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Varna and the social context of early metallurgy

  • Colin Renfrew

The discovery of what is demonstrably, on the basis of present knowledge, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be unearthed anywhere in the world is an event of some note, comparable in significance with Schliemann's find of the Great Treasure at Troy more than a century ago. The finds at Varna must be at least 1,500 years older than those of Troy 11, yet apart from the original announcement by their excavator (Ivanov, 1975), and useful, although brief, descriptions by Gimbutas (1977 a and b), the Varna cemetery has so far excited little archaeological comment. The publication by Ivanov (1978) of the first well-illustrated account of the cemetery allows an assessment of its importance. Its status as the oldest substantial find of gold emphasizes the position of south-east Europe as an early and independent centre of metallurgical innovation. But the gold is only one of several materials indicative of high status in the cemetery: what had hitherto seemed a moderately egalitarian society now displays clear evidence of salient ranking. This in turn has major implications for our understanding of the social context in which early metalworking in Europe developed and prospered.

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