The treasure of Priam

The Bulgarian “Treasure of Priam”

The story of Heinrich Schliemann is well known. Earning a wealth from trade he was intoxicated with archaeology and invested all his money in the exploration of legendary Troy, unearthed by him. On June 14,1873 he “discovered” a grand gold treasure consisting of a total of 8700 objects. It features solid cups, jewels, buttons, and appliques. According to Schliemann, King Priam hid his treasure when the Greeks invaded Troy. Later scientists were to establish that the find had been collective and the objects were referred to different ages. Quite a few people think that Schliemann had spent most of his wealth purchasing the gold objects.

In the late spring of 2004, two young archaeologists from the National History Museum in Sofia went to buy cigarettes in a small shop in the centre of the little town of Sopot, in the southern foothills of the Balkan Range. One of them saw a strange string around the neck of the shopkeeper. Obviously these were small rings of high karat gold and they were definitely not contemporary. They were reminiscent of something very ancient, whose place was not here: they belonged in a museum. It turned out that the saleswoman’s husband had been a tractor driver, and he had uncovered the objects while ploughing the land of the village of Dabene. Excavations started and within two years more than 20 000 objects of gold and silver were uncovered. The excavations were directed by the young scholar Martin Hristov.

Some time ago archaeologists excavated nearby a settlement of the late 4th-early 3rd millennium B.C. or from the early Bronze Age. The gold was unearthed in a necropolis, connected with it, dated to the last phase of its existence, the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. These have been a dozen or so small mounds, rising no more than 2-2.5 m high. Everybody was shocked when precious objects began to come to the surface. These were mostly jewels, ritually broken into pieces in advance, and scattered among the stones. Sometimes they were very tiny and were hard to notice. Then Martin Hristov ordered that the excavated earth be transferred to a place, checked by metal detector in advance, where it was spread on a thin layer. Then it was scrupulously examined with the metal detector and even the tiniest finds were picked out. Particularly yielding proved to be the small mound, marked in the diaries under No. 3. After its examination, two whole necklaces were fitted out of the thousands of gold elements. Besides, a great number of hair fibula-spirals, beads of various shape and decoration, miniature axes-amulets and priests’ ritual daggers were unearthed and described.

Some of the objects are absolutely identical with the jewels of “the treasure of Priam”. Others, however, are unique. And single finds of this type have been uncovered in what is now West Bulgaria, as well as far away in Central Europe. There, however, they have been dated 200-300 years later. Most modern-time researchers date the bulk of “the treasure of Priam” to the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. Thus the gold finds mark the road of the cultural infiltration from Asia, via the Balkans into Europe, which took place in the second half of the early Bronze Age.

The news about the treasure of Dabene spread round the world straightaway. The British newspaper The Guardian concluded that it was comparable only to the finds in Troy. The information of The Independent was in the same spirit, too. The renowned British scholar Dr Zosha Archibald commented that the uncovering of the treasure was of international significance and would change the concepts about the relationships between Asia and Europe during the Bronze Age. But who were the people who bequeathed to us this invaluable find? Professor Vassil Nikolov, the consultant of the excavations, defines them as Proto-Thracians. Backing up this statement is also the funereal ritual of “burning of the body”, was been found for the first time during that age. In this way archaeologists have been gradually filling in the blanks in the early history of the ancient people of the Thracians, who were during the subsequent millennia to produce a number of magnificent cultural achievements.

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