Prehistory Hall

The Prehistory Hall is on the ground floor of the northern wing in the museum building. The collection of artifacts from the Prehistoric Age, exhibited there, is among the most numerous and varied both in Bulgaria and on the entire Balkan Peninsula. The artifacts on display represent the evolution of human culture for almost 1,6 million years – not only evolution of technology and skills, expressed in the improvement of tools and weapons, but also evolution in the aesthetic values and believes of our predecessors. Unique anthropomorphic figurines and vessels, a stamp with undeciphered symbols (perhaps the earliest known form of writing), exotic goods, evidence of long-distance trade (nephrite axe from the Alpine region, bracelets from the Aegean Spondylus shell, silver earring from Crete, and cups from the region of Troy) are just some of the amazing finds that can be seen.

The exhibition plan is based on the chronological order and follows the main ages and periods: Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), Neolithic (New Stone Age), Chalcolithic (Copper age) and Bronze Age. Texts, facilitating the understanding of the exhibition, accompany every chronological section and the cases, presenting artifacts from the most important prehistoric settlements. Maps of the most important sites from the respective period in Bulgaria are also on display.


The first four show-cases in the Prehistory hall present the earliest and longest age in human evolution – the Palaeolithic. The Lower Palaeolithic (1,6/1,5 millions – 250000 years before present) is illustrated by finds from the Kozarnika cave, Belogradchik region. This site is of great significance as it yields information about the earliest human presence in Europe known so far. The unique find of an animal bone bearing groups of engraved parallel lines is probably the earliest known example of human symbolic behavior in Europe.

The Middle Palaeolithic (250000 – 45000 years before present) is commonly referred to as the time of the Neanderthals (Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (Homo Sapiens Sapiens). The increased technological skills led to the invention and development of new, more effective tools and weapons. Among them is the first composite artifact – the stone-tipped spear, the development of which is illustrated by the specific leaf-shaped spearheads discovered at the sites of Muselievo, Samuilitsa II and Kozarnika.

During the Upper Palaeolithic (45000 – 10000 years before present) the technologies developed significantly. The tools became more elaborate and specialized, and a new hunting weapon appeared – the bow and arrow. The evolution of abstract thinking and aesthetics is attested in the appearance of art. Lavish necklaces made of shells, animal teeth and bones, were used for decoration. Finds related to the so-called Gravetian culture, from the excavations of Kozarnika and Temnata caves, are presented in the exhibition.


The Neolithic period (6200 – 4900 BC) is marked by important changes in human lifestyle and the development of human societies. People started to cultivate and breed a number of plant and animal species (as opposed to simply hunting and gathering), gradually domesticating them. The appearance of new activities was also closely connected to the invention of new tools, including polished stone tools like axes, adzes and chisels, antler hoes and sickles with flint inserts, and so on. People developed the technology of transforming clay into pottery and began to produce various vessels, figurines, and other items.

The exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum includes finds from the Early Neolithic settlement sites at Mursalevo, Chavdar, Slatina (Sofia) (all of them in Western Bulgaria), and Devetashka cave. Typical of this period (early 6th millennium BC) is the red pottery with white-painted decoration. In the Late Neolithic (second half of the 6th millennium BC) the pottery style changed. The painted decoration, typical of the previous period disappeared. Dark surfaces (usually brown and black) predominated, sometimes ornamented with incisions, impressions or channeling. The collection of vessels from the Late Neolithic site at Kapitan Andreevo, Svilengrad region, is especially impressive and important. One of the most interesting finds from this period is the richly decorated and detailed figurine of a bull with a rider.


The people that settled the Balkans and nowadays Bulgarian lands in the Neolithic gradually mastered the environment and the natural resources, improved their technological skills and knowledge, and the social structure developed. In the beginning of the 5th millennium BC they also found ways to extract and process the first metal known in human history – copper. Archaeologists define this as the beginning of a new era – the Copper Age (Chalcolithic; 4900 – 3800 BC). Indeed, it was in nowadays Bulgaria and Serbia that the earliest copper metallurgy was invented in the beginning of the 5th millennium BC (Early Chalcolithic). The use of gold began shortly after. Different copper artifacts are displayed in the Prehistory hall of NAIM, as well as some of world’s earliest gold jewels and amulets.

