At first glance, it may look like a strange sculpture or even a mangled piece of piping, but this unique object is claimed to be the oldest toy in Europe.
The Thracian bronze artefact in the shape of a stork’s head dates to the Late Bronze Age, between 1,500 and 1,200 BC.
It was discovered by locals near the town of Zlatograd in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria and is made from a mixture of bronze and silver.
Its eyes are made from the semi-precious gemstone carnelian, which is found locally.
In total the cute artefact weighs just over one ounce (30 grams), according to Bulgarian National Television.
Associate Professor Krasimir Leshtakov, who teaches prehistory and archaeology at Sofia University said the 3,500-year-old tot is the only one known to date to the Late Bronze Age, making it the oldest known toy in Europe, Archaeology in Bulgaria reported.
Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov told Bulgaria’s national radio station that the stork toy may have a religious meaning and said that no similar artefacts has ever been found, leading experts to label it a toy.
‘It is hard to say what exactly it was used for,’ he said.
‘It may have been a regular children’s toy but it is also quite possible that this item had some kind of a function in the religious practices of the Ancient Thracians, for example, with clairvoyance.
‘However, we have no way of knowing much about that because this period, the second millennium BC, was a time devoid of the written word.’
The stork toy has gone on show in Zlatograd alongside a Thracian knife, which was used for ritual sacrifices.
The ancient Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes living in south eastern Europe from 2,500 BC to 600 AD and several sanctuaries and rock tombs have been found close to the toy’s location, which will be excavated this summer.
Dr Ovcharov says the Thacian civilisation blossomed in Rhodope Mountains in the second millennium BC, clustered around rock sanctuaries such as Perperikon, which was an architectural complex perched 1,541 (450 metres) up the side of a rocky hill.
Greek writer Homer mentions the mountains in the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as the Tracians’ fine wines.