Bulgarian, Greek Treasure Hunting Gang Busted by Border Police

This bouvine head decoration is one of the archaeological artifacts seized from the treasure hunters. Photo: Bulgaria's Interior Ministry

This bouvine head decoration is one of the archaeological artifacts seized from the treasure hunters. Photo: Bulgaria’s Interior Ministrya

A gang of Bulgarian and Greek treasure hunters has been arrested near the town of Huhla, Ivaylovgrad Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria.

The five men – two Bulgarians and three Greeks – were caught red-handed during illegal archaeological excavations, the press center of Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry has announced.

The local police in Ivaylovgrad, Haskovo District, a region in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, had been tipped off by locals about the treasure hunting digs.

The Bulgarian and Greek treasure hunters were caught with the help of the Bulgarian Border Police.

The two Bulgarian men from the international gang are aged 46 and 73. They come from the nearby towns of Svirachi and Mandritsa.

The police have seized three metal detectors on the crime scene. They have searched the homes of the Bulgarians, and found a substantial inventory of archaeological artifacts in the 73-year-old man’s home in Mandritsa.

The artifacts include about 50 antique decorations, and 50 coins. An arsenal of legally owned shotguns, and illegally owned ammunitions and explosives has also been discovered in the same home.

The Bulgarian Interior Ministry has provided no information as to what kind of archaeological sites the Bulgarian-Greek gang of treasure hunters has been targeting.

Ancient decorations and coins have been seized by the local police,.Photos: Bulgaria's Interior Ministry

Ancient decorations and coins have been seized by the local police,.Photos: Press Center of Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry

Treasure Hunters 3Bulgarian media have reported that the Greek men were in charge of the treasure hunting “effort” while the Bulgarians were serving as their guides.

Some Greek treasure hunters are active in Southern Bulgaria, just like some Bulgarian treasure hunters are active in Northern Greece.

Needless to say, wherever they go for their crimes, the treasure hunters are doing irreparable damage to the archaeological heritage.

Background Infonotes:

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.

An estimate made in November 2014 by the Forum Association, a NGO, 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.

According to an estimate by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the Sofia-based National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, up to USD 1 billion worth of archaeological artifacts might be smuggled out of Bulgaria annually.

According to the estimate of another archaeologist from the Institute, Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov, there might be as many as 500,000 people dealing with treasure hunting in Bulgaria.

One of the most compelling reports in international media on Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight is the 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past” (in whose making a member of the ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com participated). Focusing on the fate of the Ancient Roman colony Ratiaria in Northwest Bulgaria, the film makes it clear that treasure hunting destruction happens all over the country on a daily basis.