Rise and Fall of the First European Civilization - Tell Yunatsite Excavations

Period: Chalcolithic (4900-4100 BC)
Code: YU.EXC 15
Session 1: 12 -26 July 2015
Session 2: 26 July - 9 August 2015
Academic credits available: up to 9
Admission fee starting from: 1104 EUR (app.1239 USD)

The Project and the Course

General Information

This project is included in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans   

Project type: field school & archaeological excavation. The variety of activities and the team's professionalism and flexibility make this project suitable for both beginners and advanced in either Field or Prehistoric Archaeology. Individual program and task assignment are available to advanced students.

Site: Prehistoric tell next to the village of Yunatsite, Southern Bulgaria.   

Project Venue: in a comfortable downtown hotel in the district town of Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. The site is 8 km away (15 min ride) from Pazardzhik and the hotel. Transport on work days will be arranged and covered by the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS).

Period(s) of occupation: Chalcolithic (or Copper Age, 4900 - 4100 BC), Early Bronze Age (3100-2200 BC), Iron Age, Antiquity and Middle Ages.

Period in the project's focus: Chalcolithic (4900 - 4100 BC).

Collaborating Universities & Institutions: Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF), Bulgaria and Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA, Tell Yunatsite Excavation Team from the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History; New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria).

Dig co-director: Ass. Prof. Yavor Boyadzhiev (PhD in Archaeology), National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. 

Dig co-director and field school coordinator: Asst. Prof. Kamen Boyadzhiev (PhD in Archaeology), Department of Prehistoric Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Field school session 1: 12 - 26 July, 2015

Field school session 2: 26 July - 9 August, 2015

Application Deadline: until the places are filled, or latest 10 June, 2015   

Minimum length of stay: 1 session (two weeks)

Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)

Number of field school places available: Maximum 20

Language: English

Experience required: No

Special requirements: Participation in the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities. The average summer temperatures in the area are 25-38 C or higher. All participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weather. All participants are expected to prepare for the dig by reading (at least) the BHFS handbook chapter about archaeological excavation techniques and methods (the BHFS e-handbook will be sent by e-mail to all registered students before the beginning of the project)! Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.   

If you are interested in an even more comprehensive experience with Old World Prehistory, please see also the PREHISTORIC PACK (combining 2 different Balkan Heritage Field School Projects)!

The Site and the Excavation Project

In the seventh millenium BC the Balkan Peninsula was a gate through which farming, animal husbandry and generally Neolithisation spread to Europe from Anatolia and the Near East. App. 1000 years later in the very beginning of the fifth millennium BC, the prehistoric population in Central and Eastern Balkans turned known metal-processing technologies into an industry for the first time in human history (the world's most ancient copper mines are found near Mechi kladenets/Aybunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and Rudna glava, Serbia). Archaeological evidence shows that in the fifth millennium BC these prehistoric cultures enjoyed a constant raise rise in population and wealth, simultaneously experiencing social stratification due to the intensive trading of metal products, salt and other goods with the rest of prehistoric Europe and Asia. These Balkan Copper age cultures had all characteristics of the first civilizations including: the very first urban settlements in Europe (Tell Yunatsite, Tell Durankulak and Tell Provadia in Bulgaria), a dense network of settlements, the production of "industrial" quantities of goods, esp. metal products and salt, developed trade, distinguished social and professional stratification, pictograms and characters interpreted by some scholars as the World's oldest script (Gradeshnitsa tablet for instance dates back to the sixth or early fifth millennium BC) as well as precious artifacts made of gold, pottery, bone and stone (the World oldest gold treasure found in the Varna Copper age necropolis). This very first civilization in Europe was Pre-Indo-European and emerged in under a millennium, spreading across large parts of the Balkans, NW Anatolia and Eastern Europe. It collapsed around the end of the fifth millennium under the pressure of both drastic climatic changes and invasion by Early Indo-Europeans. The study of this, the very first civilization in Europe, has only arisen very recently, beginning about 40 years ago with the excavation of the Varna Copper Age necropolis, which brought to light the first certain evidence for its existence. Nowadays scholars from all over the world are still discovering new facts and adding new data about the "lost" first civilization in Europe.

