery.
The attraction for early Christians in the Galilee included the city of Nazareth: Jesus was reportedly born in Bethlehem, but grew up in the Galilee. Nazareth was actually mixed during the Byzantine period, Aviam said – Jewish with some churches. Like so many places in the region, occupation in the town now known as Kafr Kama goes back to the Bronze Age, and possibly earlier. But we may never know (much) more about the Christian era in this village.
This very week, the mosaics are going to be re-blanketed on earth for the sake of their conservation, Feig told Haaretz. That will protect them for the future masses that will probably never see them. The site is earmarked for a playground, and unless the local council and Jewish National Fund change their minds, a playground it will be.
“We can’t say at this stage how much may be covered and if anything will be preserved,” Feig said. The IAA may warmly recommend that the site be conserved, preserved, and opened for visitors; but the initiators of the real estate project in the village have the ultimate decision, she explained. And if they decide to preserve the ancient church or monastery, whichever it is, then the IAA experts can happily get to work.
The first church from early Christianity found in the Circassian village is also gone, partly covered, partly built over, the archaeologists say. Discovering the new one was an emotional moment for the excavators and villagers alike, who flocked to see it during the “open days” the archaeologists held – joined by the archbishop.
Asked why there was so much excitement if there are around 100 ancient churches in the Galilee, Feig said that this one is in a quite good state of preservation after all those 1,400 years: they know where all its parts are. But they may remain the only ones with that knowledge.
7,000 Years old Stone Structures Investigated in Saudi Arabia
According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, an international team of researchers analyzed satellite imagery and conducted field surveys to document hundreds of massive rectangular stone structures in northwestern Saudi Arabia, and discover more than one hundred additional structures.
Known as “mustatils,” the rectangular monuments are thought to have been constructed by pastoralists for ritual use. Most of them consist of two large platforms connected by long, low, parallel walls, and some locations have multiple structures built right next to each other.
They give insights into how early pastoralists survived in the challenging landscapes of semi-arid Arabia.
The last decade has seen rapid development in the archaeology of Saudi Arabia. Recent discoveries range from early hominin sites hundreds of thousands of years old to sites just a few hundred years old.
One enigmatic aspect of the archaeological record of western Arabia is the presence of millions of stone structures, where people have piled rocks to make different kinds of structures, ranging from burial tombs to hunting traps. One enigmatic form consists of vast rectangular shapes. Archaeologists working with the AlUla Royal Commission gave these the name ‘mustatils,’ which is Arabic for the rectangle.
Mustatils only occur in northwest Saudi Arabia. They had been previously recognized from satellite imagery and as they were often covered by younger structures, it had been speculated that they might be ancient, perhaps extending back to the Neolithic.
In this new article led by Dr. Huw Groucutt (group leader of the Extreme Events Research Group which is a Max Planck group spanning the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Ecology, the Science of Human History, and Biogeochemistry) an international team of researchers under the auspices of the Green Arabia Project (a large project headed by Prof. Michael Petraglia from the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Saudi Ministry for Tourism as well as collaborators from multiple Saudi and international institutions) conducted the first every detailed study of mustatils.
Through a mixture of field surveys and analyzing satellite imagery, the team has considerably extended knowledge of these enigmatic stone structures.
More than one hundred new mustatils have been identified around the southern margins of the Nefud Desert, between the cities of Ha’il and Tayma, joining the hundreds previously identified from studies of Google Earth imagery, particularly in the Khaybar area.
The team found that these structures typically consist of two large platforms, connected by parallel long walls, sometimes extending over 600 meters in length.
The long walls are very low, had no obvious openings, and are located in diverse landscape settings. It is also interesting that little in the way of other archaeology – such as stone tools – was found around the mustatils. Together these factors suggest that the structures were not simply utilitarian entities for something like water or animal storage.
At one locality the team was able to date the construction of a mustatil to 7,000 thousand years ago, by radiocarbon dating charcoal from inside one of the platforms.
An assemblage of animal bones was also recovered, which included both wild animals and possibly domestic cattle, although it is possible that the latter are wild auroch. At another mustatil the team found a rock with a geometric pattern painted onto it.
