Numerous Challenges Plague Bulgaria’s Archaeologists despite Profession’s ‘Romantic Image’, Report Says

Hard physical labor is just the tip of the iceberg among the many challenges that archaeologists in Bulgaria face in their archaeological excavations and overall daily work. Photo: Kmeta

Hard physical labor is just the tip of the iceberg among the many challenges that archaeologists in Bulgaria face in their archaeological excavations and overall daily work. Photo: Kmeta

Despite the “romantic image” of the archaeological profession in Bulgaria, Bulgaria’s archaeologists are faced with numerous challenges on a daily basis, according to a journalistic report.

Rough terrains, tough work, a stubborn bureaucracy, lack of skilled workers, low pay, the treasure hunting mafia, and even family problems caused by long absences from home are among the major difficulties for the Bulgarian archaeologists, according to a feature article of local news site Kmeta.

“Contrary to the legends about this profession, it turns out that in order to discover new treasures, the scholars have to demonstrate a rare combination of endurance, patience, and the ability to react immediately,” writes journalist Nikolay Ivanov.

“On the ground, we are often faced with unexpected situations in which our actual job is the least of our problems,” Ass. Prof. Dr. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, is quoted as saying.

The report describes a typical day of archaeological field work starting with getting up at 5 am, beginning excavations at 6 am, retiring in the early afternoon to process and document the newly found artifacts, and affording time for rest only after sunset, late in the evening.

Before being able to start actual field work on archaeological sites, however, the Bulgarian archaeologists are forced to cope with the “curse of the Bulgarian bureaucracy” requiring a myriad of permits and piles of paperwork.

Another problem in sites with rough terrain or in mountain areas is the lack of transport infrastructure, with archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov recalling numerous occasions in which heavy equipment for field research in the rock city of Perperikon was transported by hand or by donkeys and mules rented from nearby villages.

The lack of skilled workers for archaeological excavations is another problem for the Bulgarian archaeologists.

Typically, unemployed but also unskilled locals are hired, often through the local authorities, for work on archaeological digs; sometimes the job is performed by prisoners. The efficiency of these unskilled workers, however, is often in question.

Volunteering students are also a source of labor but their work can also be problematic.

“In archaeology, a natural ability for summarizing and spatial thinking is required. Adding the trouble with the treasure hunting mafia in Bulgaria, undeserved reproach by government officials, and the low pay, one must be really obsessed with seeking out history in the ground in order to be having fun with the pity that you generate even in the prisoners that are hired as diggers,” Vagalinski is quoted as saying.

He adds that the Bulgarian society has the wrong idea of archaeology as a “romantic adventure”.

The report emphasized the meager pay of the Bulgarian archaeologists regardless of whether they are museum staff, university professors, or employees of the institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

It is noted that their monthly salary is usually up to BGN 700 (app. EUR 350), with an average daily pay of BGN 30 (app. EUR 15) per day for field work.

The report also points out the variations in the past few years in the generally modest annual budget allocated for field research and archaeological excavations by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture:

2009 – BGN 440,000 (app. EUR 220,000)
2010 – BGN 842,000 (app. EUR 420,000)
2011 – BGN 1 million (app. EUR 500,000)
2012 – BGN 1.12 million (app. EUR 550,000)
2013 – BGN 500,000 (app. EUR 250,000)
2014 – BGN 2.3 million (app. EUR 1.15 million)
2015 – BGN 500,000 (app. EUR 250,000)
2016 – BGN 1.5 million (app. EUR 750,000)

The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture is not the only source of funding for archaeological research (others being special decisions of the Bulgarian Cabinet, the local authorities, NGOs, and business donors) but it is considered the mainstream source, and the sums it allocates are indicative of the government’s priorities in the field.

The data shows that so far 2014 has been the year with the largest funding – а record BGN 2.3 million (app. EUR 1.15 million). Interestingly, it turns out that 2016 is the year with the second largest Ministry of Culture funding for archaeological research in Bulgaria to date.

Despite the numerous challenges, Bulgaria’s archaeologist continue to make highly intriguing discoveries, with the report reminding of the most recent ones: the grave of a medieval Bulgarian princess built into a stone church near Trudovets; the grave of man holding a scepter ax in Chalcolithic necropolis in Kamenovo; an Ancient Roman fortress at a rock shrine near Angel Voyvoda; an Ancient Roman pillar with inscription dedicated to Emperor Philip the Arab near Troyan.

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