The images you'll see as you scroll down to the current text are all part of the story telling in my novel, Realms of Gold:Ritual to Romance.

Bianca Caldwell, pen name, Bianca Fiore, is a writer for an art magazine. In each of her monthly stories she describes an object used in ancient ritual.

The Varna Gold Treasure

Varna Man and the Wealthiest Grave of the 5th Millennium BC

In the 1970s, archaeologists in Bulgaria stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis from the 5 th millennium BC containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered near the modern-day city of Varna. More than 300 graves were uncovered in the necropolis, and between them over 22,000 exquisite artifacts were recovered, including 3,000+ items made from gold.

A human face peers out of cracked clay—a man made image found in a cenotaph. With a diadem placed on the forehead, round plates on the eyes, a rectangular plate on the mouth, and piercings, earrings, and necklaces, some archeologists think this was the clay head of a figurine buried for religious beliefs. (Varna Regional Museum of History)

Other precious relics found within the graves included copper, high-quality flint, stone tools, jewellery, shells of Mediterranean mollusks, pottery, obsidian blades, and beads.

Gold Beads
Gold pendants like these were often strung with stone beads. Some are believed to represent pregnant women. (Varna Regional Museum of History)
This pendant necklace of gold, carnelian, and Spondylus shell was found in a cenotaph, a grave with no human remains. Archeologists believe it hung from the neck of a woman during the late Copper Age. A typical female adornment, its white, red, and gold are a unique color combination that offers clues to the world’s oldest known social stratification. (Varna Regional Museum of History)

Most people have heard of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, which are all noted for being the earliest known civilizations to feature urbanization, organized administration, and cultural innovation. But few have heard of the mysterious civilization that emerged on the shores of lakes of the Black Sea some 7,000 years ago in Bulgaria.

The Varna culture, as it has come to be known, was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts.

The Rise of the Varna Culture

Evidence suggests that it was between 4600 and 4200 BC, when gold smithing first started in Varna. As advances were made, and craftsmen mastered metallurgy of copper and gold, the inhabitants now had something extremely valuable to trade. Increased contacts with neighbours both north and south eventually opened up trade relations within the Black Sea and Mediterranean region, which was of great importance for the development of the society. The deep bay, along which the settlements of Varna, provided a comfortable harbor for ships sailing across the Black Sea and Varna became a prosperous trading center.

And so, the foundations had been laid for the emergence of a powerful and flourishing culture, whose influence permeated the whole of Europe for thousands of years to come.

Gold, copper, and stone artifacts from Grave 4, Varna

Elite members of society were buried in shrouds with gold ornaments sewn into the cloth wrappings and their graves were laden with treasures, including gold ornaments, heavy copper axes, elegant finery, and richly decorated ceramics, while others had simple burials with few grave goods. 


Excavators of grave 36 at Varna cemetery found a symbolic tomb filled with artifacts but no human bones in the fall of 1974. Within four layers of soil were rings, appliqués, strings of beads, two bull figurines with bracelets, a miniature crown, a scepter, a sickle, and a sheep knuckle-bone commonly used in the ancient world as a die—all made from gold. (Varna Regional Museum of History)
Grave 36

Carefully polished with no grooves for inlays, this 1.3-inch tall crown (top) was found among the symbolic offerings in grave 36. Models of a hammer-headed staff (left) and its grooved companion (right), both found in grave 36. (Varna Regional Museum of History)

Gold zoomorphic appliqués,
more than six millennia old, appears to be a bull but has buffalo-like horns. / A. Dagli Orti / Bridgeman Images)
Grave 43 

While there were many elite burials uncovered, there was one in particular that stood out amongst the rest – grave 43.  Inside grave 43, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a high status male who appears to have been a ruler/leader of some kind – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.  The male was buried with a scepter – a symbol of high rank or spiritual power – and wore a sheath of solid gold over his penis.

Each weighing upwards of 110 grams, these bracelets were worn by the community’s chief and were an indicator of his high rank.

The burials in the Varna necropolis have also offered a lot more than the precious artifacts found within them and discoveries relating to social hierarchies; the features of the graves have also provided key insights into the religious beliefs and complex funerary practices of this ancient civilization.

