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definition - Varna_Necropolis

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Varna Necropolis

History of Bulgaria
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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 archaeological sites in world prehistory. The oldest golden treasure in the world, dating to 5,000 BC, was discovered at the site.[1][2]


  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.

A total of 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 4700-4200 BC by radiocarbon dating in 2004[citation needed] and belong to the Eneolithic Varna culture, which is the local variant of the KGKVI.

  Burial rites

  A burial at Varna, with some of the world's oldest gold jewellery.

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

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 [1]. The copper ore used in the artefacts 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 perhaps also venerated virility, instinct force, and warfare. Gimbutas holds that the artefacts 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."

Among the metallic (gold and copper) and non-metallic (minerals, rocks, pottery, pigments, biofacts) artefacts in the graves from the Varna Chalcolithic site are numerous beads of a chalcedony (carnelian) and agate composition. Three main morphological types of beads are described: type 1 – elongated barrel-shaped; type 2 – elongated with trapezohedral facets; type 3 – short cylindrical (Kostov, 2007; Kostov, Pelevina, 2008). The carnelian and related beads of type 2 have a “constant” number of 32 facets – 16+16 on both sides on the elongation of the bead, which is considered probably the earliest in Chalcolithic times complex type of faceting on such a hard mineral (hardness of chalcedony is 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale). In the hole of a single carnelian bead was found a gold mini-cylinder (~2x2 mm). The gold artefacts from the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis are assumed to be the “oldest gold of mankind” according to their total volume and quantity. Analysis of the measured weight of the different types of gold artеfacts (beads, appliqués, rings, bracelets, pectorals and diadems) revealed a weight system with at least two minimal weight units of ~0.14 and ~0.40 g among both mineral and gold beads (Kostov, 2004; 2007). The second one (=2 carats) was suggested as a basic “Chalcolithic unit” with the name van (from the first letters of Varna necropolis).

In 2009, logician H. Smolenov suggested that the Varna culture people had achieved certain advanced mathematical knowledge testified by the artefacts from the necropolis, some of which might have been used for navigation purposes apart from their possible sacral function.

  Museum exhibitions

  Golden objects found in the necropolis.

The artefacts 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 1970s. 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.

Varna necropolis artefacts were shown for the first time in the United States in 1998 and 1999 as part of a major Bulgarian archaeological exhibition, Thracians' Riches: Treasures from Bulgaria. In 2009-2010, several artefacts were shown at the New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in a joint Romanian-Bulgarian-Moldovan exhibition entitled The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC.[3][4] [5]

