Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues126Case studiesThe prehistoric salt-production a...

Case studies

The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata, Northeastern Bulgaria

Production de sel et développement urbain préhistorique à Provadia-Solnitsata, Bulgarie nord-orientale
Vassil Nikolov
p. 71-78


This contribution summarizes the main results of 10 years of archaeological research in Solnitsata, located in Northeastern Bulgaria close to the modern city of Provadia. It constitutes the first prehistoric urban center in Europe (4700‑4200 BC). Its development is closely connected with the exploitation of the so-called Mirovsko salt deposit which underlies the ancient settlement. This latter is articulated around a salt-production center, a fortified stonewall settlement (citadel), a sacrificial pit and a necropolis covering a total area of approximately 13 ha.

Top of page

Full text

1The prehistoric complex of Provadia-Solnitsata, located near the modern town of Provadia, hosts the remains of the oldest salt production center in Europe (5500‑4200 BC). It was the first prehistoric urban center in Europe (4700‑4200 BC) consisting of a salt production center, a fortified stonewall settlement (citadel), a ritual ground (sacrificial pit) and a necropolis (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata

Fig. 1 – The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata

2The complex occupies an area of approximately 13 hectares. Its origin and development are closely related to the only rock salt deposit in the Eastern Balkans, the so-called Mirovsko salt deposit underlying the settlement. This brief report of the archaeological monument is based on 10 years of archaeological research (2005‑2014) and defines the complex as one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Southeastern Europe.

3The formation of the large salt cone occurred when, under pressure, a huge amount of salt was pushed upwards to the surface. The salt cone is enveloped on all sides by a marl ‘mantle’ protecting it from dissolution. Its upper surface is a salt ‘mirror’ (a thick salt outcrop with a thickness of approximately 1 m) located at a depth of 12‑20 m. It is shaped like an ellipse measuring 850 m x 450 m and has an area of 330,000 square meters. The salt cone reaches a depth of 4,000 m where its diameter exceeds 15 km. Salt springs flowed out from the ‘salt mirror’ with salt concentration values very close to the maximum, which for brine is 312 grams per liter. It would have been very unusual if such a beneficial deposit with salt springs flowing out of it had not been used during prehistory.

1 - The main constituent elements of the site of Provadia-Solnitsata

1.1 - A Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic salt production center

4Brine boiling in pottery is the earliest case of this technology being used to obtain salt recorded in Europe. Provadia-Solnitsata is the most ancient salt production center in the Old World. Salt production started at the beginning of the Late Neolithic in dome ovens built in the houses of the settlement (5500‑5200 BC). Later the production was moved out of the settlement. Six pottery pans for salt evaporation, dated to the second half of the Late Neolithic and the Late Chalcolithic (5200‑4200 BC), have been established in the 0.5 ha area of the salt production center.

5The Late Neolithic salt makers of Provadia-Solnitsata (5500‑4900 BC) met their own demand for the vital resource by using the spring brine itself, while the salt was ‘exported’ to the South of the Balkan Mountains. During the Middle and Late Chalcolithic (4700‑4200 BC) the production apparently reached “industrial” quantities for that period. It was traded over long distances mainly to the South of the Balkan Mountains. Salt played a special role in prehistoric trade, where it had a double function. First, salt is a product for everyday use and part of it was bought for that purpose. Second, salt played a similar role to money, and once it appeared on the market, it could circulate in that capacity for a long time before being consumed, and in this sense Provadia-Solnitsata was the first “mint” in Europe. Salt production and trade was the main reason for the advanced development of the Provadia-Solnitsata and Varna Lakes area in the context of the Late Chalcolithic communities of the Balkans. The salt from Provadia-Solnitsata explains the appearance of the richest necropolis of the 5th millennium BC: the Varna necropolis called “Golden” (NIKOLOV, 2010).

