Treasure Hunters Keep Destroying Ancient Thracian Burial Mounds in Southeast Bulgaria, Archaeologist Alarms
Ruthless treasure hunters continue to destroy entire Ancient Thracian burial mounds (tumuli) in the region of the town of Elhovo in Southeast Bulgaria, archaeologists alarm.
The looters keep destroying the information about entire historical periods that the archaeological sites contain, Hristo Hristov, Director of the Elhovo Museum of Ethnography and Archaeology, has told Radio Burgas.
He insists, however, that even the Thracian tumuli that have fallen prey to the treasure hunters must be excavated and studied.
It has been discovered in a tomb dating to the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the period when Ancient Thrace was already a province of the Roman Empire. (Rome conquered all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD, with the Thracian aristocracy generally becoming absorbed as Roman provincial aristocracy.)
The sarcophagus in question was found at the end of August, 2015, by Hristov and the team of lead archaeologist Daniela Agre from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia in the Ancient Thracian burial mound known as the King’s Mound.
However, the burial mound that yielded it was first raided in the middle of the 19th century when Bulgaria was a province of the Ottoman Empire (Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire between 1396 and 1878/1912, an depressing period in Bulgarian history known as the Ottoman Yoke).
Back then the tumulus near Boyanovo was targeted by a local Turkish bey, i.e. a governor, in his search for ancient treasures.
The same mound was targeted by modern-day looters around 2000 as well, and yet the archaeologists did manage to come across important finds, including, but not limited, to the Thracian sarcophagus.
The marble sarcophagus weighing 6 metric tons have already been transported to the Elhovo Museum together with all artifacts found in the Thracian tumulus near Boyanovo, Hristov has announced.
The problem with treasure hunters persists, however, and recent legislative amendments in Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act are of little help.
“There isn’t a single treasure hunter who has received and served a [prison] sentence,” Hristov points out.
He explains that the looters working in the region of Exhovo are looking primarily for remains of chariots because of their bronze decorations and applications that can be sold more easily on the black market of antiques.
The archaeologist points out that oftentimes the treasure hunters destroy an entire archaeological site in order to get to a single artifact.
He says groups of treasure hunters from across Bulgaria come down to Elhovo to carry out illegal digs.
In one of the case, the detected treasure hunters were from the town of Cherven Bryag in Northwest Bulgaria.
The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.
The Odrysian Kingdom is a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.
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 vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.