Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Destruction of Europe's Chalcolithic Civilization Shows the Stronger Triumps over the Smarter in World History (Interview Part 2)

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Destruction of Europe’s Chalcolithic Civilization Shows the Stronger Triumps over the Smarter in World History (Interview Part 2)

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Ventsislav (“Ventsi") Gergov is a Bulgarian archaeologist. He was born in Iskar, Pleven District, in 1946. He majored in archaeology at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius", and joined the team of the Pleven Regional Museum of History in 1970. He has specialized in the study of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) in Southeast Europe. After 1999, Gergov became what he calls a “private archaeologist", i.e. an archaeologist that is not affiliated with any institution but works on excavation and research projects assigned to him by different museums, including his former employer. Gergov is best known for the excavations of Chalcolithic settlements in Telish, the Devetashka Cave, Sadovets, and other sites in Northwest and Central North Bulgaria. He is also known for his reconstructions and small scale open-air museums recreating the homes and lifestyle of the prehistoric people from 5,000 BC. Not unlike so many other Bulgarian archaeologists, Gergov is an outspoken critic of the rampant treasure hunting which keeps destroying Bulgaria’s enormous archaeological heritage on a massive scale. He has starred in two international documentaries on the issue, “Plundering the Past" (2009) by Australian journalist David O’Shay, and “Dug" (2017) by German artist and film maker Jan Peter Hammer.

Part 1 of Ventsislav Gergov’s interview for ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com is available here.

 

In the first part of our interview, you talked in detail about the prehistoric settlement in Telish – Redutite which epitomized the height of the Copper Age civilization some 7,000 years ago. Why was this Chalcolithic civilization of Southeast Europe so impressive?

The Chalcolithic civilization of Southeast Europe comprised a large territory with a common culture. It is so impressive because it boasted some of the most impressive, if not the most impressive developments in human history:

The first ever clear-cut distinction between agriculture, i.e. farming, and stock breeding;

Sedentary agriculture and the sophistication of animal domestication and stock breeding – before the Neolithic and especially the Chalcolithic the prehistoric people had more of a nomadic lifestyle, they would move in search for pastures for their herds, whereas here emerged a sedentary civilization with proper settlements and robust homes.

Of course, the most typical thing is the discovery of copper and the emergence and rise of metallurgy (of course, gold had been known much earlier but as native gold, not as processed metal);

The first usage of the metal ax;

The people of Chalcolithic were essentially the same as the people of today, they had the same kinds of feelings and emotions, struggles and challenges.

The sophisticated settlements of this Neolithic – Chalcolithic civilization – its development began in the Neolithic but it matured in the Chalcolithic are found almost all over Bulgaria.

Its most notable, or benchmark settlements include:

The Karanovo Settlement Mound near Karanovo and Nova Zagora in Southern Bulgaria which has the biggest archaeological layers from the Chalcolithic;

The Dyadovo Settlement Mound near Dyadovo and Nova Zagora;

The Azmashka Settlement Mound (Azmashka Mogila) near Stara Zagora, also in Southern Bulgaria;

The Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit") Settlement Mound near Provadiya and Varna in Northeast Bulgaria which is presently being excavated and appears to have been the oldest town in Europe and the oldest salt mining center in Europe;

The Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis near Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast where the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure, has been discovered;

The Yunatsite Settlement Mound near Pazardzhik in Southern Bulgaria is also a very interesting case in hand.

The prehistoric settlements in Pleven District in Central North and in Northwest Bulgaria which I have researched such as the three settlements in Telish and the three settlements in the nearby town of Sadovets are also very interesting in that regard.

The settlement of Ohoden near Vratsa in Northwest Bulgaria is also extremely interesting in that regard, and so are many more prehistoric settlements in Bulgaria, not to mention also the settlements from this civilization in Bulgaria’s neighbors such as Romania and Serbia.

There are a number of Bulgarian and foreign archaeologists working on the excavations and research of the sites of this prehistoric civilization but this is a huge job and it is yet to take a lot of time and scientific effort.

The Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis which I just mentioned above is especially notable because it might have signified the center of this civilization’s world.

It is very interesting that the locations of the major population centers back then were very similar to the modern-day population centers. They were located in plains and valleys, not in inaccessible locations, and were convenient for living.

Take the spot of today’s Black Sea city of Varna, for example. The Chalcolithic people probably had sea connections at Varna, probably coastal sailing, because there are artifacts which speak of connectedness with other parts of Europe and the rest of the Old World.