1.2 - The tell (citadel)

6The tell has a cultural layer 9 m thick and 105 m in diameter. It includes layers from the Late Neolithic, Middle and Late Chalcolithic. A burial mound was built on the mound during the Thracian and Roman periods, raising the height of the monument to 22 m (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata (with a Thracian tumulus upon it). A view from the East during the excavations of 2008

Fig. 2 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata (with a Thracian tumulus upon it). A view from the East during the excavations of 2008

7The Middle and Late Chalcolithic settlement of Provadia-Solnitsata is remarkably well fortified. Remains of four successively existing Chalcolithic fortification systems (47004200 BC) built from stone have been studied. The fortified wall thickness varied between 2.1 m to 3 m, their height reaching over 3 m and in some places more than 4 m. The solid and high stone walls enclosing the tell on all sides served as excellent protection for both the wealth gathered as a result of salt production and trade, and the lives of its landowners. There has been no data so far about a similar stone citadel during the 5th millennium BC in Europe which, in addition, was an incredible achievement of military theory and civil engineering. Its construction and reconstruction was a highly labor-consuming activity which required the efforts of many people including specialized builders, and attests to the wealth of the site (i.e. salt). The Provadia-Solnitsata fortification was erected, maintained, reconstructed and extended only as a central military location and was a symbol of the power of the Middle and Late Chalcolithic community in the Provadia river area.

1.3 - Late Chalcolithic ritual sites

8A complex of ritual pits has been identified about 60 m west of the tell. Its area is at least 0.2 ha. Part of the larger structure was investigated by a sounding in a small area including more than 30 ritual pits. The ritualism, which left the so-called sacrificial pits, is related to the fertility cult of the Mother Goddess in all of its aspects and can be defined as “traditional” for late prehistory, i.e. as agricultural. This is the only ritual pit complex of the 5th millennium uncovered which is related to a particular settlement.

9The second ritual pit complex is located to the northeast of the settlement, on the territory of the salt production center. It presents non-traditional ritualism which combined various elements: ritual pits, graves and stone structures. Moreover, the fill of the ritual pits presupposes different rites for later periods. The second ritual site can be associated with the new specialized activity in the early agricultural society, separated from the traditional economic model, namely with salt production. This phenomenon has not been documented thus far in the Balkans.

1.4 - The Late Chalcolithic necropolis

10The prehistoric necropolis is located about 250 m southwest of the settlement in an area covering at least 0.9 ha. 38 graves have been investigated which provide new data on the funeral rituals and inter-community conflicts near the Varna Lakes at the end of the Late Chalcolithic, i.e. around 4300 BC. Precise studies have shown that the necropolis was not only a complex of burial pits, as was generally thought, but was also a site for secondary commemorative activities. Of particular interest is the mass grave found in which victims succumbing to a violent death were buried. They probably perished during inter-community conflict caused by drought and the disappearance of the salt springs at the end of the 5th millennium BC.

11The new data acquired by field studies on Provadia-Solnitsata allows this unique archaeological monument to be seen in a new light. According to the criteria adopted for similar cases, the prehistoric settlement can be defined as a prehistoric urban center which existed in the middle and second half of the 5th millennium BC. The basic arguments for this definition are the specialized salt production and the successful long-distance trade.

12The organization of specialized production near the salt springs most certainly extended beyond the limits of the ‘Balkan road’ taken by the early complex society; the accumulation of substantial wealth in a small area would sooner or later have caused pressure for its redistribution. That pressure would have been realized by neighboring early complex societies settled to the north, which at the same time followed the military-aristocratic development path and did not live as prosperously as the early farming communities to the south. These are the grounds for the hypothesis of the steppe invasions, stated in different versions and with different arguments, which brought an end to the ‘golden’ Northeastern Balkan civilization. Undoubtedly, there were infiltrations from the steppes North of the Danube delta to the Eastern Balkans but they occurred during a later period, after the end of the Balkan early complex society. However, the reason for the fall of this society was the fairly rapid and substantial climatic change related to a considerable increase in average annual temperatures and drought in the area. The prospering early farming communities experienced shock which quickly led to their nomadization. The prehistoric salt production site of Provadia-Solnitsata was abandoned for thousands of years, thus corroborating the assumption that it was the dry spells and not the powerful invasion that caused the collapse of the Chalcolithic society. If the reason had been a large-scale foreign infiltration, then the invaders would have continued the operation of the production site (the basis of local prosperity) for their own benefit. This is not what happened. The dry spells caused the salt springs to dry up and ended the production thus forcing the local nomadic population to look for other sources of salt. The desistance of salt production at Provadia-Solnitsata terminated the manufacturing and extended exchange of prestige ‘goods’ within the area of the West Pontic part of the Circumpontic zone. The social structure definitely changed and adapted to the new natural environment.