“Our interpretation of mustatils is that they are ritual sites, where groups of people met to perform some kind of currently unknown social activities,” says Groucutt. “Perhaps they were sites of animal sacrifices or feasts.”
The fact that sometimes several of the structures were built right next to each other may suggest that the very act of their construction was a kind of social bonding exercise. Northern Arabia 7,000 years ago was very different from today.
Rainfall was higher, so much of the area was covered by grassland and there were scattered lakes. Pastoralist groups thrived in this environment, yet it would have been a challenging place to live, with droughts at a constant risk.
The team’s hypothesis is that mustatils were built as a social mechanism to live in this challenging landscape. They may not be the oldest buildings in the world, but they are on a uniquely large scale for this early period, more than two thousand years before pyramids began to be constructed in Egypt.
Mustatils offer fascinating insights into how humans have lived in challenging environments and future studies promise to be extremely useful at understanding these ancient societies.
Israeli family discovers ancient treasure under the living room
Sunday, Israeli authorities said they identified a rare, well-preserved 2,000-year-old Jewish ritual bath hidden beneath the floorboards of a Jerusalem home.
The discovery in Ein Kerem neighborhood in Jerusalem, archeologists said, sheds new light on the area’s ancient Jewish and early Christian communities.
But the discovery might be most noteworthy because the couple that owns the home literally kept the treasure hidden under a rug for three years before choosing to come clean.
In an interview, the wife said the family found evidence of the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath while renovating their home three years ago.
Construction workers were using heavy machinery that sunk through a hole, leading the crew to discover the bath.
She said that she and her husband were unsure of the significance and continued with the planned construction. But they also preserved the discovery, adding a pair of wooden doors in the floor to allow access to the bath and concealing the entrance with a rug.
The couple’s curiosity, however, persisted. Earlier this week, they contacted the Israeli Antiquities Authority and reported their finding. The family asked that their names be withheld to protect their privacy.
Amit Reem, an archaeologist with the authority, estimated the ritual bath dates back to the first century B.C., around the time of the Second Jewish Temple.
The bath remains largely intact and includes a staircase leading to what was once a pool. Archeologists also found pottery and unique stone vessels dating to the same period.
According to Christian tradition, John the Baptist is said to have been born in the Jewish community around Ein Kerem around the first century. Reem said the discovery adds to the physical evidence of the Jewish community in the area, which he said has been “sporadic.”
Reem said it is not uncommon for households around Jerusalem to unearth Jewish antiquities under their floorboards, though he did not know how many cases there were.
The family does not have to move and will keep the ritual bath preserved with the help of the Antiquities Authority.
In Russia, in the Caucasus mountains, not far from the cities Tzelentzchik, Touapse, Novorossiysk and Sochi, there are hundreds of megalithic monuments.
The Russians call them dolmens. Russian and foreign archaeologists have not yet discovered their use. All these megalithic dolmens you see below in the pictures are dated from 10,000 years to 25,000 years ago, according to the website Kykeon. Other archaeologists put the age of these megalithic structures at 4000 to 6,000 years old.
Thousands of prehistoric megalithic monuments are known throughout the world. Some of the least known outside the former Soviet Union, however, are those in the Caucasus. These dolmens cover the Western Caucasus on both sides of the mountain ridge, in an area of approximately 12,000 square kilometers of Russia and Abkhazia.
The Caucasian dolmens represent a unique type of prehistoric architecture, built with precisely dressed cyclopic stone blocks.
The stones were, for example, shaped into 90-degree angles, to be used as corners or were curved to make a perfect circle. The monuments date between the end of the 4th millennium and the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C.
While generally unknown in the rest of Europe, these Russian megaliths are equal to the great megaliths of Europe in terms of age and quality of architecture but are still of an unknown origin.
The Caucasian dolmens represent a unique type of prehistoric architecture, built with precisely dressed large stone blocks. The stones were, for example, shaped into 90-degree angles, to be used as corners or were curved to make a circle.
In spite of the variety of Caucasian monuments, they show strong similarities with megaliths from different parts of Europe and Asia, like the Iberian Peninsula, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, and India. A range of hypotheses has been put forward to explain these similarities and the building of megaliths on the whole, but still, it remains unclear.
