archaeology student excavating chalcolithic during a field school

Project type/s: Archaeological excavation and research at the prehistoric tell Yunatsite in South-Central Bulgaria and archaeological field school.

Project duration: 2013-present

Location: Pazardzhik municipality, South-Central Bulgaria

The archaeological site: Prehistoric tell Yunatsite

Periods: Final Neolithic / Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age, Iron Age, Antiquity and Middle Ages.

Excavation Directors: Associate Prof. Yavor Boyadzhiev (PhD in Archaeology), National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Asst. Prof. Kamen Boyadzhiev (PhD in Archaeology), National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

BHF contribution: The Balkan Heritage supported project and archaeological field school take place at the Tell Yunatsite lowest excavated layer, which corresponds to the time of Europe’s first prehistoric civilization in the 5th millennium BCE. The excavated area is over 100 sq. m. Remains of several houses from different phases, and the areas between them, have been revealed. Among them a well-preserved unburnt wooden floor, ovens and concentrations of pottery vessels are to be emphasized. More than 15 team members and visiting specialists and more than 20 volunteers – students have been involved in the project in the recent years. The excavated finds have been cleaned, documented and stored. Especially interesting are a few copper tools, a number of Spondylus shell bracelet fragments and beads (evidence of trade with the Aegean coast), collective find of large flint blades from Northeastern Bulgaria, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, golden bead – an evidence of the earliest goldsmith production worldwide, etc.

BHF project partners: Tell Yunatsite Excavation Team from the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History; Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA.

BHF field school: Tell Yunatsite Excavations – Seeking Europe’s First Civilization –


During the 7th and 6th millennia BCE, the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway through which farming, animal husbandry and Neolithization spread from Anatolia and the Near East to Europe. This new population gradually settled down and got familiar with the surrounding region, suitable agricultural areas, raw sources and so on. In the 6th millennium BCE their economy, social organization, trade and cultural contacts evolved, to reach their peak in the 5th millennium BCE. In the beginning of the 5th millennium, the earliest metallurgy in European and global prehistory (the processing of copper and soon after, gold) appeared in the Balkans. Thus, this period is known as Copper age, Chalcolithic, Eneolithic or Final Neolithic.

The continuative inhabitance of the same suitable places during these millennia led to the formation of a settlement phenomenon, characteristic of the Near Eastern and Balkan prehistory – the multilayered tell-sites.

Tell Yunatsite is located near the modern village of Yunatsite in Southern Bulgaria. It is among the biggest tells in Europe with a diameter of approximately 110 m/360 ft and height of 12 m/39 ft above the modern surface. Tell Yunatsite was first excavated in 1939 by the Bulgarian archaeologist Vasil Mikov. In 1976, regular excavations were restarted and have continued on an annual basis. Subsequently, research at Tell Yunatsite has grown into an important research program under the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. At times, Soviet and Greek archaeologists joined the research at the site and today this is an international research effort directed by Bulgarian scholars.

To date, approximately one third of the tell has been excavated. This work yielded rich collections of archaeological materials, and the sterile soil has not yet been reached. There is a medieval cemetery at the top of the tell, followed by a Roman period level, two Iron Age levels, a thick layer dated to the Early Bronze Age, and finally a Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic layer. It is unknown if the cultural history of the tell begins in the Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic period or whether older Neolithic occupation layers exist.

Recent excavations indicate that the Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic period settlement covered an area far larger than the tell itself and consisted of uptown (acropolis?) and a downtown district. The uptown section was surrounded by a five-meter-wide clay wall and a broad and deep ditch. Buildings in this part were placed closed to each other, creating an almost unbroken urban fabric. The Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic settlement experienced a violent event at ca. 4,200-4,100 BCE. Evidence suggests deliberate destruction by outsiders. Many skeletons of children, elderly men, and women were found scattered on floors, suggesting a massive massacre. Those who survived, returned and resettled at the Tell, but soon even they left. At that point, Tell Yunatsite and the area around it were abandoned for more than 1,000 years. During this time, a sterile layer accumulated over the last Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic layer.

Excavations in recent years shed new light on the stratigraphy and development of the Chalcolithic/Final Neolithic, and brought new interesting discoveries. Among them are a golden bead and a golden amulet, which are among the earliest golden artifacts in the world.