Large Medieval Gold Treasure Found by Accident by Police, Seized from Treasure Hunters in Bulgaria’s Kazanlak

The Kazanlak (or Kran) medieval gold treasure weights a total of 3 kg, and contains adornments made of gold and semi-precious stones. Photo: BGNES

A large medieval gold treasure consisting of adornments made of the precious metal and semi-precious stones has been discovered by accident by the police in the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria inside the car of what appear to be treasure hunters.

The gold treasure weighs a total of 3 kilograms, and, even though its origins remain unknown, according to archaeologists, it appears to date back to the 12th-14th century, i.e. the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1186-1396/1422).

Initial media reports at first said the seized treasure was Ancient Thracian because Kazanlak is the center of the so called Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings, an area dotted with Ancient Thracian tombs.

However, as the police and the Prosecutor’s Office gave a news conference on the seized treasure, archaeologists have been cited as deeming the treasure to be medieval, and hypothesizing that it may have been found in or near Kran (Krun), a major medieval city located in the area.

The medieval gold treasure has been discovered after the police in Kazanlak pulled over a jeep with two men “with suspicious behavior", the local police has said.

Inside the car, the police officer discovered a collective find of archaeological artifacts – golden earrings (in the form of ear tabs), a bracelet, a necklace, a tiara, seven coins, ceramic fragments, and a tombstone.

The local police and prosecutor’s office have provided scant details about the gold treasure they have seized from treasure hunters. Photo: BGNES

Police sources have said that the two men, who have been arrested, are probably involved in treasure hunting, BGNES reports.

Both of the suspects have criminal records but none of their prior crimes involves treasure hunting.

Two detonators have also been found in the vehicle. The suspects’ homes have also been searched.

The detainees have refused to provide any information about how they acquired the gold treasure and the other artifacts.

The gold and semi-precious stone items have been found by the police in a wooden box in their jeep’s trunk.

When asked by the police officers what was inside the box, the suspects said it contained a chess set, Nova TV reports.

“They don’t have any registration as numismatists so there is no possibility that these things are part from some private collection," District Attorney Dicho Atanasov is quoted as saying.

The investigation is supposed to reveal whether the gold treasure had been intended to be smuggled abroad. The suspects may get up to 6 years in prison if found guilty of illegal treasure hunting, although the overwhelming majority of treasure hunters in Bulgaria usually get away with suspended sentences.

Treasure hunting is rampant in Bulgaria and takes its toll on the country’s numerous archaeological sites on a daily basis. (Learn more in the Background Infonotes below!)

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The seized medieval gold treasure may have originated in the Kran Fortress. Photos: TV grabs from Nova TV

Photo: Press TV

Radoslav Petkov from the Iskra Museum of History in Kazanlak says that the seized gold treasure is probably from the 14th century but that its precise dating is yet to be established through an examination.

“This is probably the treasure of a princess, of a high-ranking lady, so to say, from the 13th-14th century, [the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire]" says archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

He points to the major medieval Bulgarian city of Kran (or Krun), the center of a powerful feudal estate, as a possible source of the gold treasure seized in Kazanlak.

“This was a semi-independent state that existed in that period. It was the seat of Despot Aldimir (d. 1305) who was one of the highest-ranking Bulgarian boyars (bolyars) (i.e. aristocrats)," Ovcharov adds with respect to the Kran Fortress.

In 1230, Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II mentioned Kran in his Dubrovnik Title Deed as the center of an administrative district in the Second Bulgarian Empire called Kranska Hora, and in the Empire’s later period, towards the end of the 13th century it emerged as the semi-autonomous Kran Despotate.

The ruins of the Kran Fortress are located north of the modern-day town of Kran, Kazanlak Municipality.

The jeep of the treasure hunting suspects where the gold treasure has been discovered. Photos: BGNES

Even though the origins of the seized medieval gold treasure are still unclear, the local authorities have already claimed it for the Kazanlak Museum of History.

“[The new Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History] Boni Petrunova at her inauguration said that finds should remain where they have been found in order to enrich the regions," Kazanlak Mayor Galina Stoyanova has stated.

The newly discovered medieval gold treasure seized from the treasure hunters in Kazanlan is reminiscent of other Bulgarian gold treasures from the Late Middle Ages such as the Nikopol Treasure and the Urvich Treasure.

A 17th century silver treasure connected with the 1688 Chiprovtsi Uprising against the Ottoman Empire was discovered under undisclosed circumstances in Northwest Bulgaria in 2016.

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.

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