Roman Woman’s Bronze Statuette, 300 More Artifacts Seized from Treasure Hunters Showcased in Exhibition in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik

This 2nd-3rd century AD Ancient Roman bronze statuette of a woman is the emblem of the exhibition of artifacts rescued from treasure hunters in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik. Photo: Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History

A total of 300 archaeological artifacts from different ages, including a 2nd-3rd century AD Ancient Roman bronze figurine of a woman, which have been seized from treasure hunters in Bulgaria’s southern Pazardzhik District, have been showcased in a special exhibition of the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History.

Somewhere between thousands and hundreds of thousands of treasure hunters, amateurs and professionals alike, are estimate to roam Bulgaria’s countryside every day in search of archaeological prey, often destroying sites that are invaluable to the history of humankind.

Thousands of archaeological artifacts have been seized from treasure hunters and antique traffickers in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik District in the past five years, the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History has announced.

Between 2012 and 2017, the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History received a total of 1,500 such artifacts, and the “Prof. Mieczyslaw Domaradzki" Museum of Archaeology in the town of Septemvri received some 1,300 artifacts that have been captured from treasure hunters.

Some 300 of these have been made part of an exhibition entitled “Rescued Cultural Riches" designed to showcase the most interesting of them while further raising awareness of the plight of treasure hunting.

The Pazardzhik Museum’s exhibition with archaeological finds seized from treasure hunters is by far not the first of its kind in Bulgaria.

The items have been showcased as they were seized. Archaeologists and museum experts, however, have little clue about their origins because the arrested treasure hunters traditionally deny any involvement in treasure hunting, and, respectively, do not reveal the places where the artifacts were harvested.

The bronze figurine depicting a Roman woman. Photo: TV grab from BNT

An Ancient Roman female figurine made of bronze, and dating back to the Late Antiquity has been picked as the emblem of the exhibition of rescued artifacts in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik.

“This statuette really deserves attention. It is a bronze statuette from the 2nd-3rd century AD of a Roman woman," says Boris Hadzhiyski, Director of the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History, as cited by BNT.

Valentina Taneva, chief curator of the Museum’s Archaeology Department, often accompanies the police in their raids against treasure hunters. In one such raids, the police officers seized the ancient ceramic vessels that are on display in the exhibition.

“These vessels have been seized in a restaurant owned by one of the offenders. They had been kept in the restaurant’s refrigerator, and some of them contained a large number of silver rings," explains the archaeologist.

Other items featured in the “Rescued Cultural Riches" exhibition in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik include adornments, metal works, coins, arms, ethnographic items, and works of art such as icons.

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Adornments and pottery vessels displayed in the exhibition. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Destruction by treasure hunters continues on a daily basis in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik District – as it does everywhere in Bulgaria – even though a number of the looters have actually been sentenced for their crimes in the past five years.

“A total of 35 people have been sentenced, mostly to fines or suspended sentences," Museum Director Hadzhiyski says.

“It seems that more effective sentences are need because at the end of the day they are let go," adds Taneva.

By the end of 2017, the History Museum in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik is expected to receive the archaeological artifacts seized from treasure hunters under a total of three court trials currently in progress.

Bulgaria’s treasure hunters often use heavy or hi-tech equipment for their destructive raids, as demonstrated by these police photos from the exhibition. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The exhibition of archaeological and historical artifacts seized from treasure hunters, “Rescued Cultural Riches", which was formally opened for visitors on November 1, 2017, can be seen until December 1, 2017, at the Pazardzhik Museum of History.

Among other things, the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History in known as the home of the finds from the prehistoric Yunatsite Settlement Mound, including the recently discovered gold bead and gold amulet which vie with other prehistoric gold treasures from Bulgaria for the title of the world’s oldest gold items.

The official poster for the “Rescued Cultural Riches” exhibition in Bulgaria’s Pazardzhik. Photo: Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History

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 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.



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