Tell Yunatsite is located in the fields next to the Bulgarian village of Yunatsite, NW Thrace. Its diameter is app. 110 m and the maximum height is 12 m above the modern surface. The tell was excavated for the first time in 1939 by Bulgarian archaeologist Vasil Mikov. The result was a 12 meter-deep trench known also as the Vasil Mikov's trench in the eastern part of the tell that did not reach its base but significantly contributed to the interpretation of tell's stratgraphy and history. However, regular excavations of the site did not start before 1976, when the archaeological project was initiated by the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. In the course of time the project was joined by Soviet and Greek excavation teams.

So far one third of the tell's surface has been excavated in its eastern part, still without reaching the sterile layers. The tell is topped by a medieval cemetery, the ruins of a Roman fort and two layers from the Early Iron Age followed in depth by a thick Early Bronze Age (EBA) layer (3100-2200 cal. BC) with 17 building levels and a sterile layer (hiatus) that separates the EBA layer and the Chalocolithic layer. Under all these sequences is found the 4 m thick Chalcolithic layer.   

In 2006 archaeologists discovered by excavating numerous test pits and trenches in the area around the tell that the actual size of the Copper Age settlement was far larger (having a diameter of 400 m or surface of app. 100 000 sq.m) than the tell and and was composed of two areas separated (around 4750 cal. BC) by a five meter wide cob wall and ditch (2 meter deep and 6 meter wide): the larger downtown and the uptown (acropolis) at the tell. The earliest artifacts from these pits and trenches date 4900 cal. BC and mark either the establishment or extension of the prehistoric settlement. Inside the fortified uptown the buildings were placed close to each other because of the limited area. Thus the accumulation of the layer was faster than in the downtown and as a result the tell was rising gradually above the surrounding surface. The Copper age settlement was destroyed by invaders around 4200-4100 cal. BC. Among the ruins of the last Chalcolithic horizon are found the skeletons of its last inhabitants (mainly children and elderly men and women): a testimony of a cruel massacre. Those who survived returned and briefly resettled the devastated settlement but soon they too departed and Tell Yunatsite was abandoned for more than 1000 years. During this period a 0,45 meter-thick hiatus (sterile layer) covered most of the Chalcolithic layer.

Unlike the excavations in 1970 - 1990s (dealing with exploration of upper layers) recent excavations uncover mainly the Chalcolithic layers of the tell. The recent discovery of a wooden platform, probably the floor of a burnt building that collapsed vertically (along with numerous artifacts) onto the walls of a huge pit beneath, is considered a very rare occurrence in archaeological practice. These excavations are assisting archaeologists in the study of the Copper age fortification and the inner parts of the uptown.    

Archaeological Context: The Chalcolithic (Copper age) period in Tell Yunatsite, Bulgaria corresponds chronologically (4900 - 4100 BC) to other European and Near Eastern sites and cultures such as: Varna, Kodzhadermen-Gumelnita-Karanovo VI (Eastern Balkans), Krivodol-Salcuta-Bubanj hum (Central and Northern Balkans), Dimini (Southern Balkans), Early Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (Eastern Europe), Ubaid period (Mesopotamia).

The Field School

In 2015 the RISE AND FALL OF THE FIRST EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION field school project will continue exploring in depth the earliest stages of the tell's history through further excavation of the Vasil Mikov's trench. This is an area of app. 300 sq.m. where the first excavations at the tell took place in 1939 and reached the deepest culture layers found so far. Archaeologists have not yet reached the tell's base. With this aim they restarted the excavation in Mikov's trench in 2012. This where the Balkan Heritage Field School project has been taking place since 2013. During the small-scale excavations there from 2012 to 2014 the BHFS archaeologists and students found various Copper age structures: foundations of dwellings, collapsed roofs and walls, amazingly well preserved Chalcolithic wooden flooring and a high number of ovens, numerous artifacts such as weapons, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, Spondylus jewels, decorated fine pottery ware and sherds marked by characters/pictograms). All of them belong to the three earliest tell building levels excavated so far (dated to the Late Chalcolithic). The site provides an amazing opportunity for all field school participants to dig at a real tell, to study textbook clear stratigraphy, to practice all basic excavation techniques in the field and to look through centuries of the everyday life of the Copper age inhabitants of Tell Yunatsite.