13The brief description of the prehistoric complex Provadia-Solnitsata presented above summarizes the main aspects of the field studies carried out so far. The results of the first seven archaeological seasons have been reported in detail in a series of publications (NIKOLOV, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2012). Here, I briefly present the results of the field studies of Provadia-Solnitsata from the last three archaeological seasons (2012 - 2014).

2 - Recent studies of the salt production center

14During the Middle Chalcolithic (4700‑4500 BC) a large salt production complex occurred near the settlement which continued to operate during the Late Chalcolithic (4500‑4200 BC) when the production site reached an area of over 0.5 ha. The technological process was modified thus leading to a sharp increase in the salt production capacity of the center. Large open-air installations appeared: deep and wide pits in which a new type of large ceramic vessels with thick walls and the shape of inverted cones were tightly arranged next to one another. The brine was boiled over an open fire lit at the pit bottom in the spaces between the production vessels touching one another at the vessels’ mouths. Hard conical salt bodies remained in them during the boiling process suitable for transportation over large distances. The amount of salt produced from a single load of such an installation could reach several tons. Five large installations of this kind have been recorded until now. The investigated eastern part of one of them has an irregular oval shape measuring approximately 10.m (NSх 8 m (E-W) and 1.5 m in depth (NIKOLOV, 2012). A wide furrow opened in the southeastern part of the pit, which provided access to the installation.

15The structure is almost filled up with sherds of thick-walled ceramic vessels (deep opened bowls with an inverted body) used for the boiling of brine during the Chalcolithic. Their external surface was intentionally roughened, the internal one being well smoothed and often coated with kaolin in order to become less permeable thus protecting the vessel from cracking during the production process. Furthermore, the pots were coated on the outer surface with a mixture of clay and fine straw or animal excrements (probably to increase their thermal capacity). The diameter of the mouths was between 30 cm and 70 cm, and the bottom diameter was between 15 cm and 40 cm. The wall thickness attained up to 2.5 cm. Most vessels were equipped with two pairs of vertically arranged conical knobs each; vessels with one or three knobs are rarely encountered. They were seemingly used to manoeuvre the vessels.

16During the latest archaeological season, investigation of the structure continued westwards with a view to delimiting the western edge. However, it transpired that the fill continues further to the west and in lieu of the expected western wall, an embankment of up to 2 m width was unearthed. West of this embankment a new sunken structure develops. Based on the evidence, it was hypothesized that a large two-section brine evaporation installation existed in this area.

17Its eastern section (structure 1a) presents the anticipated round shape measuring 10.m (N-S) х 10.m (E-W). The bottom of the newly investigated part, as well as the rest of the section of the installation, is covered with a layer of red-phase baked clay (10-15 cm in thickness) checkered with a few pottery sherds. Further up, there are stratifications of a compact mass of shards from ceramic vessels used for brine boiling and ash which are separated by partial and amorphous interlayers of red‑phase baked clay. An oval pit measuring approximately 3.25 m (E-W) х 2.35 m (N-S) and a depth of about 70 cm was dug into the bottom of the western part of the structure. It is filled with 9 inner layers: red clay, sherds of thick-walled vessels, and yellow clay. The function of this pit has not yet been clarified.