On the whole, this was a unified Chalcolithic civilization which however was divided in regional centers. The divisions weren’t very stark but there were different regional centers.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov (left) seen here with archaeologist Sergei Torbatov (right) during the filming of German documtary “Dug” at the Ad Putea Roman road station near Riben in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

For historical reasons, the archaeological heritage of Bulgaria (and the Balkans) remains obscure for the global public. How known it is among foreign archaeologists?

Western and international experts are familiar with it very well. Some refer to it as “Old Europe". They, as we, have proven that our region was the center of Europe 7,000 years ago, and was also one of the global centers of prehistoric civilizations, based on the favorable climate conditions, farming and stock breeding, sedentary agriculture, and metallurgy. So this region was the source of cultural impulses, so to say, for the entire continent.

I like joking that 7,000 years ago we, Bulgaria, the Balkans, were a world power, so in another 7,000 years we will probably become a world power once again.

You’ve pointed out that the sites in Telish carry crucial information about the demise of this prehistoric civilization. So how did this Chalcolithic civilization perish?

Unfortunately, ca. 3,200 – 3,000 BC, often characterized as the transition between the Copper Age and the Bronze Age, this sophisticated prehistoric civilization in the Balkans was invaded and destroyed by huge masses of people from the steppes of Southern Russia to whom we refer as proto-Thracians.

The invaders assimilated this rich culture but only to some extent; this Chalcolithic civilization was destroyed and was never revived.

Ca. 3,200 – 3,000 BC was when a severe drought hit the steppes in Southern Russia. This was a climatic calamity, the average temperatures rose. The steppes of today’s Russia had been lush pastures before that. This was also about the time when the desiccation of the Sahara, i.e. its transformation into a desert, was completed in North Africa.

So this drought led to the invasion of huge masses of people (who we call proto-Thracians) from the Russian steppes to Bulgaria’s territory and the rest of the Balkans. This was just the first time our region would see an invasion from there, from the northeast.

Before the drought the steppes of Southern Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, had a substantial population, and its livelihood was connected with stock breeding, so these people had to look for a new place to settle. They knew the horse which was unknown to people from the Chalcolithic civilization in Balkans. The invaders were numerous and stronger, and quickly conquered this high culture, which has never been resurrected.

This first invasion of the steppe people was similar to the Migration Period (Volkerwanderung) of the 5th-6th century AD when Avars, Slavs, Ancient Bulgars, Goths destroyed the Roman Empire and repeatedly humiliated its successor Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, and created a new culture.

The difference is that when the steppe people invaded from the northeast in the Late Antiquity, first Rome and then Byzantium, the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire had proper armies, states, bureaucracies, writing, religion. That is, they had already developed major capacities to resist. The Chalcolithic civilization barely had developed those things.

So when the steppe people invaded the Chalcolithic civilization at the end of the 4th millennium BC, it was like when the Slavs and the Ancient Bulgars settled in the Balkans. Not to use any disparaging language, but the former built straw huts and dugouts and the latter put up their yurtas amid the marble palaces of the Romans.

In other words, in both cases there was a total regress, an all-out regression. One of the main facts in world history is that the stronger wins over the smarter, more educated, and more sophisticated one.

In Telish in Northwest Bulgaria, I have identified a total of five prehistoric settlements, and I have researched three of them, Telish – Redutite, Telish – Laga, and Telish – Pipra, and, as I’ve mentioned, the first one has been completely excavated and researched.

The Telish – Redutite Settlement ended as though after a neutron bomb attack. It was attacked and burned down, and was abandoned. The same is true of prehistoric communities all over the Balkan Peninsula, and this indicates an invasion.

By the way, after the settlement was burned down, all artifacts were left inside the homes. This leads to the conclusion that there might have been a taboo banning these prehistoric people from returning to search the charred ruins. They knеw there were valuable belongings left in the burned homes but they didn’t go back to dig them up.

(They left this job to the treasure hunters in today’s Bulgaria, thousands of years later, as you know.)

So the fact that they didn’t return, for whatever reason, to seek out and pick up their surviving belongings has given us an opportunity to view all finds in context. We’ve been finding them in their purest form, so to say, precisely in their historical places.

