Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
The Everyday Life of People of the Chalcolithic Age in the Rousse Tell

Dimitar Chernakov, Curator at the “Archaeology” Department

Two tells have reached from the ancient settlement until the present day, located within the territory of a private company. Their northern peripheries have been washed away from the waters of the river, which have flowed nearby until recently. The larger tell is one of the most significant prehistoric settlements in Northeastern Bulgaria. It is located on the riverbank of the Danube, and had a height of 10 m, width of 50 m and length of 98 m. The tell has been entirely examined by means of archaeology, and thus no longer exists. Thanks to that we have a certain view on the changes in planning, the residential architecture, the everyday life of the prehistoric farmers, their religious concepts and beliefs. The discovered over 20 construction horizons are presenting rich information of the separate aspects of the life of people here during the whole Chalcolithic Age, for the beginning, the development and the decline of the settlement through time.

The lesser tell is directed towards east-west, with a diameter of 60 m and with a maximum diameter of 70 m in north-south. It has the shape of a truncated cone with an average height of 5 m and a maximum height of 6 m with a diameter at the surface of 60 m. Its cultural layer is seriously damaged by all sides, which indicates that the ancient terrain here has been significantly larger. The tell has been partially studied by archaeological trenches. Basing on the results, it has been determined that its territory has been densely built up. In the eastern, southern and western periphery were revealed the foundations of one-storey residential and business buildings. A small number of materials have been published from the site, which have been gathered during field surveys and observations. The materials are typical for the Late Chalcolithic Age. This is an indicator that the lesser tell developed synchronously with the larger one, at least during the final stage of the Late Chalcolithic Age and probably a little after that.

The two tells are located on a poorly inclined towards the Danube low terrace, which has been overflowed and swampy during the 6th millennium BC, and thus was uninhabited. The colonization of this terrace during the Early Chalcolithic Age has apparently been related to the conclusive affirmation of the “primitive agriculture” as a leading occupation of the population here, which has on its side as a result the vertical development of the settlement. The high waters were washing away the northern slopes of the settlement.

The arrival of a population here during the Chalcolithic Age is determined by several related factors: soil-climatic, natural-geographic, as well as the resource security. The presence of fertile black earth, a cooler climate in comparison to the south, and the large river, were an attractive force to the people that settled here in the beginning of the 6th millennium BC. Contingents of population from Thrace transferred to Northeastern Bulgaria, where they established the first fortified settlements, laying the foundations of the tells. Up to that moment they were a phenomenon unknown to these territories. Thus, from the continuative settled way of life the settlements were shaped like a wide flat mounds – a tradition, received from the region of Thrace. Thus, the first agriculture settlement on the territory of Rousse emerged, a bearer of new cultural tendencies, whose manifestations are met in the Boyan Early Chalcolithic culture and the Late Chalcolithic cultural complex of Kodzhadermen – Gumelnita – Karanovo VI.

The everyday lifestyle of people during the Chalcolithic Age in the settlement flowed relatively variously for their time. Their primary occupation is agriculture, assuring around 2/3 of the food. We are judging for this from the agricultural finds within the tell – ards and hoes, made of deer horn, flint knife-shaped lamellae, used as a component for the sickles. Among the finds there are also 13 segments of a threshing-board, discovered for the first time in our country. The presence of ards and threshing-boards indicates the practicing of not only mattock, but also for plough farming, and probably the use of draught animals for tillage and threshing. During the conducted excavations were also discovered wastes of animal and plant origin, including grain food and pulse.

At one of the situations the grain has been placed into a flat ceramic vessel. The conducted paleo-botanical analysis showed that these are the types of einkorn wheat and emmer, soft wheat, barley. The grains of einkorn wheat from Rousse are similar to these from the Azmashka tell at Stara Zagora, but smaller in comparison to the ones of the Karanovo tell. This is an argument for considering that the soils near the Rousse tell were not so fertile, like the ones in Thrace.

Except for the grain cultures, the ancient farmers also knew some legumen plants. The cultivated areas were around the settlement and in proximity to the river. The crops have been harvested with the use of wooden or deer horn sickles with a channel in the curved arch-shaped part, where flint razors were attached. The cleared and dried grain was kept in specially constructed granaries.