18The western section of the production installation (structure 1b) has only been partially investigated. A modern excavation has ruined its western part but the length preserved in that direction (E‑W) is about 13 m. In the N‑S direction, the structure is around 15 m long. Its depth is not less than that of the eastern section. The fill is similar to that present in the eastern section of the structure though it has certain peculiarities.

19The total area of the two-section production installation for brine boiling was more than 260 m2. The limited number of shards from thin-walled ceramic vessels found in the fill attributes the structure to the end of the Middle and the beginning of the Late Chalcolithic.

3 - Recent studies of the citadel

20During the Middle and Late Chalcolithic, the settlement on the Tell was strengthened with a robust fortification system, which passes through several phases of changes. The most likely reason for reconstructing the fortification was its destruction during an earthquake.

21The investigated part of the defense system in the southeastern section (NIKOLOV, 2012) consists of an arc-shaped moat and a gated wall rising at a short distance behind it. It was made at the beginning of the Middle Chalcolithic period. The fortification wall consists of two connected parts built with different techniques: a wooden-clay palisade and stone bastions of large stones which flank the southeastern gate of the fortification. Around 4600 BC the fortification system was severely damaged by an earthquake. Two new bastions were built behind the ruined ones, using smaller L-shaped stones. They were also used for a short period because the following earthquake at the end of the Middle Chalcolithic period (approx. 4500 BC) ruined them.

22Remains of three successively existing Chalcolithic fortification systems built of stone have been investigated in the Northwestern section of the Tell. They are of the closed type systems, i.e. enclosing the respective Chalcolithic site on all sides.

23The earliest defense wall was built during the Middle Chalcolithic on the periphery of the settlement. In the investigated section, the wall is arc-shaped, recorded along for a length of about 16 m. It is 2.1‑2.3 m wide built using the emplectum technique (larger face stones on the two sides and smaller ones on the interior). Clay was used as a binder. The wall has been preserved at a height of up to 5060 cm (one or two stone courses) and the interior side of the northern end of the unearthed section reaches a height of 1.5 m; there eight horizontal stone courses can be seen. For the time being, it is impossible to establish a direct connection between the earliest stone wall in the Northwestern section and other parts of the defense structure. Most probably, the wall belongs to the Tell’s earliest fortification system, which the two above-mentioned bastions made of large stones in the Southeastern section can be referred to. The first fortified wall described was very likely ruined during the already identified earthquake circa 4600 BC.

24The investigated part of the second defense system in the Northwestern section rests partly on the first one, slightly rotated to the left (in relation to the north direction). It was built using the same technique (emplectum) with clay used again as a binder. In the investigated part, with a total length of 37.3 m, the wall is an irregular arc-shape, bulging northwest. The width of its base in the southern zone is 2.4 m and in the central zone, where it lies upon the remains of the first wall and partially incorporates them, it is more than 3 m; it probably comprises a small bastion. In the northern zone of the section, the wall probably thins out again to approximately 2.4 m at the base. The front part of the structure in the southern zone is built of tightly arranged “face” stones: seven rows (about 1.5 m high) have been preserved; the ones following upward were destroyed during an earthquake which tipped the upper part of the wall inwards, to the East. The emplectum consists of comparatively small stones. Part of the internal face with five horizontal stone courses has also been preserved in that area. The height of the wall in this area was over 3 m. The stones on the backward inclined front part of the wall in the central zone of the section have been displaced but the preserved height preserved there reaches up to 3.10 m. In the northern zone of the same section, the front and upper sides of the stone wall have been uncovered in several soundings (Fig. 3 and 4). The preserved height is between 2.6 m and 3.1 m, its width in the upper part ranging from 1.4 m to 1.6 m and 2.4 m at the base. Seven to twelve stone rows, bonded with yellow clay, can be clearly identified.

