Varna culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Varna culture
PeriodNeolithic Europe, Chalcolithic Europe, Old Europe
Datescirca 4550 BC — circa 4,100 BC
Type siteVarna Necropolis, Solnitsata, Durankulak (archaeological site)
Preceded byKaranovo culture, Hamangia culture
Followed byCernavodă culture
Reconstruction of elite burial at the Varna necropolis (detail)
Artefacts from the Varna necropolis
Gold artefacts from the Varna necropolis
Gold bulls
Miniature ceramic vessel

The Varna culture is a Chalcolithic culture of northeastern Bulgaria, dated ca. 4500 BC,[1][2] contemporary and closely related with Gumelnița in southern Romania, often considered as local variants.

It is characterized by polychrome pottery and rich cemeteries, the most famous of which are Varna Necropolis, the eponymous site, and the Durankulak complex, which comprises the largest prehistoric cemetery in southeastern Europe, with an adjoining coeval Neolithic settlement (published) and an unpublished and incompletely excavated Chalcolithic settlement. 294 graves have been found in the necropolis, many containing sophisticated examples of copper and gold metallurgy, pottery (about 600 pieces, including gold-painted ones), high-quality flint and obsidian blades, beads, and shells. The site was accidentally discovered in October 1972 by excavator operator Raycho Marinov. Research excavation was under the direction of Mihail Lazarov and Ivan Ivanov. About 30% of the estimated necropolis area is still not excavated.

The findings showed that the Varna culture had trade relations with distant lands, possibly including the lower Volga region and the Cyclades, perhaps exporting metal goods and salt from the Solnitsata rock salt mine. The copper ore used in the artifacts originated from a Sredna Gora mine near Stara Zagora, and Mediterranean spondylus shells found in the graves may have served as primitive currency.

Burial rites[edit]

Graves of the Varna Necropolis contained the oldest known examples of gold working in the world.[3] Burials included both crouched and extended inhumations. Some graves did not contain a skeleton, only grave gifts (cenotaphs). These symbolic (empty) graves are the richest in gold artifacts. 3000 gold artifacts were found, with a weight of approximately 6 kilograms.[4] Three symbolic graves also contained masks of unfired clay.

"Varna is the oldest cemetery yet found where humans were buried with abundant golden ornaments. … The weight and the number of gold finds in the Varna cemetery exceeds by several times the combined weight and number of all of the gold artifacts found in all excavated sites of the same millenium, 5000-4000 BC, from all over the world, including Mesopotamia and Egypt. … Three graves contained gold objects that together accounted for more than half of the total weight of all gold grave goods yielded by the cemetery. A scepter, symbol of a supreme secular or religious authority, was discovered in each of these three graves." (Slavchev 2010)[5]


The Varna culture had sophisticated religious beliefs about afterlife and developed hierarchical status differences. It has the oldest known burial evidence of an elite male. Some authors have described the Varna elite males as 'kings'.[6][7] The end of the fifth millennium BC is the time that Marija Gimbutas, founder of the Kurgan hypothesis claims the transition to male dominance began in Europe. The high status male was buried with remarkable amounts of gold, held a war axe or mace and wore a gold penis sheath. The bull-shaped gold platelets perhaps also venerated virility, instinctive force, and warfare.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chapman, John (2012). "Varna". The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. p. 342. ISBN 978-0-19-973578-5.
  2. ^ Jeunesse, Christian (2017). "From Neolithic kings to the Staffordshire hoard. Hoards and aristocratic graves in the European Neolithic: The birth of a 'Barbarian' Europe?". The Neolithic of Europe. Oxbow Books. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-78570-654-7.
  3. ^ Pernicka, Ernst; Armbruster, Barbara; Leusch, Verena; Slavcev, Vladimir (February 2015). "On the Invention of Gold Metallurgy: The Gold Objects from the Varna I Cemetery (Bulgaria)—Technological Consequence and Inventive Creativity". Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 25 (1). doi:10.1017/S0959774314001140. This paper discusses the invention of gold metallurgy within the Southeast European Chalcolithic on the basis of newly investigated gold objects from the Varna I cemetery (4550-4450 cal. bc). Comprehensive analyses, including preceding gold finds, shed new light not only on the technical expertise of the so far earliest known fine metalworkers, but also on the general context and potential prerequisites in which the invention of gold metallurgy may be embedded. Here, these structural trajectories as well as the unprecedented inventions connected to this early gold working will be highlighted in order to contextualize the apparently sudden appearance and rapid development of this new craft.
  4. ^ Miljana Radivojević; Benjamin W. Roberts (2021): 'Balkan metallurgy in a Eurasian context' in Miljana Radivojević; Benjamin W. Roberts; Miroslav Marić; Julka Kuzmanović Cvetković; Thilo Rehren The Rise of Metallurgy in Eurasia. Evolution, Organisation and Consumption of Early Metal in the Balkans, Archaeopress Archaeology, p. 613
  5. ^ Slavchev, Vladimir (2010). "The Varna Eneolithic Cemetery in the Context of the Late Copper Age in the East Balkans". In Anthony, David; Chi, Jennifer (eds.). The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC. New York University, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. pp. 192–211. ISBN 9780691143880.
  6. ^ "The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube vallery, 5000-3500 BC, exhibition video (Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2010)".
  7. ^ Jeunesse, Christian (2017). "From Neolithic kings to the Staffordshire hoard. Hoards and aristocratic graves in the European Neolithic: The birth of a 'Barbarian' Europe?". The Neolithic of Europe. Oxbow Books. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-78570-654-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Henrieta Todorova, The eneolithic period in Bulgaria in the fifth millennium B.C. Oxford : British Archaeological Reports, 1978. BAR supplementary series 49.
  • Henrieta Todorova, Kupferzeitliche Siedlungen in Nordostbulgarien. München: Beck 1982. Materialien zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Archäologie 13.

External links[edit]