lunes, 18 de abril de 2016

Mystery of the Varna Gold: What Caused These Ancient Societies to Disappear?

1/9. This gold appliqué, more than six millennia old, appears to be a bull but has buffalo-like horns. (Natsionalen Istoritcheski Muzej, Sofia, Bulgaria; De Agostini Picture Library / A. Dagli Orti / Bridgeman Images)
Treasure found in prehistoric graves in Bulgaria is the first evidence of social hierarchy, but no one knows what caused the civilization's decline

Perhaps you’d like to see the cemetery?” says archaeologist Vladimir Slavchev, catching me a bit off balance. We’re standing in the Varna Museum of Archaeology, a three-story former girls’ school built of limestone and brick in the 19th century. Its collections span millennia, from the tools of Stone Age farmers who first settled this seacoast near the mouth of the Danube to the statues and inscriptions of its prosperous days as a Roman port. But I’ve come for something specific, something that has made Varna known among archaeologists the world over. I’m here for the gold.

Slavchev ushers me up a flight of worn stone stairs and into a dimly lit hall lined with glass display cases. At first I’m not sure where to look. There’s gold everywhere—11 pounds in all, representing most of the 13 pounds that were excavated between 1972 and 1991 from a single lakeside cemetery just a few miles from where we’re standing. There are pendants and bracelets, flat breastplates and tiny beads, stylized bulls and a sleek headpiece. Tucked away in a corner, there’s a broad, shallow clay bowl painted in zigzag stripes of gold dust and black, charcoal-based paint.

By weight, the gold in this room is worth about $181,000. But its artistic and scientific value is beyond calculation: The “Varna gold,” as it’s known among archaeologists, has upended long-held notions about prehistoric societies. According to radiocarbon dating, the artifacts from the cemetery are 6,500 years old, meaning they were created only a few centuries after the first migrant farmers moved into Europe. Yet archaeologists found the riches in just a handful of graves, making them the first evidence of social hierarchies in the historical record. [...] Smithsonian

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