Fig. 3 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40Е. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 3 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40Е. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 4 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40F. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 4 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40F. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

25The third, outermost fortification system recorded in the Northwestern section and built during the Late Chalcolithic, is a complex of stone structures. It consists of stone facing (stone cover) on the steep slope of the Tell, 8‑9 m high at that time, with radial walls above it (Fig. 5), and a solid stone wall rising along the upper periphery of the Tell above the cover.

Fig. 5 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Northwestern sector. Remains of the third stone wall of the citadel (view from above, September 2013)

Fig. 5 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Northwestern sector. Remains of the third stone wall of the citadel (view from above, September 2013)

26The facing of the steep slope of the Tell is made of small and medium-sized crushed stones. The primary purpose of this structure was to strengthen the outer part of the Tell layer and protect it from weathering, thus providing a solid foundation for the heavy stone wall. The base of the wall was built of very large stones, with smaller ones higher up; now they are scattered (probably by an earthquake) along the uppermost surface of the prehistoric layer which testifies to the defense structure being used until the abandonment of the settlement. A system of radial walls was built on the stone cover starting from the foot of the fortified wall and climbing down to the lower end of the cover; the height and width of their base increases upwards. Radial walls, combined with the inclined cover, were an innovation in military fortifications, introduced much earlier than their appearance during the Early Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean and were constructed in order to create additional obstacles for possible attackers.

27A new, fourth stone wall, was unearthed during the latest archaeological season in three of the Tell sections: the Northeastern, Southeastern and Southwestern. It lies quite low along the Tell periphery but passes behind the two rows of bastions in the Southeastern section and is shorter than them, i.e. it was built during the Late Chalcolithic. Its face has been preserved and unearthed in several sections where three or four predominantly large stone courses, with a total height of 0.6 m to 1 m, are available. The internal face was uncovered in a section about 10 m long where it is preserved at a height of up to 40 cm; one or two courses of crushed stone with roughly shaped faces can be identified. The wall width at the base varies between 2.6 m and 3 m. The total length of the uncovered part of the fourth wall is 142 m. A 3 m wide stone strip has been established from the wall base along the inside of the Tell slope. These stones were probably part of the wall and their present position is the result of an earthquake recorded during the Late Chalcolithic. The results of the investigation provide evidence to supporting Provadia-Solnitsata as the earliest stone fortification in Europe.

4 - Recent studies of the Late Chalcolithic necropolis

28The graves found so far present an exclusive variety of burial rites thus making them difficult to generalize in a brief classification. Besides, the unearthed part of the necropolis includes not only several dozen graves with skeleton remains (primary and secondary as well as partial) but also tens of larger or smaller ritual pits with various types of disposal (a cow’s skull, ceramic vessels, copper and bone tools, an intact Spondylus shell bracelet, a separately lying mandible, etc.). A shallow dish was cleaned lying vertically on one side; a copper axe near it was discovered. It is possible to interpret the complex as a cenotaph.

29The secondary graves are comparatively few in which the skull and large bones with some grave inventory were reburied. In two graves, only parts of the body were buried: in the first one  the upper part of a man up to the waist, lying on his back (the right arm together with the collar bone is cut off, bent and pushed into the chest, while the left one is bent at the elbow and also pushed into the chest) (Fig. 6); in the second one the middle part of the body, from the waist vertebrae to the knee joints (lying on the back in a bent position, the legs bent to the right).

Fig. 6 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Buried upper half of the body of a man. Both his arms are placed on the chest. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 6 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Buried upper half of the body of a man. Both his arms are placed on the chest. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

30The other graves are primary. One of them is a triple grave: a woman, about 30 years old and two 45 year old children, one laid behind her back and the other on her legs were buried there (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Triple burial of a woman and two small children. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 7 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Triple burial of a woman and two small children. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

31In some graves we found individuals considered to be very aged for this period, i.e. over 50 years old. One skeleton lacks the bones of the two feet and two others have only the sole bones. The children’s grave pits are shallower and comparatively numerous. They are exclusively in the bent position except for the partial graves. The grave inventory includes ceramic vessels but some graves are richer in this respect. Traces of violence, which most likely caused the death of the buried individuals, are frequently encountered. For example, when investigating the skeletal remains of a buried 35‑45 year old man, there was a flint arrow embedded in one of the vertebrae, which was the probable cause of death. However, a double‑edged copper spearhead was identified in the area of the hipbones but it remains unclear whether it was placed there before or after the death. The dead body was half-decomposed at the time of burial.

