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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor John Chapman

Higham, Thomas, Slavchev, Vladimir, Gaydarska, Bisserka & Chapman, John (2018). AMS Dating of the Late Copper Age Varna Cemetery, Bulgaria. Radiocarbon 60(02): 493-516.

Author(s) from Durham


The Varna I cemetery, on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, is one of the most remarkable sites in European prehistory, with the world’s earliest large-scale assemblage of gold artifacts. Modeling of the first series of 14 accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates yielded a duration of occupation at the site of ca. 150 years, ~4600–4450 cal BC. However, there were insufficient paired human–animal dates for a full consideration of the question of the marine reservoir effect. Here, a fuller set of 71 dates from 53 graves is presented. We identify a small reservoir effect in a number of individuals based on 14C, as well as carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes. We test the effect of this by building a series of different Bayesian models. Our favored model, including a correction for some of the human determinations, shows activity at the cemetery starting at 4596–4516 cal BC and ending 4427–4341 cal BC (at 95.4% probability). The overall span of activity covers ~120–260 years (93.6% prob.). The modeling shows that Varna I falls toward the beginning of the Bulgarian Late Copper Age.