Treasure Hunters Raid Soon-to-Be-Excavated Ancient Thracian Tumuli in Bulgaria’s Tatarevo

Treasure Hunters Raid Soon-to-Be-Excavated Ancient Thracian Tumuli in Bulgaria’s Tatarevo

This photo shows recent treasure hunting excavations at one of the Ancient Thracian tumuli near Bulgaria's Tatarevo, Plovdiv District, with pieces of ancient ceramics left behind. Photo: Parvomai.net

This photo shows recent treasure hunting excavations at one of the Ancient Thracian tumuli near Bulgaria’s Tatarevo, Plovdiv District, with pieces of ancient ceramics left behind. Photo: Parvomai.net

At least one of the Ancient Thracian burial mounds (tumuli) in the southern Bulgarian town of Tatarevo, Plovdiv District, which are soon supposed to be excavated by the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, Kostadin Kisyov, has been raided by treasure hunters recently, a report says.

Photos made on the site and with Google Maps demonstrate that looters have made their way into one of the three Thracian tumuli known as the Tatarevo Mounds, reports local news site Parvomai.net.

Traces on the spot show that the treasure hunters must have managed to take away ceramic vessels from it, plus potentially other ancient artifacts.

About a month ago, the Municipal Council in the nearby city of Plovdiv voted to allocate funding for emergency excavations of the Great Tatarevo Mound by a team of archaeologists led by the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

Back in 2013, through emergency excavations, Kisyov managed to save from treasure hunters six Thracian funerals found under the so called Pamuk Mogila mound in the town of Brestovitsa where the most impressive discovery was a very rare war helmet of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD, which was recently showcased for the first time, and, at least judging by the readership of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, generated global interest.

Tatarevo Mayor Ivan Donev is quoted as saying that the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology Kostadin Kisyov has already submitted the required paperwork to the Parvomay Municipality, he has asked for help hiring local diggers, and is due to start excavations during the summer.

The report on the treasure hunting raid on one of the three Ancient Thracian mounds near Tatarevo points out that the entire region of Tatarevo and the nearby town of Debar features interesting “configurations" of Ancient Thracian burial mounds.

However, the tumuli in question have not been studied by archaeologists yet, and no comprehensive theory has been formulated regarding the region’s history in the Antiquity, the times of Ancient Thrace.

The Thracian burial mound which stands out is the Great Tatarevo Mound, which the Plovdiv archaeologists are in a hurry to excavate before the looters manage to make their way into it. It is not just the largest tumulus in the region but also there are two lines of smaller Thracian tumiliradiating" from it.

All mounds in around Tatarevo bear traces of treasure hunting raids; the major hope of the archaeologists and the local public, which is in favor of rescuing the history and cultural heritage in the Thracian tumuli, is that the looters have not managed to discover the graves or the chambers of the Thracian tombs inside them.

The three Ancient Thracian mounds near Bulgaria's Tatarevo, Plovdiv District. At least the largest of them is to be excavated by Plovdiv archaeologists in emergency excavations to try to rescue its tomb(s) and graves from the ruthless treasure hunters. Photo: Parvomai.net

The three Ancient Thracian mounds near Bulgaria’s Tatarevo, Plovdiv District. At least the largest of them is to be excavated by Plovdiv archaeologists in emergency excavations to try to rescue its tomb(s) and graves from the ruthless treasure hunters. Photo: Parvomai.net

The three Ancient Thracian mounds near Bulgaria's Tatarevo, Plovdiv District. At least the largest of them is to be excavated by Plovdiv archaeologists in emergency excavations to try to rescue its tomb(s) and graves from the ruthless treasure hunters.The mouse shows where the smallest of the three has recently been excavated by treasure hunters. Photo: Parvomai.net

The three Ancient Thracian mounds near Bulgaria’s Tatarevo, Plovdiv District. At least the largest of them is to be excavated by Plovdiv archaeologists in emergency excavations to try to rescue its tomb(s) and graves from the ruthless treasure hunters.The mouse shows where the smallest of the three has recently been excavated by treasure hunters. Photo: Parvomai.net

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) known as Pamuk Mogila near the town of Brestovitsa, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria, was excavated in emergency rescue excavations in 2013 since it had been targeted by treasure hunters. It was excavated by a team led by Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, after local treasure hunters had dug up a 13-meter tunnel into the burial mound in search of the graves inside, and Kisyov himself had been trying to find funding for five years. The emergency digs were funded by Plovdiv Municipality and Rodopi Municipality a total of BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 25,500). Luckily, the treasure hunters had not managed to find the graves inside the mound, and Kisyov and his team discovered them. The huge tumulus, which was 14 m tall and had a diameter of 70 m, harbored a total of six graves, including the grave of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD. The archaeologists discovered about 80 artifacts, including a golden ring, a silver ring, a bronze ring, a parade combat helmet, two iron swords, three spears, a bronze coin (an obol for Charon, the ferryman of Hades who, according to Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman mythology, carries the souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron in the underworld), 4 glass balsamaria with essential oils, 4 clay vessels, 2 bronze hydria for water and wine, bronze phiales (pateras), two candelabra, among others. Kisyov believes that because of the proximity of the Pamuk Mogila mound to ancient Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) it might have been a tomb for an aristocratic family that ruled the city. The Ancient Thracians believed in afterlife and they placed a lot of personal belongings in the graves and tombs of their dead.

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the majority of whom appear to be impoverished low-level diggers.