By NEVYANA HADJIYSKA, Associated Press Writer Wed Aug 17, 3:21 PM ET
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgarian archaeologists have unearthed about 15,000 tiny golden pieces that date back to the end of the third millennium B.C. — a find they said Wednesday matches the famous treasure of Troy.
The golden ornaments, estimated to be between 4,100 and 4,200 years old, have been unearthed gradually during the past year from an ancient tomb near the central village of Dabene, about 75 miles east of the capital, Sofia, said Vasil Nikolov, an academic consultant on the excavations.
"This treasure is a bit older than Schliemann's finds in Troy, and contains much more golden ornaments," Nikolov said.
Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur German archaeologist, discovered the site of ancient Troy in 1868 and directed ambitious excavations that proved he was right.
The treasure consists of miniature golden rings, some so finely crafted that the point where the ring is welded is invisible with an ordinary microscope.
"We don't know who these people were, but we call them proto-Thracians," Nikolov said.
They likely were ancestors of the Thracians, who lived in what is now Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia and Turkey until the 8th century A.D., when they were assimilated by invading Slavs.
"The buried man was cremated, and then an earth mound was piled over his ashes and his riches, suggesting that he was part of these people's social elite," Nikolov said.
Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of the National History Museum of Bulgaria, said the site consisted of a settlement and three mounds, and excavations would continue.
"This is the oldest golden treasure ever found in Bulgaria after the Varna necropolis," Dimitrov said.
The golden artifacts from a vast burial complex discovered in the 1970s near the Black Sea port of Varna date back to the end of the fifth millennium B.C. and are internationally renowned as the world's oldest golden treasure.