A pack of table salt now costs a few coppers. Few have given it a thought that wars were waged in Antiquity for this white powder. The earliest road network in Europe was associated precisely with salt, because in the central part of the continent and along the Mediterranean coastline there were deposits of salt, whereas no such deposits could be found in Scandinavia. Cities like Rome and Munich came into existence precisely because of the extraction of salt. For that reason there are so many aphorisms, associated with salt. Jesus addressed his disciples in the words: “You are the salt of the earth!” Arabs, for their part, say: “Let the salt stand between us!” We Bulgarians have to eat at least a bagful of salt in order to become well acquainted. For that matter in quite a number of languages the word for “salt” has been related to the conceptions of “soldier”, as well as of “money”. The Roman Legionnaires had special overhead expenses for salt, and in many places, deriving from the word for them, was the term for a monthly salary. Marco Polo, in turn, said that there were coins made out of salt, which he exchanged for gold. The very word for the white powder has its origins 8000 years back in time, when Europeans spoke one common language.

Reigning on the Old Continent at that time was the New Stone Age (the Neolithic). A great culture, referred to by archaeologists with the term Karanovo III and IV, was flowering south of the Balkan Range in the Thracian Field. Some 7500 years ago, a group of people decided to go across the ridge of the Balkan Mountains and to settle in the north of it near the present-day town of Provadia. The target was precisely the availability of the precious white crystals which they knew how to extract.

In 2005 the team of Professor Vassil Nikolov began excavations of a big settlement mound – Provadia-Solnitsata [the Salt Cellar], which was within the boundaries of the Provadsol Ltd. salt-extraction enterprise. It has turned out that the ancient settlement extended over the so-called mirror of a huge deposit of rock salt in the form of a frustum of a cone. The area of that mirror is about 10 ha, and the deposit is at a depth ranging between 12 and 20 m. The underground waters and the rain waters dissolve the salt and make a layer of a strongly concentrated solution of 26 g per litre. Then the water gushes forth outside at various places. When in 1924 the first extracting enterprise started work, deep drilling began reaching right to the salty water lake. During the exploitation the springs dried up, but the local inhabitants still remember their locations.

The pre-historic “guest workers”, who had come, settled in the periphery of the deposit, where the underground waters gushed forth. Their lifestyle was no different from that of their fellow-countrymen in Thrace and their living standards were quite a lot higher for that time than the standard of those living north of the Balkan Range. But from among the familiar pottery, Vassil Nikolov found a type he had never encountered anywhere else. These are huge shallow and thin-walled bowls with a diameter of about half a metre. Their burnt walls show that they had been secondarily put in a fireplace. And the shards unearthed are thickly covered with coats of salt. There is no doubt for archaeologists that they had come across the very tools of salt extraction. The technology was simple: the bowls, filled with the salty solution from the springs, were placed on the fire. The water evaporated, the people broke the vessels and took out the cakes of the invaluable white crystals. The bowls were of approximately the same size.

It is not accidental that the extraction of salt began in the earliest agrarian communities of the New Stone Age, when people already relied on plants for food. Whilst has been scientifically proven that man has an annual need of between 12 and 18 g of salt. Whilst the hunters of the earlier stages of human history had received that from the meat of wild animals, the domesticated animal stock did not contains those quantities. What is more, farm animals themselves need salt to survive. That is why man went in search of the valuable product, finding it either in the seawater or in the deposits of rock salt.

Salt extraction in the settlement by Provadia continued during the middle and late period of the Stone and copper age (4500-4300 B.C.). The broad and sprawling vessels with salt coating show that the exploitation of the deposit did not stop. And here Vassil Nikolov came across the next find. The settlement next to Provadia was at that time synchronous with the renowned Varna Necropolis, where years earlier the oldest gold in the world had been unearthed. The location of this unique site is just about 20 km or so from Provadia. It is the view of the archaeologist that precisely the precious salt enabled the local people to extract such a huge quantity of gold.


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