Bulgarian archaeologists say they have found the world's oldest gold artifact -- a tiny bead which they believe is 6,500 years old.
The bead was unearthed in the remains of a small house at a prehistoric settlement known as Tell Yunatsite, just outside the modern town of Pazardzhik. It's small, measuring just four millimeters (0.16 inches) in diameter and weighing 15 centigrams (0.005 ounces).
According to Yavor Boyadzhiev, associated professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the fortified site was the first "urban" settlement in Europe, founded around 6,000 B.C. by migrants from Anatolia, in today's Turkey.
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"The bead was found on the floor of a building in a secure stratified context," Boyadzhiev told Discovery News.
"Its position along with the pottery found within the building are evidence enough to date it to the middle of the Copper age, around 4,500-4,650 B.C.," he added.
The dating would make the tiny gold artifact some 200 years older than the cache of gold found previously in a Copper Age necropolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Excavated between 1972 and 1991, Varna yielded what was assumed to be the oldest gold of mankind.
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"The gold found in Varna is dated to the middle of the late Copper age, around 4,200-4,400 B.C. and is without doubt younger than the bead from Yunatsite," Boyadzhiev said.
"Our finding proves that gold processing began earlier than we believed and in a much larger area," he added.
Boyadzhiev noted the bead is just one of many artifacts that prove the existence of a well developed civilization in Bulgaria during the fifth millennium B.C.
His team also unearthed more than 150 ceramic figures of birds, suggesting the animal was worshiped at Tell Yunatsite.
The settlement was destroyed by invading tribes around 4,100 B.C.
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