Two field school sessions are available every year and each includes the following three modules: fieldwork including excavation of the Chalcolithic layers and structures: practicing basic excavation techniques as well as screening, sifting and flotation and developing of archaeological field documentation by maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan/ a ground plan/ a cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a dumpy level, as well as taking photographs at the site; lectures, workshops and field training in Prehistoric and Field Archaeology, Finds' Processing and Documentation as well as excursions to the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History and the ancient town of Plovdiv (including the Archaeological Museum, Old Town Quarter and major Roman monuments) in the first field school session and to Stara Zagora (including the Regional Museum of History, Roman monuments and the Museum of the Europe' best preserved Neolithic (5600 BC) dwellings in the second field school session.

The participants who join the two project sessions (1&2) will be able to develop further their skills and competences regarding the field work and finds processing, gained during the first two-week session and to attend a number of extra lectures, workshops (with an emphasis on Chalocolithic Studies) and all the excursions mentioned above plus a wine-tasting tour to the Bessa Valley Winery.


Optional tour of Troy and Istanbul (Turkey) is available for all students after the field school (9-13 August, 2015).   


All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail and a hard copy on arrival);
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.

The Program

50 astronomical hours of fieldwork per session;   

25 astronomical hours of Lectures (L), Workshops (W), Guided Tours (GT) and Field Instructions & Trainings (FIT) during the first session:

  • Rise and Fall of the Europe's Earliest Civilization in the Fifth Millennium BC (L);;
  • Tell Yunatsite: Environment, History and Excavations (L);
  • Warfare in Prehistory (L);
  • From the Field to the Storage: Review of Basic Methods for Uncovering, "First Aid", Consolidation in Situ, Cleaning, Sorting, Labeling, Documenting and Storing Ceramic Artifacts (L);
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Excavation and Documentation (FIT);
  • Use of Tools and Working Techniques (FIT);
  • Introduction to the Field Journal; Contextual Sheets, Log Book and Other Forms (FIT);
  • Three Dimensional Positioning of Finds, Features and Structures (L);
  • How to Use a Dumpy Level? (FIT);
  • Stratigraphy: Horizontal and Vertical (L);
  • Field Graphic and Photographic Documentation:
  • Excavations Preparation. Preliminary Indoor Research (L);
  • Field Reconnaissance Survey. Geophysical (Electrical and Magnetic) Methods in Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey (L);
  • Excavation completion. Post excavation work and analyses;
  • Finds Processing and Flotation of Soil Samples (W);;   

  • Artifact Recording and Illustration: Prehistoric Pottery (W);
  • History of Pazardzhik (GT);
  • History and Archaeology of Plovdiv (GT).


Only for students in the two project sessions (1&2): 25 astronomical hours of Lectures (L), Workshops (W) , Guided Tours (GT) and Field Instructions & Trainings (FIT) during the second session:

  • Urbanism in Prehistory - Copper age settlement patterns from Bulgaria(L);
  • Technology of Production of Metal, Stone and Bone Tools during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic (Copper age) Period in Europe(L);
  • Dating Methods for Prehistoric Sites (L);
  • Artifact Recording and Illustration: Stone and Bone Artifacts (W);
  • History and Archaeology of Stara Zagora (GT).
  • Fieldwork - expect to perform all types of fieldwork at the site, from digging, vacuum cleaning and brushing to mapping and sampling as well as finds processing along with lab work.
  • Lectures will take place at Hotel Primavera 2 and the site.
  • Workshops will take place at the site.
  • Field instructions and training - will take place at the site.


The Agenda


First Day

Arrival and check-in at Hotel Primavera 1 (26 Asen Zlatarov Str., Pazardzhik 4400, BULGARIA, Tel:+359 886 318040) in Pazardzhik by 7.00 pm

8.00 - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.


A pick-up may be arranged from the Sofia and Plovdiv airports upon request.   


Arrival dates: Session 1 - 12 July, 2015; Session 2 – 26 July, 2015

Meeting time/point on arrival date: 8.00 pm in front of Hotel Primavera 1 in Pazardzhik

Second Day

Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and collaborating universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breaking and orientation.    

