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Varna Necropolis

The Varna Necropolis (Bulgarian: Варненски некропол) (also Varna Cemetery) is a burial site in the western industrial zone of Varna (approximately half a kilometre from Lake Varna and 4 km from the city centre), Bulgaria, internationally considered one of the key sites in world prehistory.  


Discovery and excavation

The site was accidentally discovered in October 1972 by excavator operator Raycho Marinov. Research excavation was under the direction of Mihail Lazarov (1972-1976) and Ivan Ivanov (1972-1991). About 30% of estimated necropolis area is still not excavated.

294 graves have been found in the necropolis, many containing sophisticated examples of metallurgy (gold and copper), pottery (about 600 pieces, including gold-painted ones), high-quality flint and obsidian blades, beads, and shells.


The graves have been dated to 4600-4200 BCE (radiocarbon dating, 2004) and belong to the Eneolithic Varna culture, which is the local variant of the KGKIV.

Burial customs

There are crouched and extended inhumations. Some graves do not contain a skeleton, but grave gifts (cenotaphs). Interestingly, the symbolic (empty) graves are the richest in gold artifacts. 3000 gold artifacts were found, with a weight of approximately 6 kilograms. Grave 43 (photo) contained more gold than has been found in the entire rest of the world for that epoch. Three symbolic graves contained masks of unburnt clay (photo).

The findings showed that the Varna culture had trade relations with distant lands (possibly including the lower Volga and the Cyclades), perhaps exporting metal goods and salt from the Provadiya 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.

The culture had sophisticated religious beliefs about afterlife and developed hierarchal status differences: it offers the oldest known burial evidence of an elite male (the end of the fifth millennium BC is the time that Marija Gimbutas claims the transition to male dominance began in Europe). The high status male buried with the most remarkable amount of gold held a war adze or mace and wore a gold penis sheath. The bull-shaped gold platelets (photo) perhaps also venerated virility, instinctional force, and warfare. Gimbutas holds that the artifacts were made largely by local craftspeople.

Historical impact

According to M. Gimbutas (1991), "The discontinuity of the Varna, Karanovo, Vinča and Lengyel cultures in their main territories and the large scale population shifts to the north and northwest are indirect evidence of a catastrophe of such proportions that cannot be explained by possible climatic change, land exhaustion, or epidemics (for which there is no evidence in the second half of the 5th millennium B.C.). Direct evidence of the incursion of horse-riding warriors is found, not only in single burials of males under barrows, but in the emergence of a whole complex of Kurgan cultural traits."

According to J. Chapman (2005), "Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was widely accepted that steppe nomads from the North Pontic zone invaded the Balkans, putting an end to the Climax Copper Age society that produced the apogee of tell living, autonomous copper metallurgy and, as the grandest climax, the Varna cemetery with its stunning early goldwork. Now the boot is very much on the other foot and it is the Varna complex and its associated communities that are held responsible for stimulating the onset of prestige goods-dominated steppe mortuary practice following the expansion of farming."

Museum exhibitions

The artifacts can be seen at the Varna Archaeological Museum and at the National Historical Museum in Sofia. In 2006, some gold objects were included in a major and broadly advertised national exhibition of antique gold treasures in both Sofia and Varna.

The gold of Varna started touring the world in 1973; it was included in "The Gold of the Thracian Horseman" national exhibition, shown at many of the world's leading museums and exhibition venues in the 1970's. In 1982, it was exhibited for 7 months in Japan as "The Oldest Gold in the World - The First European Civilization" with massive publicity, including two full length TV documentaries. In the 1980s and 1990s it was also shown in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Israel, among others, and featured in a cover story by the National Geographic Magazine.


  • Avramova, Maia. Mit, ritual i zlato na edna "nesustoiala se tsivilizatsiia" / Maia Avramova. Varna i razhdaneto na evropeiskata tsivilizatsiia / Ivan Ivanov. Sofiia : Izd-vo Agató, 1997.
  • A. Fol/J. Lichardus (eds.). Macht, Herrschaft und Gold: das Graberfeld von Varna (Bulgarien) und die Anfänge einer neuen europäischen Zivilisation. Saarbrücken, Moderne Galerie des Saarland-Museums 1988.
  • Bahn, Paul G. ed. 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995) (No. 34).
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  • Chapman, John. 1991. The creation of social arenas in Varna. in P. Garwood (ed.), Sacred and profane. Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, Monograph 32: 152-171.
  • Hayden, Brian, 1998. An Archaeological Evaluation of the Gimbutas Paradigm. In The Virtual Pomegranate, issue 6, 1998.
  • Higham, T., Gaydarska, B. & Slavchev, V. The first AMS dates for the Varna cemetery. Antiquity 2004.
  • Ivanov, Ivan Simeonov; Avramova, Maia. Varna i razhdaneto na evropeiskata tsivilizatsiia. (Sofia, 1997)
  • Ivanov, Ivan, M. Avramova. Varna Necropolis (Sofia, 2000).
  • Marazov, Ivan. 1997 The Blacksmith as 'King' in the Necropolis of Varna. In: From the Realm, J. Marler, ed.
  • Marler, Joan, 1999. A Response to Brian Hayden's article "An Archaeological Evaluation of the Gimbutas Paradigm. In The Virtual Pomegranate, issue 10, 1999.
  • Renfrew C 1978 Varna, and the social context of early metallurgy. Antiquity 52: 197-203.
  • Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 1996. Archaeology: theories, methods, and practice. New York: Thames and Hudson.
  • Slavchev, V. Fragmentation research and the Varna Eneolithic Cemetery Spondylus rings. Proceedings of the Varna Round Table, 2004.
  • Todorova, Henrieta. Kupferzeitliche Siedlungen in Nordostbulgarien. München: Beck 1982. Materialien zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Archäologie 13.
  • Todorova, Khenrieta. The eneolithic period in Bulgaria in the fifth millennium B.C. Oxford : British Archaeological Reports , 1978. BAR supplementary series 49.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Varna_Necropolis". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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