Treasure Hunters Raid over 40 Archaeological Sites in Bulgaria’s Yambol District
Treasure hunters have looted and damaged over 40 archaeological sites from different time periods in Bulgaria’s archaeology-rich southeastern Yambol District since 2014.
According to Stefan Bakardzhiev, Director of the Yambol Regional Museum of History, the treasure hunters have raided mostly Ancient Thracian burial mounds, but also several ancient and medieval settlements.
“We don’t know if they have found anything or not. The worst thing about the treasure hunters is that they destroy information. After all, archaeology is a science aiming to extract from the archaeological layers as much information about history as possible. That’s how, for the sake of some random artifact, science loses extremely important information about the human past,” notes Bakardzhiev with respect to the plight of treasure hunting crimes which are rampant all over Bulgaria, as cited by Radio Focus Sliven.
He says the most pillaged archaeological site in the Yambol District is the Ancient Roman city located in an area called “The Yurt” near the town of Stroyno.
“Unfortunately, this settlement gets “visited” very often by the treasure hunters. We can even say that this is “Yambol’s Ratiaria”. In our lingo, this means a site with a huge number of treasure hunting encroachments,” Bakardzhiev explains, referring to the ruins of the Ancient Roman colony Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria located in Bulgaria’s Archar on the Danube River, which is the perhaps the most notorious and outrageous case of treasure hunting destruction and institutional failure in Bulgaria.
He adds that the Yambol Regional Museum of History has developed a system for alerting the police in an effort to curb treasure hunting and looting.
The system consists of placing information signs at all archaeological sites in order to designate them as such, followed by the submission of its GPS coordinates to the police and the prosecutor’s office. The Museum has also arranged for more police patrols in the archaeological sites, and is about to start a series of meetings with the local authorities.
“Right now we are only registering what happened after it happened. In order for law enforcement to be effective, the treasure hunters have to be caught on the crime scene. That is why we are working with the local authorities and the police so that any sighting of such [treasure hunters] can lead to immediate alert,” Bakardzhiev concludes.
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.
The Ancient Roman town near Stroyno, Yambol District, Southeast Bulgaria, is located in an area known as “The Yurt”. It became famous to the general public back in 2007 when the team of Bulgarian archaeologist Daniela Agre discovered there a stone sarcophagus with unique golden decorations, and ceramic and glass vessels. Several ancient necropolises studied by Daniela Agre near Stroino, Borisovo, and Boyanovo are connected with this Roman settlement. After the discovery of a fragment of a Roman Navy veteran’s diploma in 2014, the Bulgarian archaeologists have hypothesized that the Roman town near Stroyno was settled by retired Roman military veterans of Thracian origin. In the past decade, the Roman town has been savagely destroyed by treasure hunters. According to the director of the Yambol Regional Museum of History, Stefan Bakardzhiev, the one-time Roman settlement looks like a battlefield, with over 200 pits dug up by treasure hunters in an area of 200 decares (app. 50 acres).
Bulgaria’s Yambol District, which has a territory of 3335 square kilometers, boasts about 4000 archaeology sites, averaging more than one archaeology site per square kilometer. Those include over 3000 burial mounds (tumuli) of which fewer than 2%, or about 60, have been excavated and researched; over 300 prehistoric settlements and settlement mounds; about 50 fortified towns from the Antiquity period (including the Late Iron Age, Ancient Thrace and Ancient Rome, and the Late Antiquity); and about 50 fortified towns from the Middle Ages (Bulgaria and Byzantium). In addition to the 60 excavated burial mounds, only about 20 of the rest of the archaeological sites have been excavated and studied. A total of 87 new archaeological sites, mostly burial mounds but also a dolmen, were discovered in Bulgaria’s Yambol District in 2014 alone.