The beginning of the Chalcolithic was also marked by changes in the shapes and decoration of pottery, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines and so on. Graphite-painted pottery was typical of the new period. During the Late Chalcolithic the vessels’ shapes became highly diverse and even though made by hand (the potter’s wheel was not invented yet) some of them are truly elaborate. Their decoration became even more varied and rich. The exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum presents vessels of the typical styles of different Chalcolithic cultures: Maritsa culture (Maritsa River valley in Southern Bulgaria, Early Chalcolithic), Kodzadermen-Gumelnitsa-Karanovo VI (Eastern Bulgaria and Southeastern Romania, Late Chalcolithic), and Krivodol (Northwestern Bulgaria, Late Chalcolithic).

A highlight in the Prehistory hall of the National Archaeological Museum is the rich and impressive collection of figurines from the Neolithic and especially the Chalcolithic period. It reflects both the aesthetic taste and the beliefs and cosmogonic concepts of the prehistoric people. The main part of this collection is presented by the female figurines made of clay, bone and marble, as well as the unique gold find from Kosharitsa, Burgas region.

A characteristic feature of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, especially in Thrace, is the continuous habitation of the same place for centuries and even millennia and the building of each new settlement on top of the remains of the previous one, thus forming the so-called tells or settlement mounds. These tell-sites provide archaeologists the opportunity to trace back and study the development and changes in different spheres of prehistoric life-style: “fashions” in pottery types and decorations, tools and weapons, figurines, etc. Probably the most famous tell-site in the Balkans is the one in the village of Karanovo, Nova Zagora region. Its stratigraphy (sequence of occupation layers) serves as a basis for the periodization of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Thrace and nowadays Bulgaria, but also for the synchronization with neighboring regions. A special place in the exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum is dedicated to Karanovo. Consecutive show-cases present the typical vessels, characterizing the phases in the development of the prehistoric culture in Thrace, as well as some special finds – the so-called Karanovo seal, which probably represents the earliest system for transferring information (proto-writing); the Karanovo type of sickle; anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, etc.

Life in the Chalcolithic settlement mounds ended quite abruptly at the end of the 5th millennium BC. The reasons for this are still a matter of debate among the archaeologists. However, for several centuries in the 4th millennium BC the territory of nowadays Bulgaria looks almost entirely depopulated.


At the end of the 4th millennium BC the nowadays Bulgarian lands, including some of the tells were settled by new people, which marks the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (3200 – 2000 years BC). The new culture and life-style differed from the Chalcolithic in a number of aspects – burial rites, pottery styles, art, tools and weapons technology, architecture, etc. The variety of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines from the previous age disappeared. The pottery lacks painted decoration and usually applied, incised and impressed ornaments were used. Jugs and cups with a high vertical handle, and big spouted vessels were among the most characteristic shapes

The main innovation of the new age was the invention and distribution of the first metal alloy – the bronze. Typical weapons of the Early Bronze Age were the bronze daggers and hammer-axes. Adornments made of gold and silver, such as earrings, bracelets, beads and appliques, although quite rare, testify to the advance in crafts and art.

Special place in the exhibition is devoted to tell Ezero, Nova Zagora region – an eponymous site for the development of the Early Bronze Age in Thrace. Among the exhibits are both typical pottery vessels and stone and bone tools, and unique finds like the anthropomorphic vessel with a lid and bone belt-hooks.

The last show-case exhibits artifacts typical of the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1600 years BC): pottery, bronze axes, and gold adornments. The Late Bronze Age (1600 – 1000 years BC), exhibited in the Central hall of the Museum, is the period when the Thracian ethnicity started to take shape. The earliest written evidence mentioning the Thracians come from the famous epic Iliad, the events in which should be related to the end of the 2nd millennium BC.

Kamen Boyadzhiev, Stanimira Taneva