Archaeologists Find Ancient Thracian Fortress near Bulgaria’s Burgas Bulldozed by Treasure Hunter

The fortress wall of the newly found Ancient Thracian settlement near Bulgaria’s Burgas was 1.5 meters wide. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History via Desant

An Ancient Thracian fortress from the Late Hellenistic Period (2th-1st century BC) has been discovered by archaeologists near the town of Izvor, Burgas District, in Southeast Bulgaria, after the site had been damaged by a treasure hunter.

The treasure hunter is a native from the town of Izvor who resides in Germany. He has managed to do serious damage to the ruins of the Thracian fortress using an excavator, the Desant newspaper reports.

The presence of the said Ancient Thracian site from the Hellenistic Period in Bulgaria’s Burgas District was first noticed two years ago during archaeological field exploration led by Petar Leshtakov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The Thracian fortress is located in an area known as “Kaleto" near Izvor. (“Kale" is a Turkish word meaning “fortress" left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown.)

The need for rescue excavations of what turned out to be a Thracian fortress became urgent recently when a commission from the Inspectorate of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture was touring the area, and by accident caught red handed the local treasure hunter who was literally bulldozing the site to loot its ancient artifacts.

The man, a native of Izvor but residing in Germany as an immigrant, was arrested immediately. He claimed that he had been digging for sand to use as construction material, and that he had asked the town mayor for permission to do so.

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!)

Bulgaria’s police have just recently seized a medieval gold treasure from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (13th-14th century) after it was found by accident in the trunk of a jeep owned by treasure hunters.

One of Bulgaria’s countless archaeological sites that have been destroyed with bulldozers by ruthless modern-day looters is the huge Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria on the Danube, in the country’s Northwest.

As the archaeologists have found, the treasure hunter who was caught bulldozing the Ancient Thracian Hellenistic Period settlement near Izvor in Bulgaria’s Southeast Burgas District probably has not been the only one to raid the site.

An iron ax from the 2nd-1st century BC discovered in the fortified Thracian settlement. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

In October 2017, a team of archaeologists led by Dototeya Gyurdzhiyska from the Burgas Regional Museum of History, with Stiliyan Ivanov from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch Office of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology as deputy head, have carried out rescue excavations on the Ancient Thracian site.

“The four drills that we made have exposed the fencing wall of a fortified settlement from the Hellenistic Era," Gyurdzhiyska is quoted as saying.

“The settlement existed at the time when the already researched [Ancient Thracian] fortresses, the Pharmakida Fortress near Primorsko and the one near Sinemorets (both near the Black Sea coast – editor’s note)," the lead archaeologist adds.

The grave of an Ancient Thracian warrior has recently been discovered near Bulgaria’s Primorsko, close to the Pharmakida Fortress.

“Via the nearby river, the [Thracian fortress] had a direct connection to the Mandra Lake, and was part of the existing network of ancient [Thracian] settlements which were in contact with one another as well as with the Ancient Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast," she elaborates.

Ceramic loom weights discovered in the Ancient Thracian fortres near Izvor. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Today the Mandra Lake Gyurdzhiyska refers to is a fresh-water water reservoir but up until 1963 when it was walled off from the Black Sea, it used to be a salt-water liman directly connected with the Black Sea.

The wall fencing off the Thracian fortress is 1.5 meters wide. Its foundation was built of stone, while its upper parts were built of brick.

In addition to the fortress wall of the fortified Thracian settlement, during their rescue digs, the archaeological team have discovered a number of artifacts – primarily iron items such as an iron ax, spear tips, chisels, ceramic loom weights, and other tools. All of those are dated to late Hellenistic Period (2nd – 1st century BC).

Other finds include a large amount of household pottery, amphorae, and fragmented vessels for keeping grain and other foodstuffs.

A commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture is expected to recommend the all-out archaeological excavations of the Ancient Thracian fortress near Izvor, Burgas District, and that it be fenced off.

At present, the Ancient Thracian archaeological site is part of a pasture, and grazing sheep add to the already sad picture of the treasure hunting raids.

Presently the site of the Ancient Thracian fortress near Izvor is part of a sheep pasture. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The team of archaeologists and local workers who carried out rescue excavations of the Thracian fortress in October 2017. Lead archaeologist Doroteya Gyurdzhiyska is the first on the right in the first row. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Background 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.

***

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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