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Ancient Salt Trading Town with Bizarre Burials Found in Bulgaria

Nov 01, 2012 08:32 AM EDT

Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest town to date in Europe, which was once an important place for salt production.

The prehistoric town was discovered near the modern-day town of Provadia, Bulgaria. Archaeology professor Vassil Nikolov, from Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology, led the excavation of the town that began in 2005. Some 300 to 350 people are believed to have lived in the place.

"We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC," Nikolov told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

They uncovered remains of two-story houses and pits used for rituals dating back to between 4,700 and 4,200 B.C.

They also found a burial ground at the site, where corpses were sliced into half and buried from the pelvis up (See photos). It is not clear why the dead were cut and buried. Experts are still studying the burial ground, reported Daily Mail.

They also found evidence showing huge wall structures surrounding the town, which is believed to be the earliest massive structure of prehistoric Europe.

Experts also found evidence showing that the town was one of the main centers of salt production.  Salt extraction first began in about 5,500 B.C. Local people were indulged in salt production, as it was considered a valuable commodity.

They used water from a nearby spring and boiled it in dome kilns to make salt bricks that were used for trading as well as for preserving meat.

"This is the first time in southeast Europe and western Anatolia that archeologists have come upon traces of salt production at such an early age, the end of the sixth millennium BC, and managed to prove it with both archaeological and scientific data," AFP quoted archaeologist Krum Bachvarov, from the National Institute of Archeology, as saying.

The production of salt was moved outside the settlement at the end of the sixth millennium and productivity slowly increased. Trading salt made the local residents wealthy.

This could explain the discovery of the oldest gold treasure, including 3,000 gold jewels, at a cemetery in Varna (located 21 miles away from the settlement), 40 years ago, said the researchers.

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