Since 1996 in the cave was carried out archaeological excavations organized by the Archaeological Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia and the Institute of Geology and Prehistory of the Quaternary in Bordeaux and led
by Nikolay Sirakov and Jean-Luc Guadelli. They reveal late Paleolithic culture from 37th to 34th century AD. It is significantly different from its modern findings in the Temna dupka (Dark Hole) and Bacho Kiro, showing similarities to the cultures prevalent in Western Europe a few centuries later.
The cave was inhabited during the middle Paleolithic, but the most important are the lower layers. They dated of age 1.4 million years ago. In there was found a tooth of the representative of the genus Homo, possibly Homo erectus. If the dating is correct, this would be the oldest record of human presence in Europe. Strong arguments provoke another finding from Early Paleolithic layers in Kozarnika cave. These are a few bones, dating 1.2 to 1.4 million years ago,
which has caused a series of notches. According to the archaeologists conducting the excavations, they were made deliberately and are not an automatic result of the processing of the meat of the animal. This hypothesis is controversial because, according to the prevailing concept, the capability of symbolic thinking emerges only in Homo sapiens 50,000 years ago. Weather prehistoric man came to Europe from the Balkans, really? Could the regions of the Balkans were the first places where the foot of prehistoric man step, instead of pointing at the gateway to Europe Strait of Gibraltar?
A team of 20 Bulgarian and French archeologists are trying to prove this theory after 11 years of excavations in Kozarnika cave in northwestern Bulgaria. The discovered so far traces of human activity dating back 1.4 to 1.6 million years are causing issues wher actually lived the first man before settled in different places and expanded his deeds all over Europe. According to current theories, the first people came to Europe from South Africa, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar before about 800,000 years. But according to Jean-Luc Guadelli - director of the team of archaeologists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, located in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria is actually one of the most natural routes, where the prehistoric man could possibly pass through Europe. Coming from Africa first people are more easily able to enter into the heart of Europe through the Bosphorus, then crossed the Danube in the Iron Gates Gorge, located between Romania and Serbia, stated Guadelli in an interview with AFP. It is possible namely in this way for our forefather, driven by his natural curiosity and in search of a favorable climate and natural conditions to have come on the European continent, coming from Bulgaria, confirmed Professor at the University of Toulouse, Jean-Claude Leblanc, adding: "We have to change our conceptual systems and methods in this matter". Theory of the passage of prehistoric man in the Strait of Gibraltar has been designed and shaped by Western scholars, based on the rich archaeological finds discovered in Western Europe. But the data came from only one part of the European land mass, and then these scientific findings were accepted as valid for the entire continent, which is not properly, noted a scholar from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS). Nikolay Sirakov, who is also deputy head of the archeological team in Kozarnika and his French counterpart Guadelli maintained contact for nearly 20 years before deciding to start excavations in the cave in 1996. The unique Kozarnika cave is located in rocky area around the famous northwestern town of Belogradchik and is accessible only on foot or off-road vehicles. In the last century the cave was considered the scene of human activity from the period of the Stone Age.
This place was mentioned in 1920 in the records of the famous Bulgarian archeologist Vasil Popov. But the lack of resources to conduct an in-depth research and excavations is the reason for the lack of major scientific discoveries too. Carved and jagged pieces of bone found in Kozarnika led the researchers to conclude that the first inhabitants of the cave were able to express themselves
through sculpture abstract concepts and for counting most often they used the method of the streaks. Animal bones with carved on them parallel lines indicate that the first people were counting the days. Researches on these lines indicate that they were made during the Stone Age. Streaks were too precise to be considered accidental made on the bone by removing the meat from the animal, comment specialists.
Despite the discoveries scientists still disagree about how ancient people expressed abstract notions. Unlike other caves in Western Europe, where there are cave paintings considered a symbolic expression of thoughts and events, in Kozarnika cave such paintings are not discovered. But their absence does not call into question the ability of our ancestors to think abstractly, said Jean-Luc Guadelli. Cave paintings from the period of the Stone Age found in Bulgaria as a whole are not much, but it can lead to the conclusion that the ancient people of these lands simply did not have artistic inclinations, jokes French scientist.
The inhabitants of Kozarnika knew well the game and its migrations. A special place was occupied by the hunting of wild horses and cattle on the steppes of the Danube Valley. It appears that the choice of location on the border of the different biotopes was not random. Thus they were not only dependant on migratory species and they hunted other animals also - deer in the surrounding woods and ibex and goats in the rocky terrain around. "The cave was inhabited mostly during winter - said the archaeologist - and in the summer there were camps in the open." It turns out that these are only the last chapters of the history of Kozarnika cave. Under the late Paleolithic occupancy levels, the international team found those from the middle Paleolithic, the earliest of which are from perhaps 300,000 years ago. The big surprise is hidden under them. In recent seasons, archaeologists investigate layers that are around the age of 1.4 million years and also contain traces of human presence. "So far remains of primitive humans have been found in various parts of the continent - says N. Sirakov - for example in Spain before 800,000 years and in Turkey before 400,000 years." Until now, Spanish Homo antecessor was considered to be "discoverer" of Europe, but materials found in Kozarnika in Belogradchik are considerably earlier. "The first wave of settlement affected only the southern part of the continent, where the climate was similar to that in the starting areas. Possibly here has lived Homo Erectus. The tooth that we found, for which is a guarantee that it is a representative of the genus Homo. [. ..]. The project was given the status of a European Associated laboratory - recognition for their work.