Archaeologist Discovers 8,000-Year-Old Nephrite ‘Frog-like’ Swastika in Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia
by Ivan Dikov
Photos: Trud daily
This 8,000-year-old frog-like swastika made of nephrite has been discovered during the latest archaeological excavations of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.
A “frog-like” swastika made of nephrite has been discovered during archaeological excavations of the 8,000-year-old Slatina Neolithic Settlement in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
The swastika is 3 cm wide and 3.5 cm long, and dates back to the beginning of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement, i.e. 6000-5500 BC, reports the Bulgarian daily Trud.
“This is a very rare find. Such an artifact was a sign of prestige in prehistoric times,” lead archaeologist, Prof. Vasil Nikolov, from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, is quoted as saying.
Nikolov, who has been excavating the site in Sofia’s Slatina Quarter since 1985, has made headlines in 2014 and 2015, after he and his colleague, Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov, discovered a similar Early Neolithic settlement near the town of Mursalevo in the Kyustendil District in Southwest Bulgaria.
“We found exactly the same swastika this summer on the last day of our excavations of the prehistoric settlement near Mursalevo. The [archaeological] science also is aware of several more swastikas of this kind which were discovered near Kardzhali (in Southern Bulgaria – see a photo below) and in Thessaly (in Northwestern Greece),” explains the lead archaeologists.
The swastika discovered in the Slatina Neolithic Settlment bears signs of sophisticated craftsmanship even though the nephrite it was made of is a very hard stone.
Nikolov says that the frog-like features of the swastika – its shoulders resemble frog legs – are not accidental.
In his words, the prehistoric people deemed the amphibians a symbol of fertility because their behavior represented the cycle of life – they come out of their dwellings in the spring, and disappear in the fall in order to show up again next year.
The frog-like nephrite swastika from the Slatina Neolithic Settlement was discovered between two prehistoric houses.
“It probably was placed in a ritual pit, in the foundations of a new house. This could be construed as a gesture of great importance – giving up a sign of prestige in order to invest into something new,” Nikolov hypothesizes.
In addition to the discovery of the nephrite swastika, the latest excavations of the Slatina Neolithic Settlement, which took part in November 2015, have revealed new information about the development of the archaeological layers.
Based on their research of the Slatina settlement so far, the archaeologists have distinguished two phases in the settlement’s development during the Early Neolithic (6000-5500 BC) called “Slatina” and “Kremikovtsi” (after another quarter of Sofia).
The ceramic vessels from the Slatina phase are decorated with white ornaments, while the ceramics from the Kremikovtsi phase feature decorations in dark colors such as red, brown, and wine-red.
In one of the newly excavated Early Neolithic homes in Sofia’s Slatina Quarter, the archaeologists have found traces from both phases.
The home’s floor was plastered up a total of six times; its inhabitants would cover it with crushed ceramics vessels and would cover them with a thick layer of clay.
It has been found that the floor of the home in question features remains of ceramic vessels from both local phases of the Early Neolithic.
The archaeologists believe that the introduction of ceramics with different features signifying another Early Neolithic phase most likely resulted not from a violent event but from the peaceful arrival of a small group of people. These were representatives of a different culture who came from the west.
In one of the Early Neolithic homes, Nikolov’s team has found several dozen bone “billets” apparently prepared for the production of tools; this is taken to mean that the home was probably also a workshop making bone tools.
Two of the prehistoric homes explored by the archaeologists during the 2015 digs are interesting because of their size – one has an area of more than 100 square meters while the other is only 10 square meters.
The researchers have exposed the holes in the ground left by the wooden poles that supported the dwelling’s walls made by wattle and clay.
Other new finds include prehistoric kilns which were built with river stones, and covered with clay domes, as well as bone and flint tools, ceramic vessels, and traces of millstones.
The excavations have exposed six different layers of floor plaster made with crushed ceramic vessels and clay in one of the prehistoric homes in Sofia’s Slatina Quarter.
Back in October 2015, on behalf of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, archaeologist Vasil Nikolov presented together with Sofia Municipality a project for the restoration of prehistoric homes from the Slatina Neolithic Settlement.
The 8,000-year-old Slatina Neolithic Settlement is located in the Slatina Quarter in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.
It was discovered by accident in 1950 by construction workers near the Shipchenski Prohod Blvd. During the first archaeological excavations of the site in 1958, the archaeologists found remains from prehistoric homes, including clay-plastered poles, hearths, and ceramic vessels.
The prehistoric settlement mound was found to be located on the left bank of the Slatinska River. At first, the settlement was dated back to the 3rd millennium BC.
However, new rescue excavations starting in 1985 revealed additional information, and based on the new data and more modern dating methods, in 1987, the settlement was dated to about 6000 BC, i.e. the Early Neolithic. Back then, the archaeologists excavated nine homes and discovered dozens of axes and claw hammers, flint knives, sickles, handmills, loom weights, as well as funerals of Neolithic people.
Since 1985, the prehistoric settlement in Slatina has been excavated and studied by Prof. Vasil Nikolov, from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
Thus, the Slatina Neolithic Settlement is the earliest human settlement on the territory of the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia. It was settled in the Early Neolithic by people who came from Asia Minor.
The Slatina Neolithic Settlement had a total territory of 80 decares (app. 20 acres). Unfortunately, during urban construction in the 1970s, most of it was destroyed, and today only 8 decares (app. 2 acres), have been preserved.
The Neolithic homes in Slatina were built of wattle plastered with clay. The ceilings were made of wood, and covered with straw or reed. The prehistoric people’s main food was wheat grown nearby; the archaeologists also found there 8,000-year-old lentils. The livestock was kept outside of the settlement.
The Slatina Neolithic homes had granaries inside them as well as kilns, cult (religious) hearths, and wooden beds. The materials used by the prehistoric people there include wood, clay, stone, flint, bone, and horns. Some of the clay vessels feature geometric motifs. One of the most interesting finds has been a part of a marble figure of the Mother Goddess used for fertility rituals.
The Slatina Neolithic Settlement in Bulgaria’s Sofia belongs to the first phase of the Neolithic period when the first agriculturalists and livestock breeders settled down in today’s Bulgaria. They came from Asia Minor to the Balkan Peninsula, gradually advancing from the south and southeast to the north, deeper into Europe.
Thus, are about 50-100 years older than the similar Neolithic settlements found in the Struma Valley in Southwest Bulgaria such as the Mursalevo Neolithic Settlement and Slatina settlement in Sofia.
The Slatina Neolithic Settlement was a large one and had contacts with all neighboring regions – it is believed that some ceramic vessels and other items were brought from today’s regions of Southern Bulgaria (Thrace), Southwest Bulgaria (the Struma Valley), Serbia, and Northwest Bulgaria.