A team of archaeologists working at the Heraclea Sintica site near Petrich in Bulgaria have found a large, extremely well-preserved, gold necklace, possibly dating from the fourth century CE.
A Hellenistic and later Roman city, Heraclea Sintica, about 180km south of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia, was founded in the fourth century BCE and lasted about 800 years when it was destroyed by an earthquake. Earlier, the city was the site of a settlement by the Thracian tribe the Sintians.
The gold necklace was made in one of the elite ateliers in ancient Rome, according to a report by Bulgarian National Television. Researchers suggest that the necklace was lost in the panic when the violent earthquake destroyed the city.
The place of the August 2017 find was an unexpected one. Most finds of jewellery and gold are in necropolises, in the graves of wealthy people, not in the city.
Professor Lyudmil Vagalinski of the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia, who has headed the dig since 2007, said that the good state of preservation of the gold necklace suggested that it was produced in the fourth century.
The necklace was found in what had been one of the shops in the central square of the city. Apart from the necklace, however, there is no evidence to suggest that it was a goldsmith’s shop.
Vagalinski indicated that he did not believe that this had been a jewellery shop: “If we were going to find a jewellery shop, we would find some other jewellery and there would have to be some other tools, but in this context, we find that it is a building from the end of the fourth century”.
Over the centuries, Heraclea Sintica experienced several strong earthquakes, triggering the decline of the city. Shops became dwellings.
Necklaces of the kind found at the Bulgarian site were in fashion for a long time, from the second to the fifth centuries. They were made in specialist workshops.
Vagalinski said that the necklace was a typical Roman product, called Istmion. It was 48cm long including the fasteners and weighed 50 grams.
“And what impresses us is that in the city, to the last, to the last moment, until the end of the fourth century, there were wealthy people who continued to live in the city.”
According to the report, the owner of the necklace probably survived the earthquake, because no human remains had been found. The residents of the city seemed to have been able to escape to a safe place.