Oldest city in Europe

In the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages salt was more precious than gold

The tell settlement near Provadia is built on the largest rock-salt deposit in the eastern Balkans.

The archaeological complex Provadia - Solnitsata (Salt Pan), in northeastern Bulgaria, is in fact a prehistoric tell settlement, over which a Thracian tumulus, or burial mound, was built. The prehistoric settlement is considered to be Europe's earliest salt works and oldest fortified prehistoric city.

The tell settlement lies over the truncated cone of the largest rock-salt deposit in the eastern Balkans. The production of this strategic raw material began as early as the late Neolithic, i.e. 5600 - 5000 BC. The process included boiling brine from the water sources in thin-walled ceramic vessels placed inside large cupola-shaped furnaces that were built in edifices inside the settlement's perimeter.

Solnitsata near the town of Provadia is the earliest known salt manufacturing centre in Europe. Life on the tell settlement continued through the Chalcolithic (4600 - 4200 BC), when the place grew into a large production site. Salt was hard to come by and even more difficult to manufacture, which added to its already great value. It became the first means of payment which allowed those who were in its possession and were able to manufacture it to exchange it for any other staple goods or luxury items.

During the latest excavation works, archaeologists unearthed an exquisite stone figurine of the Thracian Mother Goddess in the foundations of the city walls. She was the guardian of the citadel and the salt lords, who used to live there. The unique artefacts also included a loom weight, a model dwelling, and a great number of stone and bone arrowheads and spearheads. In previous years, archaeologists had dug out an ancient necropolis, where salt lords used to be ritually buried. It was then that they also uncovered the grave of a notable family dating back 60 centuries. All six of them had been brutally murdered in the fight for salt, the white gold of that era.

For the first time in Europe, experts examined the remains of a two-storey construction from the late Neolithic, which was used both for living and salt production. The first storey floor was made of stamped clay. It was there that ceramic vessels and a large number of thin-walled salt production utensils were found, either intact or fragmented. An interesting find was a cupola-shaped structure made of clay that was meant for the boiling of the brine, but served also as an oven.

As salt lords had to protect their wealth, in the middle Chalcolithic the tell settlement was fortified with a solid protective wall and a deep moat outside the wall. The fortress system was erected with large stone blocks, up to five tonnes in weight, for whose transportation to the site a complex technology had been used.

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