In the 70’s a worker named Raycho Marinov discovered by chance the Necropolis in Varna, in Bulgaria. The man was working with the excavator when some objects started showing up from the ground. Marinov could not imagine it, but him and his machine had just discovered one of the most important sites for the understanding  of human prehistory. The archaeologist Ivan Ivanov proceeded to the organisation of the excavation, which went from the 1972 to the 1991 and turned the finds into a museum.

If apparently it could seem a discovery like many others, at the time that the burial 43 was opened up the importance of the necropolis appeared obvious. On the inside of this, in fact, an adult male was found with a level of wealth beyond the imaginable.

The mad was generously surrounded by the very first jewels made out of gold ever found in history

Despite it is said that the cradle of civilization was the Fertile Crescent (the area between Mesopotamia and Egypt), at the time technique of goldworking were unknown to the most famous population from Asia and Africa.

The culture in Varna

The culture in Varna, as it has become popular, was an advanced civilization, way older than the Empires of both Egypt and Mesopotamia as well as the 1st culture ever who managed to create artworks in gold.

Varna was also the place where the biggest prehistoric necropolis in South-East Europe was built, reflecting the rich cultural practice, the complex funeral rituals, an ancient system of beliefs, and the ability to reproduce goods with refined mastery. It also became popular as the cradle of European civilization, extremely close to Solnitsata, the oldest and richest city in the European continent.

The ascent of goldworlking and wealth

The archaeological finds show that between the 4,600 and 4,200 BC a big production of jewellery had started in the area of Varna. The more they were learning the goldworking art and the more the trade of the city was growing because its inhabitants had precious goods to exchange with the other populations. The men of Varna started commercial relationships with some part of the Mediterranean area and in the Black Sea, which allowed them to grow rapidly.

Below: Varna Necropolis, funeral offers in exhibition at the Museum of Varna. Picture by Yelkrokoyade shared via Wikipedia – licence  Creative Commons

The deep bay where the settlement of Varna laid, granted a comfy harbour for the ships travelling through the Black Sea, so the area became a prosperous centre of trade.

The intensification of the commercial activity allowed the goldsmith to become rich and very rapidly a massive gap started forming up between the people producing golden goods and the ones working as a merchant or farmer.

The discovery of the ancient culture of Varna

In the ancient necropolis of Varna there have been discovered 300 coffins and found 22,000 artifacts, where 3,000 where in gold. The weigh of the precious metal was 6 kg in total (13 lb) in total,  the heaviest compared to all the other golden finds from necropolis of other part of the world in the historical time.

Other objects included copper, flint, jewels, shells from Mediterranean mollusks, ceramic,obsidian blade, pearls.

The analysis of the tombs revealed that the culture of Varna was a society highly structured: the elite were buried in a sudarium with golden ornaments sewed in the fabric cases, and their tombs were full of treasures such as gold, copper axes, decorated potteries. As for the people from a lower class, their burial was simpler, with not many objects to go with them.

The wealth of grave 43

Although many elite burials were found in the city, there was one in particular which was standing out amongst all, the so called “Grave 43”. Inside of this one, the archaeologists discovered the remains of a man of high rank, supposedly a sovereign or some sort of leader. In this burial it has been found more gold than in the whole rest of the world of that period. The remains, become known as “the man of Varna” were found with a scepter, symbol of a high class or spiritual power, and even a case of solid gold placed on top of his penis.

Below: picture by Yelkrokoyade shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

La sepoltura è significativa non solo per la ricchezza del corredo funebre ma anche perché è la prima sepoltura maschile d’élite conosciuta in Europa. Prima di questa si erano trovate solo donne e bambini onorate con elaborati corredi funebri.

Marija Gimbutas, un’archeologa lituano/statunitense, ha avanzato l’ipotesi che alla fine del V millennio a.C. iniziò la transizione dalle società matriarcali di stampo Indo-Europeo al dominio maschile in Europa. Proprio nella cultura di Varna è stato osservato che in questo periodo gli uomini hanno iniziato a ricevere il miglior trattamento postumo.

Riti funebri complessi nella necropoli di Varna

The burials in the necropolis of Varna offered way more than just precious objects and the discovery about the social hierarchy: the tombs gave several insights on religious beliefs and the complex funerary practice in this civilisation.

Men and women were located in a different way inside the tombs: the males were laid on their back, while females would assume a fetal position. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that certain tomb did not contain any skeleton, but they were the richest ones in terms of gold and other treasures. Some of those “symbolic” sepulchres would have masks made out of raw clay inside of then, laid right where the heads were supposed to be.

Below: Necropolis of Varna, funeral offers in exhibition at the Museum of Varna. Picture by ChernorizetsHrabar shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

The tombs containing the clay masks had many golden amulets with female features, placed in that which would have been the neck area. These jewels indicate that there sepulchre were destined to women. A further proof of such a theory is the absence of axes, but instead each of them had a copper pin, a flint knife and a spiral spindle.

The decline and the inheritance of the Varna culture

By the end of the 5th century BC, the Varna culture, once strong and powerful, was then staring to decade. It’s been hypothesised that the fall of its civilisation was the result of a combination of factors, one of which being the climate change. Because of it, wide cultivable areas had been turned into swamps. However the attack of knights on horseback coming from the Steppe was another possible reason.

Below: anthropomorphic head made out of clay. Late Chalcolothic, 4,500-4,000 BC. Hamangia culture,submerged in the lake of Varna, Archaeologica Museum of Varna. Picture by ChernorizetsHrabar shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Although there is no trace of any direct descendant coming from the Varna culture, the members of this ancient population have left a long term heritage and set up the basis for the following cultures to rise all over Europe. Their ability in metallurgy were unique in the whole world, and their society had already many evident features of a population widely advanced and developed for the time.

The men of Varna created also a social structure equipped of a centralised authority, as in one person or an institution able to monitor and guarantee the correct function of society. A model still followed to this very day.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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