  See also



  • Anthony, D. W., J. Y. Chi (Eds.) 2010. The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC. Princeton, U.P.
  • Avramova, M. 2000. Myth, ritual and gold of a “civilization that did not take place”. – In: Varna Necropolis. Varna, Agató, 15-24.
  • Bahn, P. G. (ed.). 1995. 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries. New York, Barnes & Noble, No. 34.
  • Bailey, D. W. 2004. Varna. – In: Bogucki, P., P. J. Crabtree (Eds.). Ancient Europe 8000 B.C. – A.D. 1000. Vol. 1. The Mesolithic to Copper Age (c. 8000-2000 B.C.). New York, Scribner’s, 341-344.
  • Chapman, J. 1990. Social inequality on Bulgarian tells and the Varna problem. - In: R. Samson (ed.). The Social Archaeology of Houses, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 49-98.
  • Chapman, J. 1991. The creation of social arenas in Varna. - In: P. Garwood (Ed.). Sacred and Profane. Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, Monograph 32, 152-171.
  • Chapman, J., T. Higham, B. Gaydarska, V. Slavchev, N. Honch. 2006. The social context of the emergence, development and abandonment of the Varna Cemetery, Bulgaria. - European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 9, No. 2-3, 159-183.
  • Chapman, J., B. Gaydarska, V. Slavchev. 2008. The life histories of Spondylus shell rings from the Varna I Eneolithic cemetery (Northeast Bulgaria): transformation, revelation, fragmentation and deposition. – Acta Musei Varnaensis, 6, 139-162.
  • Éluére, Ch., D. Raub. 1991. Investigations on the gold coating technology of the great dish from Varna. – In: J.-P. Mohen (Ed.). Découverte du métal. Picard, Paris, 13-30.
  • Fol, A., J. Lichardus (eds.). 1988. Macht, Herrschaft und Gold: das Graberfeld von Varna (Bulgarien) und die Anfänge einer neuen europäischen Zivilisation. Saarbrücken, Moderne Galerie des Saarland-Museums.
  • Gimbutas, M. 1977. Varna: a sensationally rich cemetery at the Karanovo civilization: about 4500 B.C. – Expedition, Summer, 39-47.
  • Hayden, B. 1998. An archaeological evaluation of the Gimbutas paradigm. - In: The Virtual Pomegranate, 6.
  • Higham, T., J. Chapman, V. Slavchev, B. Gaydarska, N. Honch, Y. Yordanov, B. Dimitrova. 2007. New perspectives on the Varna cemetery (Bulgaria) – AMS dates and social implications. – Antiquity, 81, 313, 640-651.
  • Ivanov, I. 1977. La nécropole chalcolithique de Varna. – Obzor, 38, 87–96.
  • Ivanov, I. 1978. Les fouilles archéologiques de la nécropole chalcolithique а Varna (1972–1976). – Studia Praehistorica, 1-2, 13-26.
  • Ivanov, I. 1982. The Varna Chalcolithic necropolis. – In: The First Civilization in Europe and the Oldest Gold in the World – Varna, Bulgaria. Nippon Television Network Cultural Society, 21-24.
  • Ivanov, I. 1986. Der kupferzeitlishe Friedhof in Varna. – In: G. Biegel (Hrsg.). Das erste Gold der Menschheit. Die älteste Zivilisation in Europa. Freiburg, 30-42.
  • Ivanov, I. 1988. Die Ausgrabungen des Gräberfeldes von Varna. – In: Fol, A., J. Lichardus (Hrsg.). Macht, Herrschaft und Gold. Moderne-Galerie des Saarlands-Museum, Saarbrüken, Krüger, 49-66, 67-78.
  • Ivanov, I. 1991. Les objets metalliques de la necropole chalcolithique de Varna. – In: Découverte du metal. Paris, 9-12.
  • Ivanov, I. S., M. Avramova. 1997. Varna i razhdaneto na evropeiskata tsivilizatsiia. Sofia (in Bulgarian).
  • Ivanov, I., M. Avramova. 2000. Varna Necropolis. The Dawn of European Civilization. Sofia, Agató, 55 p.
  • Kănchev, K. 1978. Microwear studies of the weapons and tools from the chalcolithic necropolis at the city of Varna. – Studia Praehistorica, 1-2, 46-49.
  • Kostov, R. I. 2004. Prehistoric weight system among the gold objects of the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis. – Geology and Mineral Resources, 11, 3, 25-28 (in Bulgarian with an English abstract).
  • Kostov, R. I. 2007. Archaeomineralogy of Neolithic and Chalcolithic Artefacts from Bulgaria and their Significance to Gemmology. Sofia, Publishing House “St. Ivan Rilski”, 126 p., I-VIII (in Bulgarian with an English summary).
  • Kostov, R. I., O. Pelevina. 2008. Complex faceted and other carnelian beads from the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis: gemmological analysis. – In: Proceedings of the International Conference “Geology and Archaeomineralogy”. Sofia, 29–30 October 2008. Sofia, Publishing House “St. Ivan Rilski”, 67-72.
  • Kostov, R. I., T. Dimov, O. Pelevina. 2004. Gemmological characteristics of carnelian and agate beads from the Chalcolithic necropolis at Durankulak and Varna. – Geology and Mineral Resources, 11, 10, 15-24 (in Bulgarian with an English abstract).
  • Kuleff, I. 2009. Archeometric investigation of gold in the Chalcolithic necropolis of Varna (5th millennium BC) – Advances in Bulgarian Science, 2, 16-22.
  • Manolakakis, L. 2008. Le mobilier en silex taille des tombes de Varna I. – Acta Musei Varnaensis, 6, 115-138.
  • Marazov, I. 1997. The blacksmith as 'King' in the necropolis of Varna. - In: J. Marler (Ed.). From the Realm.
  • Marler, J. 1999. A response to Brian Hayden's article "An archaeological evaluation of the Gimbutas paradigm". - In: The Virtual Pomegranate, 10.
  • Nikolov, V. 1994. Der soziale und religious-mythologische Kontext des Goldes in der Nekropole bei Varna. – Ann. Department of Archaeology, New Bulgarian University, I, 4-7.
  • Renfrew, C. 1978. Varna and the social context of early metallurgy. - Antiquity, 52, 206, 197-203.
  • Renfrew, C. 1986. Varna and the emergence of wealth in prehistoric Europe. – In: The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (A. Appadurai, Ed.). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 141-168.
  • Renfrew, C., P. Bahn. 1996. Archaeology: theories, methods, and practice. New York, Thames and Hudson.
  • Slavchev, V. 2004. Fragmentation research and the Varna Eneolithic cemetery Spondylus rings. - Proceedings of the Varna Round Table.
  • Smolenov, H., H. Mihailov et V. Bozhilov. 2009. Archeo-Logique: La méthode heuristique des symboles et des conniassances sacrés. Sofia, Magoart.
  • Todorova, H. 1982. Kupferzeitliche Siedlungen in Nordostbulgarien. München, Beck, Materialien zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Archäologie, Band 13.
  • Todorova, H. 1978. The Eneolithic Period in Bulgaria in the Fifth Millennium B.C. Oxford, British Archaeological Reports, BAR supplementary series 49.

  External links

Coordinates: 43°12′47″N 27°51′52″E / 43.21306°N 27.86444°E / 43.21306; 27.86444



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