Approximately 3,000 of these megalithic monuments are known in the Western Caucasus, but more are constantly being found, while more and more are also being destroyed. Today, many are in great disrepair and will be completely lost if they are not protected from vandals and general neglect.
The dolmens are found in the area of Krasnodar. Krasnodar is a city and the administrative center of Krasnodar Krai, Russia, located on the Kuban River about 148 kilometers (92 mi) northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.
Concentrations of megaliths, dolmens, and stone labyrinths have been found (but little studied) throughout the Caucasus Mountains, including Abkhazia.
Most of them are represented by rectangular structures made of stone slabs or cut in rocks with holes in their facade. These dolmens cover the Western Caucasus on both sides of the mountain ridge, in an area of approximately 12,000 square kilometers of Russia and Abkhazia.
The dolmens have a limited variety in their architecture. The floor plans are square, trapezoidal, rectangular, and round. All of the dolmens are punctuated with a portal in the center of the facade. While round portholes are the most common, square ones are also found. In front of the facade is a court that usually splays out, creating an area where rituals possibly took place.
The court is usually outlined by large stone walls, sometimes over a meter high, which encloses the court. It is in this area that Bronze and Iron Age pottery has been found – which helped date these tombs -, along with human remains, bronze tools and silver, gold, and semi-precious stone ornaments.
The repertoire of decoration for these tombs is not great. Vertical and horizontal zigzags, hanging triangles and concentric circles are the most common motifs.
One decorative motif that is quite common is found across the top of the porthole slab. It can best be described as a lintel held up by two columns. Pairs of breasts, done in relief, have also been found on a few tombs. These breasts usually appear above the two columns of the porthole decoration.
Perhaps related to these are the stone plugs, which were used to block the porthole, and are found with almost every tomb. They are sometimes phallic-shaped. Some unusual items associated with dolmens are big round stone balls, double balls, and animal sculptures.
One of the most interesting megalithic complexes – a group of three dolmens – stands in a row on a hill above Zhane River on the Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar area near Gelendzhik, Russia. In this area, there is a great concentration of all types of megalithic sites including settlements and dolmen cemeteries. Large stone mounds surrounded the two monuments.
1,200-Year-Old Soap Factory Unearthed in Negev Desert
Israel’s earliest soap factory, dating back approximately 1,200 years, was uncovered in the Bedouin city of Rahat, the Israel Antiquities Authority reported on Sunday.
According to the report, hundreds of local youths were involved in the IAA dig, whose purpose was to re-establish the connection between the community and the history of the area.
It is an indication of Islam’s influence in the region, even when it started making roots in Israel, that the soap was made of olive oil. “This city has [deep] Islamic roots and we are proud of these roots,” said Mayor of Rahat Fahiz Abu Saheeben in an IAA Hebrew-language video.
During the Abbasid Era, olive oil soapery was founded, archeologist Dr. Elena Kogen-Zehavi told The Times of Israel. The Abbasids were one of the first Arab rulers to bring Islam to Israel. The soap was a precious product for exports and traveled to Egypt and other Arab lands, she said.
The key to the production of this soap is olive oil as its fatty base, as opposed to the pig fat used in Europe of the same period, which is anathema to Islam.
The Arab conquest of the Holy Land took place in 636, but Islam only became the majority religion in the ninth century. An earlier 2019 excavation in Rahat has shown, however, that Islam came early to this region of the Negev. IAA archaeologists uncovered a rare, very early rural mosque, dating to circa seventh-eighth century CE. It is one of the earliest known examples in the world.
The new find of industrial soap production was uncovered in a large pillared structure that the archaeologists believe belonged to a wealthy family who made its living by soap production, local sales, and potentially even export. The harsh desert conditions, including wind and dust storms, made good personal hygiene a necessity, not just during today’s coronavirus, said Kogen-Zehavi in the IAA video, but also 1,200 years ago.
For millennia, Kogen-Zehavi told The Times of Israel, residents of the Middle East and elsewhere used olive oil in their hygienic practices. She said that while bathing is documented in Babylonian and Greece records, the concept was entirely different. Rather than washing up with a soapy lather, these ancient peoples would anoint themselves in oil, which was scraped off their bodies.