Husbandry is also unaltered part of the everyday life. It is related to agriculture, because it presumes and supplements it. The prehistoric residents of the settlement were breeding sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, dogs. The proof for this are the revealed bone remains of these animals, with the predominant ones being the cattle. The domestic animals assured meat, milk, wool, fur. Only the animals in advanced age have been slaughtered for meat, which is clearly visible during the processing of the revealed bone remains from the table of the prehistoric man.

An important resource of meat was also hunting, whose aim were deer, wild boars, bears, wolves, badgers, different kind of birds, etc. Basing on the data of the osteological material it can be presumed that the hunters preferred deer the most, followed by the wild boar, the roe. The hunting weapons of the prehistoric inhabitants of the Rousse tell were the bow, the spear and the arrows with flint and bone heads. It should also be added the presence of flint axes and the stone battle balls, thrown with the use of slings. The items, discovered within the settlement, made of bone with the shape of a boomerang were probably used for hunting birds.

The river Danube, which flowed near the tell itself in Prehistory, offered an opportunity for the development of fishery. It was exercised with nets and harpoons, as well as with fishing rods, made of bone or copper. The large number of elongated weights for fishing nets discovered so far, bone heads of harpoons, as well as the large number of fish bones and mussel shells are proving that fishery has been one of the main occupations in this settlement during the Chalcolithic Age.

The presence of eatable plants in the vicinity of the settlement during Prehistory was a premise for the development of gathering, whose object were various types of plants, mushrooms, snails, whose shells were discovered in large numbers during the excavations of the tell, and mainly in waste pits. Lumbering and timber-processing were also inseparable part of the Chalcolithic economy of the Rousse tell. The trees were cut with the use of stone axes, made mainly of yellow flint, and more rarely of copper. The fine processing of timber material was implemented with the use of small stone adzes and chisels. It was necessary for the construction of dwellings and fortification systems, as well as for the implementation of furniture, of some tools or the handles for them, for heating etc.

Metallurgy was also an important occupation for the people from the Chalcolithic settlement of Rousse. The implementation of copper tools rapidly increased the effectiveness of the entire prehistoric industry. So far, there are no investigations concerning the question where was the copper ore extracted from for the elaboration of various tools in the Rousse tell. It has been proved, however, that the copper from the Chalcolithic necropolis of Varna has been extracted at the large quarry in the Ay Bunar area near the town of Stara Zagora. There is a hypothesis that the buried in the rich graves of the Varna necropolis were copper merchants. Copper was the most prestigious resource at that time and the larger part of Prehistoric Europe was supplied with this metal from the quarries near the present-day town of Stara Zagora. The metal was processed not far away from the site of extraction and was spread on the territory of the Balkans and along the Black Sea. At that time the copper ingots were highly valued and it is not excluded that they were used as exchange units. Most probably the traders gained significant fortunes. A center of this trade could probably be the region near Varna, which also explains the riches, discovered inside the necropolis. Most likely the copper used for the production of tools and adornment in the prehistoric settlement of Rousse was also supplied from the quarry at Stara Zagora. Ore output includes several subsequent stages of work, like the revealing of the thread, heating, cooling, primary cracking of the rock, separating the ore and washing. The stage of the actual metallurgic process starts with the melting of the ore, as well as with the subsequent pouring of the preparations until their final processing. The melted metal is preserved in ceramic casts. Such are often discovered at the Rousse tell as well as different in kind and purpose copper items – wedges, axe-hammers, mattocks, chisels, awls, needles, rings, earrings, etc. Metal items entered in separate divisions of the economy. During the Chalcolithic Age copper became a main resource for economic power.

The flint labor tools are used mainly for processing leather and the implementation of ceramic vessels. The large number of discovered spindle vertebrae, bone and copper needles and awls, as well as loom weights are a proof for the active production within the settlement of fabrics for dresses and items for the everyday life. The fabric resources are the wool of the domestic animals, the filament of the flax and hemp, growing in the wild. In a building at a depth of 2.50 m during the excavations in 1921-1922 was discovered a find of 12 pieces of ceramic weights for a loom. In Dwelling 1 at a depth of 1.20 m was discovered another find of 17 whole and fragmented ceramic loom weights. At the same depth in another dwelling were found 6 ceramic spindle vertebrae. Again in a building at a depth of 1.80 m was discovered a collective find of 9 copper needles and one copper awl with a bone handle. These are the archaeological proofs that weaving in the settlement during the Chalcolithic Age shaped like a domestic occupation.

