The local police and Prosecutor’s Office in the southern Bulgaria city of Haskovo are seen here at a news conference showing the archaeological artifacts and coins they have seized from two alleged treasure hunters, one of whom is a senior civil servant. Photo: Haskovo.net
A senior Bulgarian civil servant has been arrested together with an accomplice for alleged treasure hunting and illegal possession of valuable archaeological artifacts and coins, some of which said to be dating back to 2,500 BC.
Stanislav Stanilov, 46, who is the Director of Bulgaria’s State Archive Agency in the southern city of Haskovo, has been detained together with another man, Ara Humanyan, 57, during a police raid.
The police have discovered a total of 590 archaeological artifacts in their properties, including over 200 coins, hundreds of metal and clay items, pithoi, bowls, and appliques.
The police have raided Stanilov and Humanyan’s homes, stores, and cars in Haskovo’s Orpheus Quarter, reports local news site Haskovo.net.
Even though the two men have not been arrested for treasure hunting and/or antiques trafficking before, it becomes clear that they have collected the archaeological artifacts over time, meaning they might have traded some of them in Bulgaria or abroad, says the report.
Stanilov and Humanyan’s arrests have been made public by the Haskovo police and District Prosecutor’s Office at a special news conference.
This is the first time alleged treasure hunters have been arrested in Bulgaria’s Haskovo District with so many artifacts, and it is the second treasure hunting group busted in the region in a week, after the arrest of a gang of three Greek and two Bulgarian treasure hunters near the town of Huhla, Ivaylovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District.
There have been speculations that the two police raids might be connected but that has not been confirmed.
The alleged Haskovo treasure hunting gang led by a senior civil servant is said to be notable not only because of the large quantity of captured archaeological artifacts but also because of their diversity.
Some of the artifacts and coins have been found to date back to the 5th century BC or the Hellenistic Period; a number of them feature images of Ancient Macedon King Philip II (r. 359-336 BC) and his son, Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BD).
The coins seized from the artifacts also include Roman and Byzantine coins from different periods as well as coins of medieval Bulgarian emperor, Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).
It has been noted that the authenticity of the coins is yet to be examined, and that it is possible that some or all of them might be fakes. The examination is to be performed by experts from the National Museum of History in Sofia.
No gold coins have been found in the confiscated coin stashes; all discovered coins are silver, bronze, or lead. This and the confiscation of computer equipment from the suspected treasure hunters’ homes have led to speculations that the suspects might have traded ancient or medieval gold coins in Bulgaria or abroad.
The police and the prosecution have not confirmed that, and have declined to reveal the net worth of the confiscated artifacts and coins.
Some of the ceramic vessels seized from the alleged treasure hunters are Ancient Greek, while some of the artifacts are believed to be Ancient Thracian.
In addition to the artifacts and coins, the police have also seized from Stanilov and Humanyan two illegally owned metal detectors (which have not been registered with the Ministry of Culture, as required by law).
If sentenced, the alleged treasure hunters might get up to 6 years in prison and fines of up to BGN 15,000 (app. EUR 7,500) for the illegal possession of cultural and historical artifacts as per the Cultural Heritage Act. The illegal possession of metal detectors is also punishable by up to 6 years in prison.
The Haskovo District Court, however, has rejected the prosecution’s request for the permanent detention of the two men, and has released them on a bail of BGN 1,000 (app. EUR 500) each.
Stanilov’s lawyer Dimo Stoyanov has stated that his client has been known for his hobby of collecting archaeological artifacts and coins, and that he has been a member of the numismatic society in Haskovo for more than 20 years.
Stanilov himself has told the court that the police have been well aware of his numismatic and archaeological collection because they photographed the artifacts he had at his home during the investigation of a home robbery 6 years ago.
He claims that most of the artifacts and coins are replicas that can be bought in the local flea market, while others such as the pottery vessels have been restored by him personally, for which he has sacrificed a lot of time, efforts, and money.
He also adds he has been aware of the legal requirement introduced 5 years ago with amendments to the Cultural Heritage Act that all collectors register their collections with the Ministry of Culture but thought his collection was not “of such class" so as to warrant registration. He further claims that he has never used the metal detector which he has owned for 5-6 years.
The decision of the Haskovo District Court to release the two treasure hunting suspects on bail can be appealed before the Plovdiv Appellate Court.
Ancient Greek pottery seized from the two alleged treasure hunters in Bulgaria’s Haskovo. Photo: Haskovo.net
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 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.