The industrial production of soap only truly began in the Middle Ages in Europe, she said. While Christians could use lard, which was easier to manipulate, making olive oil into hard cakes is much more complicated. The expertise in producing this olive oil soap is carefully guarded until today and passed from generation to generation, said Kogen-Zehavi. A modern olive oil factory in the Arab city of Nablus continues the meticulous ancient methods.
According to the IAA press release, the Rahat complex includes all the facilities needed for the making of olive oil soap. Additionally, researchers were able to obtain organic samples that allowed them to identify materials used in the production process.
The archaeologists found that to make this special soap, olive oil was used as the base and mixed with ashes from the saltwort plants, which contain potash and water.
“The mixture was cooked for about seven days, after which the liquid material was transferred to a shallow pool, where the soap hardened for about 10 days, until it could be cut into bars,” according to the press release. The bars were then dried for a further two months, prior to export.
“This is the first time that a soap workshop as ancient as this has been discovered, allowing us to recreate the traditional production process of the soap industry. For this reason, it is quite unique. We are familiar with important soap-making centers from a much later period – the Ottoman period. These were discovered in Jerusalem, Nablus, Jaffa, and Gaza,” said Kogen-Zehavi in the press release.
Mayor of Rahat Fahiz Abu Saheeben said in the press release that he was pleased “the excavation has revealed the Islamic roots of Rahat.” The dig took place in cooperation with the IAA, the local Bedouin community and the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, ahead of the construction of a new neighborhood in Rahat. “We hope to construct a visitors’ center that tourists and the local community will be able to enjoy,” said Abu Saheeben.
Assuming the community center is built, in addition to possible souvenirs of ancient olive oil soap, visitors will be able to play one of the two ancient games discovered in an underground chamber at the site.
One of the board games is called the Windmill, a game of strategy known from excavations from the Roman period in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The second is a board game with dice or sticks called Hounds and Jackals or 58 Holes, which was played in early Egypt and spread to the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia in circa 2,000 BCE, according to the press release.
Bulgarians find oldest European town, a salt production center
Archaeologists in eastern Bulgaria say they have unearthed the oldest prehistoric town ever found in Europe, along with an ancient salt production site that gives a strong clue about why massive riches were discovered in the region.
Excavations at the site near the modern-day town of Provadia have so far uncovered the remains of a settlement of two-storey houses, a series of pits used for rituals as well as parts of a gate, bastion structures, and three later fortification walls — all carbon dated between the middle and late Chalcolithic age from 4,700 to 4,200 BC.
“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, after announcing the findings earlier this month.
Nikolov and his team have worked since 2005 to excavate the Provadia-Solnitsata settlement, located near the Black Sea resort of Varna. A small necropolis, or burial ground, was also found, but has yet to be studied more extensively and could keep archaeologists busy for generations.
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 center and most importantly, a major production center for a specialized 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.”
As precious as gold
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.
Salt extraction at the site first began in about 5,500 BC when people started boiling brine from the nearby salty springs in dome kilns found inside the settlement, Nikolov said, citing carbon dating results from a British laboratory in Glasgow.
“This is the first time in southeast Europe and western Anatolia that archeologists have come upon traces of salt production at such an early age, the end of the sixth millennium BC, and managed to prove it with both archeologic and scientific data,” Bachvarov confirmed.
Salt production was moved outside the settlement towards the end of the sixth millennium and productivity gradually increased. After being boiled, the salt was baked to make small bricks. Nikolov said production increased steadily from 5,500 BC when one load from the kilns in Provadia-Solnitsata yielded about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of dry salt. By 4,700-4,500 BC, that amount had increased to 4,000 to 5,000 kilos of salt.
“At a time when salt was as precious as gold you can imagine what this meant,” he said.
The salt trade gave the local population huge economic power, which could explain the gold riches found in graves at the Varna Necropolis and dating back to around 4,300 BC, Nikolov suggested.
The 3,000 jewelry pieces and ritual objects have been internationally recognized as the oldest gold treasure in the world, raising questions as to how a culture of farmers and stock-breeders from a region otherwise poor in natural resources could acquire such wealth. The excavations have however suffered from a chronic lack of state funding, which Nikolov replaced with private donations.
A British anthropologist, a Japanese ceramics expert, and a team of radiocarbon specialists from Germany have worked on the site for free this season.