|Salt in the Prehistoric Balkans
selected references, links, comments and updates by Lolita Nikolova
Tasic, N. 2000 Salt Use in the Early and Middle Neolithic of the Balkan Peninsula. In:
Nikolova L. (ed.) Technology, Style and Society. BAR International Series, pp. 35-40.
.pdf file (for references which are at the end of the book e-mail to
Excavations of a prehistoric site "Provadia -Solnitsata", Northeast Bulgaria (Since 2005)
About the excavations in 2007 see:
Nikolov V., Petrova V., Hristov N., Leshtakov P., Anastasova E., Stoyanova P., Lyuncheva M.
2007. No. 13. Arheologicheski prouchvaniya na praistoricheski solodobiven tsentur
"Provadia-Solnitsata" pri gr. Provadiya. In: Gergova D. (main ed.). Arheologicheski otkritiya i
razkopki prez 2007 g. NAIM. Sofiya, 63-65.
The site has been described as a salt produce center just on the base of very preliminary
information. It is a settlement close to salt springs. Ceramic vessels with traces of salt were
found in the later Neolithic layer. They had been interpreted as evidence of salt production. In
the media the prehistoric site was announced as the earliest in Europe center for salt
production and salt long-distance export but neither the excavations nor additional
information proves such interpretation. Such information does not exist in the official report of
the team published by the National Archaeological Institute and Museum.
Museum of History - Provadia
Tel.: 0518/4 20 33
The Earliest Salt Production Center in Europe by Vassil Nikolov (2006)
text from http://www.c-a-c.hit.bg/archaelogical%20season2006.html
A team of the Institute of Archaeology and Museum – BAS made extremely interesting
discoveries at an archaeological site located near Provadia and called Solnitsata, whose
shape and dimensions were until quite recently not very well defined.
The archaeological excavations, which ended recently, have confirmed the hypothesis and
produced sensational evidence for the earliest salt extraction in Europe. It happened ca.
5400 BC, in the late Neolithic, when a group of people from Thrace crossed the Stara
Planina Mountains and settled down at the salt springs near the present-day town of
Provadia. The settlers started to boil the water running out of the salt mirror, containing 160-
190 g of salt per liter. Evidence for this production technique are the thousands sherds of thin
walled though roughly smoothed ceramic bowls, 40-45 cm in diameter, which are typical for
this site only. They were use for boiling and evaporating of water at special facilities. The final
product was a lump with standard dimensions, which was ready for exchange or trade. The
study of Prof. Ivan Havezov (Institute of General and Inorganic chemistry – BAS) on a number
of these fragments revealed the presence of a considerable amount of salt on their surfaces
as well as on the inside. The importance of the discovery at Provadia is related to the
necessary daily intake of salt for the normal functioning of the human body: 12-18 g. The
animals, especially the domestic ones, have the same needs. Until quite recently there was
no data on the salt production in the Balkans and this problem was omitted by the studies.
However, the simple calculations reveal that the early farmers (6th millennium BC) of Thrace
only, the area where the settlers of Provadia have come from, needed at least 500 tons of
salt per year (including the needs of the domestic animals). The salt producing “colony”
apparently traded the salt and supplied the population of Thrace with salt and probably got in
return food and other necessary products. The discovery of the salt production center in
northeast Bulgaria opens possibilities for research on this vital aspect of the economy of the
earliest European civilization.
Another hypothesis was confirmed during this season, namely that the salt production
continued at the same place in the Chalcolithic (5th millennium BC) as well, in the time of the
spectacular Varna Chalcolithic cemetery including. This cemetery is situated only 20 km east
of the salt production center. The reason for the accumulation of an extreme wealth
consisting of prestige objects made of gold, copper, flint, horn/bone, sea shells, etc. was not
properly explained for more than 30 years but now we could argue with a great degree of
probability that it was directly related to the continuing production of considerable amounts of
salt near Provadia and the salt trade. It is exactly the time when the salt production center -
with regular round shape, 105 m in diameter - was surrounded by a ditch and a stone
rampart behind it as well as with a palisade, which was solidly constructed of vertical
wooden posts, plastered with a thick layer of clay. Apparently the salt producers had good
reasons to build up this labor-consuming defensive system, which was aimed to protect
The migrations of nomadic tribes coming from the North and the demographic changes in
the eastern Balkans at the end of the 5th millennium BC marked the end of the Chalcolithic
civilization in the region.
A tumulus, 12 m high and 80 m in diameter, was made after a long break, in the 4th century
BC. It was made with soil taken from the 8 m high tell accumulated during the functioning of
the salt production center. It was a very impressive Thracian cult center, whose total height
exceeded 20 m. The ‘tumulus’ is situated to the north on the top of the tell, so that the rest of
the terrain forms a terrace, up to 22 m wide to the south and paved with small stones.
Apparently it was the area aimed for the participants in the rituals. In this direction the
‘tumulus’ faces a stone structure, whose function is still unknown. The Thracian cult center
functioned ca. one millennium.
The continuing archaeological excavations will soon define Provadia-Solnitsata as one of the
most interesting archaeological sites in Bulgaria.
Prof. Dr. Vassil Nikolov, Institute of Archaeology and Museum – BAS
Comments by Lolita Nikolova, PhD
1. As the article by Nenad Tasic shows there are no reason not to believe that salt had been
produced in the Balkans since Early Neolithic and the existed resources were one of
possibly the stimuli for the Neolithization of the Balkans.
2. The sites of Provadia dates from later Neolithic (later sixth millennium cal BCE) and for
this reason cannot be a candidate for the earliest center for salt production in the Balkans
3. The found thousands sherds cannot be accepted as undisputable proof for the proposed
boiling water technology of salt production. As the information about the Museum of Salt
shows below, typical for this region was using the sun energy.
4. The excavations from 2007 shows, the latest layer belongs to later Hamangia culture (abt
the mid of the fifth millennium cal BCE). Then, there is no Gumelnitsa-Kodzhadermen-Varna
layer from later fifth millennium cal BCE that contradicts the statement above that "The
reason for the accumulation of an extreme wealth consisting of prestige objects made of
gold, copper, flint, horn/bone, sea shells, etc. was not properly explained for more than 30
years but now we could argue with a great degree of probability that it was directly related to
the continuing production of considerable amounts of salt near Provadia and the salt trade".
5. There is no published enough pottery to clarify the cultural belonging of the postulated 5
levels of the tell.
Prehistoric tell over
which was erected a
5 levels were
documented from later
6th - earlier fifth
millennium cal BCE.
No certain data about
exchange of salt.
The pictures were published in the media (2007)
|A museum of salt in Pomorie, Northeast Bulgaria
|Mузеят на солта в Поморие разказва за стария поминък на местното население - добив
на сол чрез слънчево изпарение на морска вода. Изграждането му е резултат на
проект, финансиран от програма “Фар” и 25 % от Община Поморие. Започва работа на 7
септември 2002 г. more
Map 1. Local
variations of Middle
Map 2. Salt starving