Afternoon: Orientation walk around the downtown Pazardzhik. Visit of the Pazardzhik Museum. Lectures. 

Day-off during the second project session for the participants who are attending the two project sessions.

Work days

6.15 - 6.30 am - Travel to the site.

6.30 am - 8.30 am - Fieldwork*

8.30-9.00 am - Breakfast at the site.

9.00-11.00 am - Fieldwork*

11.00-11.15 am - Break

11.15 am - 1.00 pm - Fieldwork*

1.00-5.00 pm - Lunch and Siesta break

5.00-8.00 pm - Lectures/Workshops/Finds processing **

8.00-9.00 pm - Dinner

* In rare cases of rain, the project program envisions substitute activities including finds processing workshops and film projections at the hotel.

** Lectures and workshops in the area of Prehistory and Field Archaeology.   


The BHFS team could organize/assist organization of various leisure activities for participants during their free time such as hiking, wine-tasting, movies etc.

Mid-session weekends (Saturdays)

The first session’s Saturday: Visit to the ancient town of Plovdiv – European capital of Culture 2019   

The second session’s Saturday: Visit to Stara Zagora and its superb Museum of History, Roman monuments and the Museum of the Europe's best preserved Neolithic (5600 BC) dwellings.

Participants who attend the two project sessions will join all the tours.

Mid-session weekends (Sundays)


Optional tours to historical sites and towns in North-western Thrace (Bulgaria).

Days between session 1 and 2


Optional 2-day excursion to Sozopol on the Black Sea Coast (Bulgaria).

Last Day

Departure. Check-out by 12.30 pm

A drop-off may be arranged to the airports in Sofia and Plovdiv upon request.   

Departure dates: Session 1 - 26 July, 2015; Session 2 - 9 August, 2015

Reading Background   


Balabina, V., T. Mishina. Considering the Destruction of the Latest Eneolithic Village at Tell Yunatsite – In: Boyadzhiev, Y., S. Terzijska-Ignatova (eds.) - The Golden Fifth Millennium. Thrace and Its Neighbour Areas in the Chalcolithic, Sofia 2011, 39-47.

Grant J., Sam Gorin and Neil Fleming. The Archaeology Coursebook: an introduction to themes, sites, methods and skills. Routledge. 2008

Harris, E. Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy. London & New York: Academic Press, 1989 Available in Internet - http://www.harrismatrix.com

McIntosh, J. Handbook to Life in Prehistoric Europe. New York, 2006

Merpert N. J. Bulgaro-russian Archeological Innvestigations in the Balkans. Ancient Civilisations from Scythia to Siberia – In: International Journal of Comparative Studies in History and Archeology, Vol. 2, N 3, Leiden 1995, 364-383.

Merpert N. J. The problem of transition from the North Balkan Aeneolithic to the Early Bronze Age in the Upper Thracian valley – In: Europa Indo-Europea, Roma 1994, 41-50.

Телль Юнаците. Эпоха бронзы., Том ІІ. Часть первая. (Москва, 2007) (a summary in English is available after each chapter).

Todorova N., Mazanova V. Late Chalcolithic Ceramic Style at Yunatsite Tell (Approach to the Systematization of the Ceramics from the Newly Excavated Levels) – In: Nikolova L. (ed.) - Technology, Style and Society. BAR International Series 854, Oxford 2000, 331-361.

Zäuner, S. The Dark Side of the Chalcolithic. Evidence for Warfare at Tell Yunatsite? An anthropological approach – Boyadzhiev, Y., S. Terzijska-Ignatova (eds.) - The Golden Fifth Millennium. Thrace and Its Neighbour Areas in the Chalcolithic, Sofia 2011, 49-56.

Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities


The nearest air terminals: Sofia (Bulgaria, 90 km) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria, 40 km) - don't forget checking the low cost flight options! If participants arrival at one of these airports, a transfer to the project venue in Pazardzhik may be arranged by request (Please, specify this in your application form!). Individual or group transfers' price may vary depending on both distance and number of passengers from 25 to 100 EUR. Ask for details!