Read more at Ancient Origins and Smithsonian Mag

Did the Mayans Fly Airplanes?

Another great mystery that has caused many researchers to scratch their heads, are a group of 1,000-year-old gold pendants which have been unearthed within the Mayan ruins. These pendants measure just 150mm x 125mm in dimension, but they resemble objects that look almost exactly like modern-day airplanes. Some people debate the possibilities that these pendants are actually supposed to be flying insects or animals, but others bring up evidence that seems to prove that this is not the case. Airplanes, you see, require a part called a “vertical stabilizer”, which all of these pendants happen to feature, yet not a single animal on earth possesses. The question that remains is, “Could these aircraft actually fly?”

Read more

Ancient Gold: Greek Gold Diadems

Greek Gold Diadem with Leaves, Carnelian Cabochons and a Horse with Rider, Panticapaeum, 3rd Century BC
A diadem is a type of crown, specifically an ornamental headband worn by monarchs and others as a badge of royalty.

The term originally referred to the embroidered white silk ribbon, ending in a knot and two fringed strips often draped over the shoulders, that surrounded the head of the king to denote his authority. Such ribbons were also used to crown victorious athletes in important sports games in antiquity.

An impressive gold diadem with repousse rosettes and thin sheets applied at the top. Grave III (Grave of the Women), Grave Circle A, Mycenae, 16th.cent BC.

High-ranking or wealthy Greek women often wore elaborate diadems and hairnets of gold and gemstones as part of their jewelry. Due to its protective quality, it also became important in marriage symbolism and was a common motif for women's jewelry of the Hellenistic period, and in royal Macedonian art more generally.

Remarkable gold elliptical funeral diadems, leaves, wheels, cups, earrings, pendants and pins from Shaft Grave III, "Grave of the Women", Grave Circle A, Mycenae. 1600-1500 BC. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

adorned the head of the buried Mycenean Princes

A diadem is also a jeweled ornament in the shape of a half crown, worn by women and placed over the forehead (in this sense, also called tiara).
In some societies, it may be a wreath worn around the head. The ancient Persians wore a high and erect royal tiara encircled with a diadem. Hera, queen of the Greek gods, wore a golden crown called the diadem.

Two gold diadems from Grave Circle A at Mycenae.

Mycenaean Sheet Gold Diadem Plaque, 2nd ML BC

The shape of this diadem is very similar to the one found by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1876 in Grave Circle A Grave III at the palace of Mycenae except that diadem included seven spear shaped attachments that gave the impression of a sunburst.

By extension, "diadem" can be used generally for an emblem of regal power or dignity. The head regalia worn by Roman Emperors, from the time of Diocletian onwards, is described as a diadem in the original sources.

This highly detailed embossed sheet of gold is a diadem from Mycenae that was crafted around 1600-1500 BC.

It may be a funerary diadem ...  “The headband is made of thin sheet gold and tapers at both ends. These durable objects decorated the hair of the living, but a diadem from Shaft Grave IV must have adorned the head of someone who had already died.”

Treasures of the Sarmatians : Horse Cover

Accomplished horse-breeders and horsemen, Sarmatians were nomadic Indo-European tribes closely related to the Scythians.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus describes Sarmatian tribesmen as “tall and handsome, their hair inclines to blond; by the ferocity of their gaze they inspire dread. They delight in danger and warfare.”

A fascinating feature of Sarmatian society was the high status accorded to women. Sarmatian warrior queens were renowned in antiquity. Herodotus affirmed that the Sarmatians were descendants of the Amazons and Scythians, whose women “frequently hunted on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wore the very same dress as the men.” The Sarmatian tradition had it that “no girl should wed till she had killed a man in battle.” In ancient kurgans, sumptuous female burials often included swords and arrowheads together with elegant jewelry inlaid with dazzling gems in the Hellenistic style. Eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) spread Greek influences throughout his huge empire and exposed local artisans to new styles. The composite style that emerged is known as Hellenistic.

