According to the Sophia Globe (h/t Pileta), the oldest ever city in Europe would have been located at Provadia (Varna province, Bulgaria).
The city is defined as such by medieval standards because it is a settlement surrounded by a wall, a very thick and solid one. However only a few hundred people (300-350) lived inside them, always according to Prof. Vassil Nikolov.
Nikolov attributes the city an age of 4700-4200 BCE, belonging to the context of Varna culture
and related to the relatively well known Varna necropolis
, probably the first princely burial of the continent.
However such an early age places the Provadia-Solnitsata city almost two millennia before any other known European city (Greek islands, Southern Iberia) and even 1500 years before Troy I
, traditionally considered a major influence in the urbanization and Bronze Age of Europe.
Not even Egypt’s civilization is nearly as old; in all the wider region only some fortified cities from the Levant and Mesopotamia are as old and, excluding Jericho
(c. 6800 BCE), none is significantly older. Even the oldest known Sumerian city, Eridu
, was built only a few centuries before this Bulgarian city.
For more details, read the abstract
(PDF) of Nikolov’s study (to be published?, where?)
Looking for more information on the matter I also stumbled upon this webpage
by Dr. L. Nikolova, which discusses the Provadia settlement as a salt-exporting site, something that also seems to be the leit motif of Nikolov’s abstract.
I am not really surprised by these findings because it has been known for some time that the area of Bulgaria was a very old center of civilization, comparable in age to Egypt (or, as it seems to be the case now, even quite older), probably evolving state and aristocracy structures first of all in Europe. It was probably the wealth of this realm and its successors which baited the Indoeuropean nomads into invasion later on (economic relations with the Volga are attested as early as this time).
The only thing that really puzzles me is the age because when I first learned on these matters the time-frame appeared to be a thousand years more recent, more in agreement with other urbanizing and social-complexity developments elsewhere in Europe (Aegean, Iberia), Western Anatolia (Troy) and also Africa (Egypt). But well… I have to accept the dates estimated by the researchers, I just wish I knew a bit more about how these have been produced.
Update (Oct 10): photos and considerations on burial styles
Terrae Antiquae[es] has now a very extensive photo-gallery, of which I borrowed the following:
I must say that unlike the Varna necropolis burial which I initially used to illustrate the news, the burials shown here appear to be of the classical Neolithic flexed style (the lower part may be missing but the size of the pit and lateral deposition strongly suggest that.
I’m not just inferring from that and another photo but it was actually the burial style of all Balcano-Danubian Neolithic peoples and even some “Danubianized” Indoeuropeans later on: flexed lateral burial, so it is what should be expected in this context.
The extended position is actually typical of Paleolithic Continuity peoples, and the use of ochre is specially documented in Eastern Europe: Dniepr-Don Neolithic and related groups like Pitted Ware and the Early Bronze culture of Ezero also in Bulgaria but thousands of years after these layers.
At the Varna museum site however they do explain that the burials in what was surely a royal or otherwise princely necropolis are of two kinds: (a) 99 burials (mostly men) are in extended position (Paleolithic tradition), while other 67 (many of them women) lay on their right side in flexed position (Neolithic tradition).
This could point (my best guess here) to early penetrations from the steppe (Dniepr-Don culture), comparable maybe to those we see around the Baltic (Pitted Ware), all however anticipating and maybe preparing the way for what is probably the true Indoeuropean penetration of the Kurgan wave of cultures, which in most cases would return to the flexed burials… now in kurgan (tumulus).
However in Bulgaria the period of Kurgan invasions culminates in the formation of Ezero culture, which is the only one retaining extended burial with ochre, by that time already vanishing in the steppe and the Baltic.