Roman Era Getae-Dacian Family Tomb Discovered in Bulgaria’s Velikovo in Rescue Excavations after Treasure Hunting Raid

The Roman Era Getae-Dacian tomb discovered near Velikovo in Northeast Bulgaria had been exposed and looted by treasure hunters before the archaeologists made their way to it. Photo: General Toshevo Municipality

The Roman Era Getae-Dacian tomb discovered near Velikovo in Northeast Bulgaria had been exposed and looted by treasure hunters before the archaeologists made their way to it. Photo: General Toshevo Municipality

A Roman Era family tomb with Getae-Dacian, i.e. Thracian features has been discovered near the town of Velikovo, General Toshevo Municipality, in Bulgaria’s northeastern Dobrich District.

The discovery has been made in rescue excavations by archaeologists from the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, with Boyan Totev as lead archaeologist, and Dobri Dobrev as his deputy.

The rescue digs have been undertaken following a brutal treasure hunting raid which had damaged and exposed the tomb, General Toshevo Municipality has announced.

The region around the town of Velikovo is known for numerous necropolises from the Roman Era.

“The combination of rich [funeral] inventories and massive funeral facilities speaks of a specific funeral rite is connected with the local Getae-Dacian population. Indeed, the provincial Roman culture in this part of [the geographic region of] Dobrudzha was distinct in its richness and diversity," the archaeologists explain.

The Getae, or Gets, were Thracian tribes inhabiting the regions on both sides of the Lower Danube in today’s Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania. They established one of the two most important Ancient Thracian kingdoms, the other being the Odrysian Kingdom with its center in the Kazanlak Valley in Central Bulgaria, and capital in Seuthopolis (whose ruins today lie submerged on the bottom of a Communist Era water reservoir).

The Kingdom of the Getae was centered in what is today the enormous Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex, with their capital in the ancient city of Dausdava, the Wolf City. The Getae and the Dacians are believed to have been the one and the same group of Thracian tribes (or very closely related), which is why they are often referred to as Getae-Dacians.

In 46 AD, the Roman Empire completed the conquest of all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube, with the Thracians gradually becoming integrated into the Roman society.

The Thracian (Getian / Dacian) regions north of the Lower Danube were conquered by the Romans under Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) in 106 AD, and were lost in 271 AD, while the rest of Ancient Thrace, south of the Danube, remained part of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) up until the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) south of the Danube in 680-681 AD.

This clay lamp is one of the few ancient artifacts from the tomb inventory left behind by the treasure hunters. Photo: General Toshevo Municipality

This clay lamp is one of the few ancient artifacts from the tomb inventory left behind by the treasure hunters. Photo: General Toshevo Municipality

The newly discovered Roman Era family tomb near Bulgaria’s Velikovo has a trapezoid shape, and is oriented according to the four cardinal directions.

It was built of local roughly processed stones plastered with white mortar. The tomb’s entrance looks to the east, and was covered with stone slabs.

Inside the tomb, to the right, the archaeologists found a stone niche which must have contained an urn with cremated human remains. Before the niche, there is space for funeral gifts.

To the north of that, there is a terraced funeral bed where the archaeologists have discovered scattered human bones.

They have found evidence that this was a Roman Era family tomb which contained several funerals which were performed at different times, using different methods – either by cremation (corpse burning), or by laying the corpse on the funeral bed.

“The [tomb] resembled a house – a final home for the deceased. Inside it were placed numerous funeral gifts designed to be used by the buried in their afterlife. Unfortunately, they have been looted by the treasure hunters who penetrated and violated the funeral complex which had been preserved for nearly 2,000 years," the archaeologists have explained.

Two of the remaining artifacts which have been found inside the tomb by the researchers are a shallow bowl and a clay lamp.

The finds are to be restored and exhibited in the General Toshevo Museum of History which organized the rescue archaeological excavations with funding from General Toshevo Municipality.

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A somewhat damaged shallow ceramic bowl is the other major artifacts that surviving the tomb's treasure hunting raid. Photos: General Toshevo Municipality

A somewhat damaged shallow ceramic bowl is the other major artifacts that surviving the tomb’s treasure hunting raid. Photos: General Toshevo Municipality

Bowl 1Background Infonotes:

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.

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The Getae or Gets were Thracian tribes inhabiting the regions on both sides of the Lower Danube in today’s Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania.

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The Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex is an archaeological preserve located near the town of Sveshtari including over 140 archaeological and cultural monuments – from prehistoric and Thracian necropolises to medieval and modern-day Christian and Muslim shrines. It includes the Sveshtari Tomb and the ruins of the Ancient Thracian city of Dausdava (“Wolf City”) or Helis, capital of the Getae.

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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.