A golden horse head—an ornament from one end of a long-gone iron horse bit—is part of a 2,400-year-old treasure recently discovered in an ancient Thracian tomb in Sveshtari, Bulgaria, archaeologists announced Thursday.
The Thracians were ruled by a warrior aristocracy that had access to plentiful gold deposits at the mouth of the Danube River, which contained one of the largest ancient supplies of the metal. They enjoyed a vibrant trade with their neighbors, including the Scythians to the north, and the Greeks to the south—a fact reflected in Thracian art.
"The styles that have been found in Thracian art and Thracian gold represent a mix of Scythian, Greek, and Macedonian cultures, and of course Thracian culture itself," said U.S. archaeologist and National Geographic fellow Fredrik Hiebert, who was not involved in the discovery.
Bulgaria has a long history of gold metallurgy. "There are sites on the Bulgarian coast that are literally thousands of years older than any other culture that used gold in a ritual fashion," Hiebert said.
In 1972, for example, a worker discovered a 6,000-year-old necropolis near the Bulgarian city of Varna that was filled with graves containing the oldest known gold hoard ever found. (See "At 'Europe's Oldest Town,' Unusual Fortifications Hint at Prehistoric Riches.")