Undoubtedly, the largest number of archaeological materials, discovered during the entire excavation works was pottery. This is an indicator that the pottery production in the Rousse tell during the Chalcolithic Age was well developed. The implementation of vessels in this age is distinguished with precision, simplicity of the lines and rich ornamentation. The vessels were made in the settlement itself. They were made by hand and with the use of manual potter’s wheel. They were fired in potter’s kilns, which have been destroyed in subsequence. They are practically divided in 3 types: fine table pottery, rude – kitchen’s pottery and large storing vessels. In Dwelling 1 at a depth of 1.80 m has been revealed a ceramic object with a conic shape, which was probably used as a cast for the implementation of vessels.

The Early Chalcolithic layer of the tell is presented by several dugs (9 pieces) inside the first, the lowest horizon – XVIII, where archaeological materials were registered. A lot of fragments of ceramic vessels have been discovered, as well as several whole ones, which have spherical, biconic or oval-biconic shapes. At the thin-walled and fine pottery the decoration is barboutine, relief-plastic and buckels> Of this horizon are originating 36 fragments with grey-black and black colour and decoration of narrow Kerbschnitt (incised lines), filled with white paint. Some of the vessles have had hollow chairs, also ornamented with Kerbschnitt. The materials are typical for the Boyan culture, Giulesti phase.

The Middle Chalcolithic layer covers XVII and XVI residential horizons.

The fine and thin-walled pottery of this layer are characterized with grey-black and grey-brown colour, often with polished surface. The shapes are cylindrical-conical, semi-spherical and spherical-conical, decoration of incised lines, knurls on the mouth edge, flutes, graphite ornament, showed in negative. In some cases the internal edge is decorated with a wide horizontal line, filled with red ocher. The thick-walled pottery has grey-brown colour, the shapes are biconic, spherical, most of them have cylindrical middle part, the ornamentation is of barbotine, wide Kerbschnitt, roped handles in the widest section, relief buds. The materials of the XVII, XVI horizons are typical for the last phase of the Boyan – Spantov culture, and these of the XV – for the transitional phase between the Boyan and Gumelnita cultures.

The Late Chalcolithic layer has the greatest volume of stratification – it is represented by a total of 14 construction horizons. It refers to the entire Late Chalcolithic Age, represented through its three phases: XIV – I phase of the Kodzhadermen-Gumelnita-Karanovo VI; XIII-XII – II phase of the Kodzhadermen-Gumelnita-Karanovo VI; XI-I – III phase of the Kodzhadermen-Gumelnita-Karanovo VI. The pottery complex is expressed mainly through shapes with rapid biconization, cylindrical-conic shapes, vessels with staged profile, as well as with oval shapes, are rarely met. Shallow and deep dishes are distinguishable, with a mouth edge profiled to the inside or the outside, vessels with a protuberant middle part, others with a high mouth neck, sometimes with a mouth edge weakly folded to the outside, vessels-sifters, etc. Vessels with high bottoms also appeared (“fusboden” type), the graphite compositions became more complex, placed mainly in the area underneath the mouth, which in many cases is profiled to the outside. The motifs are horizontal belts and zigzags, negative triangles and rhombs, spiral-meanders. The drawn decoration is more rarely achieved through white or red paint. Sometimes this type of decoration has been laid on the entire surface of the vessels – mainly on dishes or covers. The Kerbschnitt ornamentation, filled with white paint, is significantly more rarely met, and it refers to the deeper covers or the deeper storing vessels. The barbotine decoration is more often met at the thick-walled vessels, implemented through flowing fingers on the wet clay surface of the vessels, sometimes in combination with buckels, and the nail and mussel ornamentation is a common phenomenon as well. Three intact askoi (vessels for pouring water) are found in this layer, as well as fragments of such vessels, cups with two handles, etc. Several deep vessels with oval-biconic shape and two handles in their upper sections were also found.

Except for the exquisiteness of their elaboration, the ceramic vessels of the tell are an unwritten source for the ethnic-cultural and chronological belonging of the prehistoric population here. Thanks to them and on the basis of some components, which are repeating according to a tendency, the contacts between the various populations not only on the both sides of the river Danube, but also from the region of Thrace, Dobrudzha and Northwestern Bulgaria to the region of Northeastern Bulgaria have been determined.

