The Valchitran treasure – the mysteries of the oldest golden vessels from the ancient Thrace
In the winter of 1924, in the vicinity of the village of Valchitran, Northern Bulgaria, during farming, golden vessels and disks were found, dated now by the explorers to the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Balkans (the second half of the 2nd millennium BC). These treasures have no equivalent in the nowadays Bulgarian lands and fully deserve the title – the oldest vessels in the ancient Thrace. Their overall weight of 12,5 kg makes the Valchitran gold treasure the biggest one from the pre-Roman ages found in Bulgaria.
Finding antiques and treasuries, made of gold, without the supervision of an expert, always brings up the question if all the found artifacts have been delivered later to the official authorities. The Valchitran treasure make no exception at all. In two of the five small disks there are some parts missing, which the two brother that discovered it have cut and smelt because of the white metal. When they houses were searched the police condemned a big deep two-handled dish (cantharos), a big solid cup – one-handled ladle (kyathos), three smaller vessels, resembling the shape of the kyathos, a three-section vessel, two big and five smaller golden disks. However still there is a doubt about the number of the vessels and the initially found antiques.
Apart from this event happened to the Valchitran treasure in the 20ies of the past century, there are a number of questions about the origin and the functions of this fine work of the ancient arts rising the interest of explorers and eager to learn museum visitors. The decoration of the handles of the big and the smaller vessels, the technique of their working out and the chemical composition of the gold, are the grounds of the suggestion that the catharos and the cups are a part of an ancient wine set. Golden vessels of similar forms were found in the monument tombs of the high society from the Mykines Ages in Continental Greece, Cyprus, as well as among the treasures to the north of the Danube River. These archaeological finds evidence for contacts between different communities dated to the highest antiquity and popularization of the practice to drink wine in metal cups during the Late Bronze Ages. It is interesting to note the fact about the three smaller one-handled cups, decorated with three embossed lines below the mouth, that being empty they are unstable, because of the small base of the bottom and the weight of the golden leave on the handle.
The three-section vessel is distinguished from the cantharos and the handled cups and consists of three small almond-shaped vessels, bound up together by tubules of electron (a natural alloy of gold and silver). The construction allows the overflow and mixing of different fluids through the mouths of the separate parts. Each of the small vessels is decorated by cannelures that follow up its prolonged share. There is no exact equivalence of three-section gold vessel from Valchitran, but it is supposed that the ceramic forms of two or three parts bound up together used to have a cult purpose in the 2nd millennium BC. According to some explorers the shape of the bound up by tubules parts resemble the body of a water bird. The covers of each of them most likely were the upper part of the birds, but unfortunately there are no such finds among the artifacts of the treasury. Small samples of chariot, decorated with water birds, found in the Western Balkans, are among the arguments of the hypothesis that the three-section vessel used to have a special wheeled stand too.
The big golden disks of the treasure are distinguished for their rich decoration of silver lines, closely stuck though forging out over the golden sheet. Inside the bulb-shaped center of the disks there is Baltic amber built in, an evidence for the high value and significance of these artifacts. Their function has been a subject of scientific disputes. Some explorers interpret them as ancient musical instruments cymbals, used during special rituals, while others consider the disks to be the upper part of the vessels or parts of models of cult buildings. By the discovery of new finds to shed light on the ancient mysteries of the Valchitran treasure, the secrets of the golden artifacts and the oldest golden vessels in the Balkans’ eastern part will still stand waiting for the answer. Their grace and style, however, will keep bringing admiration in everyone having the chance to get acquainted with the wealth of the Thracians and the inhabitants of the this region used to live here more than three millenniums ago.