The Sarmatians were overrun by the invasions of the Goths and Huns in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The intense multi-ethnic encounter on the steppe resulted in a complex mix of cultures and artistic styles, evident in the artifacts found in the region.

The horse-cover consists of more than 15,500 golden links. Was found in the city of Azov .

Vratsa Gold Treasure

The most impressive treasures of Ancient Thrace – the Mogilanska Mound treasure.

The 2,500-year-old Mogilanska Mound Treasure, also known as the Vratsa Gold Treasure, was found during the excavations of an Ancient Thracian burial mound in the downtown of Vratsa back in 1965.

a model reconstruction of the princess’s face based on the skull discovered in one of the Mogilanska Mound tombs created by renowned Bulgarian anthropologist Prof. Yordan Yordanov.
In addition to the human and horse skeletons and the chariots discovered in the mound’s three tombs, the archaeologists also found a treasure consisting of a golden laurel wreath, 47 gold appliqués, 2 golden earrings, 4 silver phialae, a silver jug, a rhyton-shaped amphora, and 50 clay figures. The Mogilanska Mound is believed to have been a royal tomb of the ruling dynasty of the Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi which inhabited the region of Northwest Bulgaria more than 2,000 years ago.

The elaborate gold earrings of the Thracian princess
The most valuable artifact from the Vratsa Gold Treasure is the golden laurel wreath which decorated the head of an Ancient Thracian princess.

The golden laurel wreath worn by a Thracian princess from the Triballi tribe which was discovered in the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria’s Vratsa

Another one of the most impressive items from the Vratsa Gold Treasure is a gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) featuring the image of the Mother Goddess.

The forehead of the Mother Goddess depicted on the greave is decorated with a wreath, and her ears – with earrings.

 Interestingly, the other decorations such as the golden earrings and the golden laurel wreath found inside the Mogilanska Mound seem to mimic the decorations depicted in the greave image of the goddess.

The unique craftsmanship of the greave has led the archaeologists to conclude that it was the work of a local Ancient Thracian craftsman.
The Mother Goddess depicted on the greave wears a laurel wreath with gold leaves and golden earrings that are just like the wreath and earrings found inside the tomb of the Thracian princess. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

This gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece)

Gold Jug

O Golden mask of Teres I, the first ruler of the Odrysian kingdom

The King Teres’ Gold Mask – a Masterpiece of the Thracian Craftmanship

“This is a unique mask and it looks even better than the famous image of king Agamemnon”, said the archeologist prof. Kitov, who discovered it, referring to the mask of Agamemnon, gound by Schliemann in Mycenae.

It is a 2400-year-old life-size mask made of 23.5-carat gold and weighing 672 g (1.48 lb). The mask belonged to king Teres I (450 – 431 BC) and was unearthed in a mound at the Valley of the Thracian kings, Kazanlak region in August, 2004. The sensational archaeological discovery was made by Prof. Georgi Kitov (1943 – 2008) and his team. According to him, “There have been other gold masks discovered, but all of them are made of foil-thin gold. Gold masks with this shape and weight are absolutely unknown”. Besides the king Teres mask, the archaeologists excavated more than 130 precious items including jewelry, weaponry and ritual vessels.

Golden royal ring IV c. BC Gold ring ,dating from the IV c. BC, found in a Thracian king's tomb near Zlatinitsa, Bulgaria The miniature scene of his plate represents the Great Mother Goddess, skid glass of wine the king himself.

The Valley of Thracian Kings Thracian gold shell

Five golden earrings from the Thracian tombs in cemeteries Duvanlii (5-4 c. BC.)
 In a second mound nearby, called Golyamata Kosmatka (literally meaning “The Big Hairy”), Georgi Kitov chanced upon another treasure trove of 73 gold and silver pieces, including a gold wreath and horse trappings, a visor, gold ornaments of a sword and gold horse harness.

In addition, the archeologists also found a golden ring, apparently portraying an Olympic rower.

Dozens of Thracian mounds are spread throughout this Bulgarian region, which archaeologists have called ‘The Valley of the Thracian Kings,’ a reference to the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, which is home to the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.

