Bulgaria’s Customs Capture Nearly 700 Archaeological Artifacts, Coins at Sofia Airport

Copper and bronze rings captured at Sofia Airport. Photo: Customs Agency

Copper and bronze rings captured at Sofia Airport. Photo: Customs Agency

Bulgaria’s Customs Agency has captured almost 700 archaeological artifacts and coins in a parcel inspected at Sofia International Airport.

The parcel was inbound, and arrived from Switzerland, the Customs Agency says in a release.

A total of 746 items were found in it; an examination by experts found that 695 of them are archaeological artifacts as per Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act.

These are primarily bronze and copper rings and coins said to be from the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The Customs Agency has not provided any further details on the case except that it has been treated as a customs violation.

It has not touched upon questions such as the possibility that the artifacts or coins might be fakes, or their origin.

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.

Some of the coins captured at Sofia Airport. Photo: Customs Agency

Some of the coins captured at Sofia Airport. Photo: Customs Agency