The Chalcolithic Hotnitsa Tell (1956-1959 Excavations)

The village of Hotnitsa is part of Veliko Tarnovo municipality in the central part of Northern Bulgaria. It is situated some 14 km northeast from the municipal center.

The vicinity of the village is a kind of archaeological phenomenon. More than 70 archaeological sites from prehistory, antiquity and the Middle ages are recorded in the surroundings (for 56.50 sq. km). The prehistoric settlements are numerous : 6 Neolithic, 1 Chalcolitic tell-site, 2 thin-layered Chalcolitic settlements and 12 sites from the Bronze and Iron Ages (Илчева 2000, 17).

The Chalcolithic tell is located on 1200 m and 40° from the center of the village (the Community center building ).

The late Neolithic tell-site of Hotnitsa (according to Bulgarian periodization – Chalkolithic) is situated on 1.5 km northeast from the village of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo municipality, Central Northern Bulgaria. The tell belongs to the eastern Balkan Chalkolithic cultural group of Early Copper age Boian-Polyanitsa cultures and the Late Copper age Kodzhedermen-Gumelnitsa-Karanovo VI culture group and so contains materials from the entire V-th millennium BC.

The site was first recorded by Nikola Angelov (archaeologist from the Veliko Tarnovo museum) in 1956 during his field surveys in the region. Because of the agricultural activities, a cultural layer was penetrated and that had necessitated the archaeological survey. Excavations were conducted between 1956 and 1959. During that time Angelov revealed 21 houses – all of them burnt – with fully preserved inventory and some containing human skeleton remains inside. The killed people in the houses, according to Angelov, are an indicator for a sudden assault on the settlement which brought to end not only this tell-site, but of the entire Chalkolithic “civilization” in the region.

Some results from Angelov’s excavations were published in just three articles (1958, 1959 and 1961) in Bulgarian and cover just three aspects – the result of the first year excavations, the famous Hotnitsa golden treasure, and “the bone figurines workshop”. All other aspects of the entire first building level are still unpublished.

In the year 2000 on Hotnitsa tell-site an archaeological program of summer field-school of the first grade archaeology students of "St. st. Cyril and Methodius" University was initiated. So, 41 years after the surveys of Nikola Angelov, the excavations on the site were renewed.

The new expedition is a result of the cooperation between the Veliko Tarnovo University "St. st. Cyril and Methodius" (VTU) and the Regional museum of history – Veliko Tarnovo (RMH). During some seasons thousands of artifacts were unearthed. Having an organization for publishing them, logically we reached the materials, discovered by Angelov in the late fifties of 20th century. The majority of the finds are still unpublished.

Most of the artifacts were still packed, some of them not even washed, piled in the Prehistory repository of the RMH – Veliko Tarnovo. Thus we decided first to publish the materials from the old campaigns in a volume dedicated to the first explorer of Hotnitsa tell.

The work on the publication was heavily obstructed by the lack of any order in the storage of the materials and the severe conditions in the basement used as a museum repository for fifty years. Only after this first campaign did we manage to get in the full scale of the work that has to be done for publication. From the excavated 21 houses from the first level of the tell-site were collected thousands of artifacts of different nature. For the most part, they are completely unknown to science and the public. A very small portion of them were published by Angelov and exhibited at the museum.

The processing of such an amount of archaeological materials required hard and long work by the core team; moreover, all this was done without any financial or material resources. And when work seemed to be in a dead end came the support of White Levy Program. It gave the entire project a new foundation, providing the resources for a profound investigation. The publication project is directed by Dr. Alexander Chohadzhiev.

The repository chaos was gradually overtaken. The artifacts were grouped by types and houses and most of them were photographed and drawn. At the same time the archive of the excavator Nikola Angelov, though not quite detailed, was fully digitized and prepared for publication.

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Digitally colorized photo from 1957 campaign – N. Angelov unpublished archive
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The fully digitized plan of the upper building level of Hotnitsa tell (1956-1959 campaigns)
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Present state of the Hotnitsa tell site - aerial image
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.Two of the most remarkable anthropomorphic vessels from Hotnitsa

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The emblematic for Hotnitsa & famous Hotnitsa golden treasure