 A large number of items have been discovered within the tell, which were mainly used as adornment – objects made of pottery, bone, teeth of a wild boar, mussel shells, snails, and more rarely of marble, copper and gold. Especially valuable are the bracelets, made of the shells of the Mediterranean mussel Spondylus. It also served for a means for exchange. Of special interest are the discovered items, made of gold, synchronous in time with the finds of the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis. These consist of a ring, warped lamella with 2 holes for hanging and an anthropomorphous female idol, made of thin golden sheet. The ring is discovered in the southwestern periphery inside a heaping of burnt coating from Dwelling 1, which is located in the eastern half of the tell at a depth of 4.70 m (Late Chalcolithic layer). The object is made of a thin lamella with a weakly folded two-sided edge on the inside, forming a channel. The lamella is found in the western sector of the tell at a depth of 1.10 m, its outer surface is polished. With the same shape of marble or pottery were also made other items in the settlement. They were probably tied up to the clothes and had the functions of amulets. It is possible that their semantic load to have been related with the representation of a pregnant woman in a stylized manner, a material expression of the ancient cult of fertility.

 The golden anthropomorphous figure was discovered in 1928 during the excavation for an ice-pit, located 25 m to the south of the tell. During the excavation works were found fragments of ceramic vessels, as well as bones of a man. The figure is made of native gold with red nuance. Through hammering out, probably with a stone cutlery, the gold has gradually been transformed into a flat sheet, out of which the item has been cut, and after that again by hammering and piercing the separate details were placed. The head has an oval shape, on the left and the right sides there are three small openings, the nose is represented by a vertical protuberant line, the eyes – through two small bulges. Two similar bulges show the nasal cavities, and six others, organized into a horizontal line – the mouth. The neck is short and wide. The arms are represented by two side prolonging, with an opening pierced at the end, and they were spread aside. In the middle of the figure in the abdominal area there is one large opening, with a small budge underneath it. The sexual triangle is represented in the lower half of the figure through three lines in relief, each of these being limited with a row of bulges. The legs are separated by one another through vertical separation line, their lower part is fragmented. In relation to style the item is close to the flat bone idols, found in the Late Chalcolithic layer. Another such figure on the territory of the Kodzhadermen – Gumelnita – Karanovo VI cultural complex is not found. Such an item, but represented in quite more stylized kind and with smaller size, is only known from the village of Kosharitsa, District of Bourgas.

 The two amulets from Rousse were made of gold with more mixtures of copper (due to their red nuance), and probably the metal originates from Thrace or Macedonia. The ring has a yellow-green nuance, typical for the native gold in Western Transylvania with a larger mixture of silver.
Among the large number of adornment items two more deserve attention. The first of them is revealed in XVII construction horizon, and it represents a stylized zoomorphous figure (probably a frog), made of nephrite with polished surface, with an opening in the upper part. The figure has mirror symmetry. The item has probably been used as an amulet. In the various mythologies around the world the frog has been the symbol of chthonic powers, of fertility and keeper of the water. In Ancient Egypt the Goddess Heqet (goddess of fertility, associated with the act of birth and with the Underworld) was illustrated with the head of a frog. She can also have negative functions, related to magic (for example, in some countries from Southeastern Asia a frog or a ghost absorbs the Moon in times of lunar eclipses). So far, there are no deposits of nephrite discovered in the Balkan Peninsula, thus the place from where this resource has been imported for the implementation of such items remains unknown. Only 7 such finds have been discovered in the Balkans, which makes them extremely rare.
The second item of this group was discovered in the XIV construction horizon and it represents a ceramic plate with rhomb shape (a breastplate) with an opening at the four of its corners, probably for stitching it to the cloths. Size: width 7.5 cm, thickness 0.9 cm. There are incisions on the tow surfaces, which could have magic functions and are bearers of information (pre-writing signs).

 The adornment and amulets had not only decorative, but also a magic purpose. They were parade attributes and were indicators for the aesthetic requirements of their owners, but also for their social status. Ceramic objects resembling seals (pintaders) were found during the excavations, with incised ornaments in their lower flat part. They were probably used for tattooing on the body or for ornamenting breads, directly related to the prehistoric rituals.