32A particular emphasis should be placed on grave 26 (a mass grave) in which six skeletons belonging to two children, a young man and three adults were buried (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Mass grave of murdered men, women and children, buried in a round pit (upper level). Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

Fig. 8 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Mass grave of murdered men, women and children, buried in a round pit (upper level). Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС

33The burial was carried out in a deep round pit, almost 2 m in diameter. During the primary investigation of the bones it was established that two of the older individuals were men 25‑35 and 35‑45 years, respectively. The third individual was a 25‑35 years old woman. The fourth skeleton belongs to a young man, about 17 years old. The children were probably about 3-4 years old and 5 years old. The dead bodies were laid in a bent position, typically expressed by bent legs, one of them facing downwards with a large stone placed on his head. One skeleton was unearthed approximately 50‑60 cm above the others. The body was most probably laid in the burial pit later than the other bodies. Injuries on the skulls of the skeletons of the three younger individuals (the two children and the young man) were the cause of death. The oldest man was killed with blows; both his feet were subsequently removed. The other man was killed with a stone adze in his abdomen whereas the underlying woman suffered neck vertebrae breaks; she was disabled and later she died. The grave inventory includes a shallow ceramic dish laid in the pit and covered with a thin layer of earth before the burial.

5 - Conclusion concerning the formation of the prehistoric urban center

34The expanding scope of field studies in Provadia-Solnitsata allows this exceptional archaeological complex to be seen from a new perspective. The site furnishes the possibility for more detailed interpretation within the context of issues relating to the emergence of the first urban centers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

35The concept of a ‘town’ was first defined as a type of settlement with a special status in Central and Western Europe during the Late Middle Ages. Recent research and debates have proposed a considerable number of quality and quantity criteria in order to define a ‘town’ from a historical, geographical, statistical, and ultimately from a socio-economic perspective. The general conclusion, based on a large number of studies, is that there could be no uniform criteria for the definition of a ‘town’ spanning the entire period from later prehistory to the present day. ‘Town’ can only be defined by characteristics which are valid for the particular time and place and which outline a particular settlement as a ‘central place’ (CHRISTALLER, 1933), in the sense of a settlement that has naturally developed functions. This ‘central place’could be defined as a ‘town’ or an ‘urban center’.

36Specialized salt production was the major economic activity leading to the development of Provadia-Solnitsata as a central place of special socio‑economic significance in the Eastern Balkans. It started as early as the beginning of the Late Neolithic, although only as a household craft practiced within the settlement. At the end of the Late Neolithic, salt evaporation became a specialized production which was moved outside the settlement and most probably was run as a cooperative. During the Middle and Late Chalcolithic it evolved into an industrial-scale production. This would have been impossible without the formation of several specialized groups consisting of separate teams working in a well-coordinated manner. These groups of specialized workers were engaged in the collection and delivery of firewood, manufacturing and supply of pottery vessels as well as in the process of salt production itself. Major technological advances were made in all three of the core production branches, especially in the thermal technologies related to ceramic production and brine evaporation. The emergence of specialized production was an indicator of a second major division of labour, which in turn was a prerequisite for the emergence of towns. In this sense, specialized salt production makes the agglomeration Provadia-Solnitsata a unique phenomenon.

