Bulgaria’s Customs Capture Thousands of UK Bound Likely Fake Archaeological Artifacts on Border with Romania
Thousands of archaeological artifacts destined to the UK, which are most probably fakes, have been detained by Bulgaria’s Customs Agency in the Danube city of Ruse before their smuggling into Romania.
The photos released by the Customs Agency indicate that the artifacts may have been forged; however, their potential authenticity is still to be examined.
According to an unnamed archaeologist from the Ruse Regional Museum of History, the examination of each individual artifact “is going to take months".
The real or fake archaeological artifacts were caught in a van with license plates from the Danube city of Silistra carrying passengers from Bulgaria to England.
They were discovered during a drug inspection by the Counter Narcotics Department of the Ruse Customs.
After the vehicle was selected for inspection by the customs agents, the driver told them that an unknown man had asked him to transport four cardboard boxes, and deliver them to a person in England.
In one of the boxes, the customs officers found an antique chest containing hundreds of figurines, tools fragments, or coins, each of which had been wrapped in an individual plastic bag. Similar artifacts were found in the other cardboard boxes as well.
Some of the plastic bags have inscriptions in Bulgarian and prices tags in GBP, with prices of up to GBP 2,000.
For example, one of the likely fake artifacts described as a “silver head" has a price tag of BGP 1,750.
In addition to coins, the wide range of artifacts includes household items, metal decorations, clay figurines and clay vessels.
The customs officers have also discovered two boxes with billets for the casting of figurines and coin replicas, a find which appears to confirm that the artifacts have been forged.
The trafficking case has been referred to the Ruse District Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ruse Police.
While treasure hunting and trafficking of antiques is a major source of income for organized crime in Bulgaria, the forging and sale of fake archaeological artifacts, including entire forged Ancient Thracian treasures, also appears to be gaining traction.
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.