Varna (Bulgaria)

Varna (Bulgaria)

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Varna is the name of a Eneolithic/Late Copper Age cemetery located in northeastern Bulgaria, slightly inland of the Black Sea and north of the Varna Lakes. The cemetery was used for about century between 4560-4450 BC. Excavations at the site have revealed a total of nearly 300 graves, within an area of approximately 7,500 square meters (81,000 square feet or approximately 2 acres).

To date, the cemetery has not been found to be associated with a settlement: the closest human occupation of the same date consists of 13 pile-based lake dwellings, located near Varna Lakes and thought to be of approximately the same period. However, no connection to the cemetery has been established as of yet.

Grave goods from Varna included an enormous amount of goldwork, a total of over 3,000 gold objects weighing more than 6 kilograms (13 pounds). In addition, 160 copper objects, 320 flint artifacts, 90 stone objects and more than 650 clay vessels have been found. In addition, over 12,000 dentalium shells and about 1,100 Spondylus shell ornaments were also recovered. Also collected were red tubular beads made from carnelian. Most of these artifacts were recovered from elite burials.

Elite Burials

Of the 294 graves, a handful were clearly high status or elite burials, probably representing chiefs. Burial 43, for example, included 990 gold artifacts weighing 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) alone. Stable isotope data suggests that the people at Varna consumed both terrestrial (millet) and marine resources: human remains associated with the richest burials (43 and 51) had isotope signatures that indicated higher percentage consumption of marine protein.

A total of 43 of the graves are cenotaphs, symbolic graves containing no human remains. Some of these contained clay masks with gold objects placed in what would be the location of eyes, mouth, nose and ears. AMS radiocarbon dates on animal and human bones from burial contexts returned calibrated dates between 4608-4430 BC; but most artifacts of this type date to the later Eneolithic period, suggesting that the Black Sea location was a center of social and cultural innovation.


The Varna cemetery was discovered in 1972 and excavated well into the 1990s by Ivan S. Ivanov of the Varna Museum, G. I. Georgiev and M. Lazarov. The site has not been as yet been completely published, although a handful of scientific articles have appeared in English language journals.


Gaydarska B, and Chapman J. 2008. The aesthetics or colour and brilliance - or why were prehistoric persons interested in rocks, minerals, clays and pigments? In: Kostov RI, Gaydarska B, and Gurova M, editors. Geoarchaeology and Archaeomineralogy: Proceedings of the International Conference. Sofia: Publishing House "St. Ivan Rilski". p 63-66.

Higham T, Chapman J, Slavchev V, Gaydarska B, Honch NV, Yordanov Y, and Dimitrova B. 2007. New perspectives on the Varna cemetery (Bulgaria) - AMS dates and social implications. Antiquity 81(313):640-654.

Honch NV, Higham TFG, Chapman J, Gaydarska B, and Hedges REM. 2006. A palaeodietary investigation of carbon (13C/12C) and nitrogen (15N/14N) in human and faunal bones from the Copper Age cemeteries of Varna I and Durankulak, Bulgaria. Journal of Archaeological Science 33:1493-1504.

Renfrew C. 1978. Varna and the social context of early metallurgy. Antiquity 52(206):199-203.