37Ever since the emergence of Provadia-Solnitsata’s salt production center during the Late Neolithic, its entire output was meant for trade. Although there is no direct archaeological evidence, it is reasonable to assume that trade operations, especially during the Chalcolithic, took place where the product was fabricated, especially with regard to buyers who transported the salt by land, e.g. through the Aytos Pass of the Balkan Mountains to the Maritsa River Valley. This could be one of the reasons for the construction and maintenance of the settlement’s solid stone fortification system which was probably also used for the storage of finished products. It is also possible that trade agreements were concluded on the shores of Lake Varna, where salt could have been transported by boats down the navigable Provadiyska River and shipped from there southwards along the Black Sea coast. The successful ‘sale’ of salt, the demand for which was constant, was a prerequisite for the prosperity of the settlement and the surrounding area which, owing to the specialized salt production, turned into a very active trade center. Acquiring the characteristic of a trade center was a sine qua non for the status of the ancient town.

38Specialized salt production, and its successful long-distance trade, was vital for both people and animals. The wealth salt generated transformed the Chalcolithic complex of Provadia-Solnitsata into a prehistoric urban center which existed during the middle and second half of the 5th mill. BC.

Top of page


CHRISTALLER W., (1933), Die zentralen Orte in Süddeutschland. Eine ökonomisch-geographische Untersuchung über die Gesetzmäßigkeit der Verbreitung und Entwicklung der Siedlungen mit städtischen Funktionen, Jena, 331 p.

NIKOLOV V., (2010), Salt and gold: Provadia-Solnitsata and the Varna Chalcolithic cemetery, Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, 40, 4, p. 487‑501.

NIKOLOV V., (2011a), Provadia-Solnitsata (NE Bulgaria): A salt-producing center of the 6th and 5th millennia BC, in ALEXIANU M., WELLER O., CURCĂ R.-G. (eds), Archaeology and anthropology of salt: a diachronic approach, BAR International Series 2198, Oxford, p. 59-64.

NIKOLOV V., (2011b), Das vorgeschichtliche Salzgewinnungszentrum Provadia-Solnitsata und seine Rolle für die circumpontischen Kontakte, in SAVA E., GOVEDARICA B., HÄNSEL B. (eds), Der Schwarzmeerraum vom Äneolithikum bis in die Früheisenzeit (5000 - 500 v. Chr.), Bd. 2: Globale Entwicklung versus Lokalgeschehen, Rahden/Westf., p. 30-40.

NIKOLOV V., (2012), Salt, early complex society, urbanization: Provadia-Solnitsata (5500-4200 BC), in NIKOLOV V., BACVAROV K. (eds),Salz und Gold: die Rolle des Salzes im prähistorischen Europa / Salt and Gold: The Role of Salt in Prehistoric Europe, Provadia-Veliko Tarnovo, p. 11-65.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 – The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata
File image/jpeg, 580k
Title Fig. 2 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata (with a Thracian tumulus upon it). A view from the East during the excavations of 2008
File image/jpeg, 676k
Title Fig. 3 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40Е. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС
File image/jpeg, 804k
Title Fig. 4 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Trench 40F. Defensive stone wall 2. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС
File image/jpeg, 1.3M
Title Fig. 5 – Tell Provadia-Solnitsata. Northwestern sector. Remains of the third stone wall of the citadel (view from above, September 2013)
File image/jpeg, 796k
Title Fig. 6 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Buried upper half of the body of a man. Both his arms are placed on the chest. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС
File image/jpeg, 820k
Title Fig. 7 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Triple burial of a woman and two small children. Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС
File image/jpeg, 724k
Title Fig. 8 – Provadia-Solnitsata. Necropolis. Mass grave of murdered men, women and children, buried in a round pit (upper level). Late Chalcolithic, 4500-4200 ВС
File image/jpeg, 571k
Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Vassil Nikolov, The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata, Northeastern BulgariaMéditerranée, 126 | 2016, 71-78.

Electronic reference

Vassil Nikolov, The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnitsata, Northeastern BulgariaMéditerranée [Online], 126 | 2016, Online since 01 January 2018, connection on 27 February 2024. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Vassil Nikolov

National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgarie,

Top of page


The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search