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Bulgarians find oldest European town, a salt production center

November 01, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Los Angeles Times
  • Fortified walls at Solnitsata, believed to be the earliest town in Europe.
Fortified walls at Solnitsata, believed to be the earliest town in Europe. (Reuters )

Bulgarian archaeologists have found what they believe to be the oldest town in Europe, a salt production center called Solnitsata near the modern-day city of Provadia. Although the 6-millenium-old town held only 350 people or so, it was apparently very wealthy because it supplied salt to much of what is now the Balkans. The town was functional more than 1,000 years before the beginning of Greek civilization.

Remains of Solnitsata have been carbon-dated to 4,700 to 4,200 B.C., but salt production at the site began as early as 5400 B.C., according to archaeologist Vasil Nikolov of Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology. The site has springs containing high levels of salt, about 160 to 190 grams of salt per liter. The residents used roughly smoothed ceramic bowls about 16-18 inches in diameter to boil the salt water in special facilities, evaporating the water and leaving behind a block of salt ready for trade for food and other goods. A collection of more than 3,000 gold objects discovered at a cemetery at nearby Varna may have represented some of the wealth produced by the salt, which was a necessary ingredient of everyone's diet -- both humans and animals.

The remains of the town include the ruins of two-story homes, a group of pits believed to have been used for rituals, fortification walls and parts of a gate.

"At a time when people did not know the wheel and cart, these people hauled huge rocks and built massive walls," Nikolov told the press agency AFP. "Why? What did they hide behind them? The answer was salt."

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