Overarching period: Balkan Copper Age, 7,000 to 6,000 BP
Specific period: Bulgarian Copper Age 6,830 to 6,000 BP
Carbon dating: 6,374 - 6,683 years old
Locations:Varna 43.21° North, 27.86° East
Site location country: Bulgaria
mtDNA haplogroups: U, H, T
Y haplogroups: G, CT, R

Bronze Age Dagger Example of a Copper Age dagger [4]
Varna Gold Objects Gold Jewelry found at Varna [25].

The Copper Age in Bulgaria:

The transition to the Copper Age brought with it dramatic changes in social structures of Southeastern Europe. While the earliest farming communities had been small and relatively equal, there is evidence that during the Copper Age a hierarchy of skills and wealth began to develop [11-12]. Around 150 tell settlements appeared during this period throughout the Balkans [13]. Tells are artificial hills or mounds created by dense human settlements adding refuse material that builds up over hundreds of years. Many sites show evidence of specific skills becoming the main occupations of certain individuals, such as potters, herders, and brewers, whereas before virtually everybody in a village would be able to farm as well as participate in other tasks. Specialized skills require a more complex social network in order to feed and house the individual making specific things. During this time evidence began to mount for the start of political classes and individuals with greater wealth, highlighted at the cemetery of Varna which had significant differences in grave wealth [14].

The Individuals from Varna:

The site at Varna is located within the town of Varna, in present-day Bulgaria. The five individuals in this sample were carbon-dated to between 6,374 to 6,683 years old [13]. The site is considered critically important for our understanding of the Copper Age in the Balkans. The site was found when industrial work was being carried out in the 1970s and consisted of a small number of burials [13,15]. These graves also provided a large number of gold objects of which there were more than 3,000 [15]. Also present were copper tools, polished stone tools. There was significantly unequal distribution of grave goods and it is thought that this was due to very unequal wealth within this community [14].

The individuals in our sample varied in age and apparent status. One male, who was estimated to between 50 and 65 years old, was buried with more than 1,000 gold items as well as copper tools. Analysis of his skeleton showed that he had a physically stressful life but evidence from his teeth has shown that he had a rich diet and was probably higher status [13]. Three of the individuals were buried with virtually no grave goods. One of the individuals was a young girl of around 6 years of age that had a rich grave of jewelry and ceramic vessels.

Genetic analysis has shown that the southeast of Europe was a crossroads of migration flowing both east and west. More hunter-gatherer ancestry persisted in populations in the Balkans and up into Ukraine than in other areas of Europe after the arrival of farming [13]. Subsequent migrations of Yamnaya migrations around 5,000 years ago from the Caucuses brought new genetic input into Europe from Central Asian and the Caucuses. The individuals at Varna are much older than these sweeping migrations but appear to be related to Yamnaya migrants as well as local Neolithic peoples who had already been living in the area [13]. This suggests that there were contacts between both East and West that were quite ancient.

Two of these individuals belonged to the mitochondrial U haplogroup, was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [16]. Two individuals belonged to the mitochondrial H haplogroup, is commonly found in Europe today and is known to have Middle Eastern origins [17]. One individual belonged to the mitochondrial T haplogroup, which exists at low frequencies in Europe today and is also thought to come from from the Middle East, and is also found throughout Central Asia [18-19].

Of the four males in this dataset, two belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup G, which is common in Europe today and is thought to be of Anatolian or Iranian origin [20]. One of the males belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup CT, which is a common haplogroup among males worldwide today and is very ancient, possibly dating to prior to the out of Africa event [21-23]. One of the males belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup R, which is a very ancient lineage thought to have arisen in southeast Asia during the Paleolithic. It is also widespread around the world [24].