As a result of all the archaeological discoveries made at the Valley of the Thracian Kings, Bulgaria has proposed that UNESCO should inscribe the Valley on its World Heritage List.

(Sources: Treasures Fit for the Kings, by Jumana Farouky, TIME magazine, May 29, 2005)


The Valchitran Treasure was discovered in 1924 by two brothers who were working in their vineyard near the village of Valchitran, 22 km southeast of Pleven, Bulgaria. The hoard consists of 13 receptacles, different in form and size and is dated back to 1300 BC, at the time of the Thracians.

Not only the shape of the following vessel itself, but also its intended purpose is very interesting. It is supposed that the Thracian king-priests used the vessels for religious rituals. More specifically rituals related to god Dionysus, worshiped by the ancient Greeks, as well as by the Thracians.

The triple vessel allows three different liquids to be poured in it, for example wine, honey and milk, or only two different liquids to be poured in the side (right and left) almond-shaped pieces, and when they mix thanks to the tubes a certain result becomes visisble, used by the priests to tell the fortune watching the middle piece of the triple vessel.

We can only guess what the purpose of the cymbal-like items was. Were they really cymbals or were used as lids for another vessels? Is their shape related to the sun cult or has another merely practical explanation?

A very interesting fact regarding the small cups is that the master goldsmiths made them in such a way that they would stand in upright position only when filled with liquid. 

Probably we will never find out the right answers to these questions but the Valchitran golden treasure gives us the opportunity to touch on antiquity in a unique and mysterious way. The treasure dates back to the end of the Bronze Age, i.e. to the 16th – 12th century BC.

It seems certain that the big, wide and relatively deep gold vessels were used to dilute and mix wine: the ancients used to mix wine, honey and milk in them when they were about to make effusions in honor of Dionysos.

 It is now one of the most valuable possessions of the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia.

Priam's Treasure


Priam’s Treasure is a cache of gold diadems, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and assorted gold, bronze vessels and other artifacts discovered by classical archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann claimed the site to be that of ancient Troy, and assigned the artifacts to the Homeric king Priam.

Gold Ear jewelry, rings and pendants 

Apparently, Schliemann smuggled Priam's Treasure out of Anatolia. The officials were informed when his wife, Sophia, wore the jewels for the public. The Ottoman official assigned to watch the excavation, Amin Effendi, received a prison sentence. The Ottoman government revoked Schliemann's permission to dig and sued him for its share of the gold. Schliemann went on to Mycenae. There, however, the Greek Archaeological Society sent an agent to monitor him.

Later Schliemann traded some treasure to the government of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for permission to dig at Troy again.

Despite Schliemann's myth making, the treasures have nothing to do with King Priam's Troy. They are much older, dating from around 2500 to 2400 B.C., not from the Homeric period, which was 1400 to 1200 B.C. Schliemann said he found Troy by using the Iliad, and for one famous photograph he dressed his wife, Sophia, in a diadem that he claimed had been worn by Helen of Troy.

The "big" diadem in modern exhibition
Selection of gold diadems, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and assorted gold and bronze vessels found by Schliemann at Troy. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.  - See more at:
Detail from gold diadem with pendants. Sixty-four small chains, each with links interspaced by gold-leaf lozenges, are suspended from a long, narrow band with 3 holes on each end. The shorter central chains are framed on each side by seven longer chains that converge and terminate in four gold-leaf pendants.

The treasures are actually a thousand years older than Homer's King Priam of Troy, who died about 1200 B.C. They are a stunning collection of gold and silver diadems, bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings, plates, goblets, buttons, cups and perfume jars, which display the extraordinary artistry, technology and trading relationships of an ancient world.

There are 260 individually catalogued items at the Pushkin, but some pieces, like necklaces, have up to 200 beads of varying types. Counting every bead, there are believed to be some 12,000 individual pieces from the 17 separate digs Schliemann made at ancient Troy. Thirteen of those caches are at the Pushkin, with the rest scattered among some 45 other museums around the world.

This pin is part of "Priam's Treasure." Today it is maintained at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. It ended up there when Soviet soldiers who captured Berlin, at the end of World War II, brought it and other recovered Trojan artifacts to Russia.