How to get there?: Participants who arrange individually their travel will be expected to arrive on the arrival day at the hotel Primavera 2 in Pazardzhik by 7.00 pm. Pazardzhik is located in Thrace, Southern Bulgaria. It may be reached by both bus and train from Sofia (app. 1-1 1/2 hours) and Plovdiv (app. 30-45 min).


Accommodation & Meals


Accommodation: in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi) in the downtown-hotel Primavera 1&2 in Pazardzhik. There is a cheap laundry service available at the site. Participants are not expected to bring any additional equipment, bedclothes or towels. Single rooms are available upon request for the supplement of 150 EUR per week. Staying an extra day at the hotel costs 30 EUR.

Meals: three meals (fresh, organic Bulgarian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Meals will take place at the site during the work days and at the hotel’s restaurant during weekends. Brown-bag-lunches during the excursions. 

Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!   

See all accommodation options on our Information page!


Free Time & Trips


Free time: The town of Pazardzhik and its surroundings offers a variety of opportunities for good entertainment, sightseeing, sports, wine-tasting and shopping. A number of guided visits to Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History, Plovdiv Archaeological Museum, Roman monuments and the Old Town Quarter of PlovdivStara Zagora Regional Museum of History, Roman monuments of Stara Zagora and the Museum of the Europe' best preserved Neolithic (5600 BC) dwellings is a part of the field school program and are covered by the admission fee.


Extra trips and excursions: The BHFS participants could take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take part in the optional excursions to:   

Please follow the links above for excursion details and information on how to join!   


Technicalities & Practicalities   


Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is necessary to arrange your own insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, just like Bulgarian citizens, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.   

Weather: South-European climate dominates in the field school area, making summers hot (30-40 C). Rainy and chilly days in this season are rare but not excluded.

What to bring?

  • A pair of working shoes (sneakers, running shoes) and a pair of comfortable shoes for walking/hiking;   
  • Clothing suitable for an outdoor working environment: sun-hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects), including a light raincoat (consider weather conditions - hot and sunny, but rain may fall as well);    
  • Medication - only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.     
  • Don’t forget to bring a converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed.
  • A good attitude for work, fun, study and discoveries ;)   
  • Excavation & Documentation tools and materials are available at the site.

The Admission Fee   


The Admission fee includes: educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project Handbook, issue of Certificate of Attendance, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and administrative costs.

The price in USD is for orientation. Please check current exchange rates! 


Super Early Bird Special - by November 30, 2014:

Super Early Bird Admission fee for one project session is 1104 EUR / app.1239 USD SAVE 195 EUR / 220 USD   

Super Early Bird Admission fee for for two project sessions is 2208 EUR / app.2479 USD.  SAVE 260 EUR / 300 USD


Early Bird Special - from December 1, 2014 until January 31, 2015:

Early Bird Admission fee for one project session is 1169 EUR / app.1309 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 150 USD   

Early Bird Admission fee for two project sessions is 2338 EUR / app.2629 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 150 USD   


Regular admission fee - after January 31, 2015:


The regular admission fee for one session is 1299 EUR / app.1449 USD

The regular admission fee for two project sessions is 2468 EUR / app. 2779 USD (including 5% discount for participation in 2 project sessions!).


Admission Fee Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer 
- On-line transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.   

For further information contact Admissions Office at: bhfs.admissions@gmail.com!

  Discounts off the regular admission fee:


* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in more than 1 BHFS project or project session in 2015. (5% discount is valid for all projects/sessions to be attended).
  2. Membership in the Archaeological Institute of America.

* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in any BHFS project/s in the past.

* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in one project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant)).

* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant for all projects/ sessions to be attended)).
  2. BHFS alumni, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015. (15% discount is valid only for the second, third etc. project/session to be attended).
  3. BHFS alumni, who participated successfully in at least two sessions of this project in the past.




For more information about scholarships, low-cost flights, hotels, etc. please feel free to contact us or look at our recommended links

Academic Credits   


CREDIT HOURS: New Bulgarian University grants 6 credits to students for participation in one project session and 9 credits for participation in two sessions. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. For details please read the Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records!

Tuition fee: starting from 282 EUR for six ECTS credits / 423 EUR for nine ECTS credits




Rise and Fall of the First European Civilization - Tell Yunatsite Excavations

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