The other prehistoric site in Telish which I have researched extensively, Telish – Laga, is also very interesting. There was a hiatus, an interruption of about 100 – 150 years between the existence of the two settlements, Telish – Redutite and of Telish – Laga.

Of course, here the archaeological layers are only 1.5 meters deep (I mentioned that probably the best reference benchmark for those periods in Bulgaria is the Karanovo Settlement Mound where the layers are 12.5 meters deep.

In contrast, the Ezeroto prehistoric site near the nearby town of Sadovets, some 7 kilometers (4 miles) away from Telish, has archaeological layers that are 4 meters deep, which show uninterrupted existence and development for nearly 1,000. These are one layer from the Early Charlcolithic, four from the Late Chalcolithic, and the last and very important one from the so called transitional period between the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, the blank spot in Southeast Europe’s Prehistory which I’ve mentioned.

It is interesting that this period, between 3,200 and 3,000 BC, is characterized by the layer of the discs, the disc handles in Europe. Back then Europe was united just as it is now, the difference is that back then it was swept by a culture from the territories of Southeast Europe.

After that this culture started to wane, and the Crete – Mycenaean Culture began to rise, and the mainland of the Balkan Peninsula, which had been more advanced earlier, became more of a periphery.

So, going back to gist of your question, the fourth stage of the Chalcolithic period represented in the Telish – Redutite settlement, again, the largest fully research archaeological site from this period in all of Europe, the so called Telish culture, is connected with this so called transitional period.

Namely, the replacement, or pushing out, or assimilation, if you wish, of the original Chalcolithic population: from this stage we have homes, stone scepters, much simpler and base pottery – all signs of a population change and of going backwards development-wise. There was a great regress.

What notable artifacts have you found from this period in Telish?

One of the most interesting finds has been a golden jewel, a gold amulet (pictured below – editor’s note), which we discovered in Telish – Laga together with archaeologists from Denmark, the digs were funded by the Danish government. We found it in a necropolis located within the very settlement of Telish – Laga .

This golden jewel has been dated incorrectly by some but it actually dates back to the very beginning of the earliest Bronze Age. It weighs 4 grams, and is about 4.5 centimeters tall. It has the shape of a phallus, and was part of a necklace found in the grave of a 10-12-year-old child.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here back in 2000 showing the phallic-shaped gold decoration found on the neck of a 10-12-year-old child buried in the Early Bronze Age necropolis of the Telish – Laga settlement, in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. The excavations in 2000-2001 in which the artifact was discovered were funded by the government of Denmark. Photo: archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

This phallic-shaped gold decoration was found on the neck of a 10-12-year-old child buried in the Early Bronze Age necropolis of the Telish – Laga settlement, in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. The excavations in 2000-2001 in which the artifact was discovered were funded by the government of Denmark. Photo: archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

How do the Chalcolithic settlements from the prehistoric sites in Sadovets compare to those in Telish – the two towns are roughly 7 kilometers (4 miles) away from one another?

In Sadovets, there are three prehistoric sites of interest – Golemanovo Kale, the Sadovsko Kale – which was researched in the 1940s by a Bulgarian – German expedition, and has Early and Late Chalcolithic layers, and the Ezeroto (“The Lake") site.

The Ezeroto site is located in a picturesque area. As a settlement it had a territory of 3 decares (0.75 acres), and is actually vertically situated, amid inaccessible rocks, and is remarkable in Southeast Europe with its 4 meters of archaeological layers from the Early and Late Chalcolithic.

It demonstrates even more clearly the changing of the population during the so called transitional period from end of the Chalcolithic until the start of the Early Bronze Age because here you can trace the vertical stratigraphy even more clearly. Luckily, the Ezeroto settlement near Sadovets has been preserved with minimal disruptions.

Here e have found the skeleton of a woman from the Late Chalcolithic. The skull has been reconstructed by Prof. Yordan Ivanov, and is kept in the museum in Sofia, with a replica in the Regional Museum of History in Pleven.

In the Ezeroto settlement, we have found much finer and more diverse pottery. Its inhabitants had homes with dividers and ledges. Since they were built right on top of the rock, the prehistoric people used clay to level the floors.

As in Telish and the other prehistoric settlements from this period, they built very robust homes using the clay pressing technique. Unlike the homes in Telish – Redutite, however, the Chalcolithic homes near Sadovets had special niches for keeping handmills for grinding grain.

What’s notable among the idols (statuettes, figurines) found there is the region’s first discovery of a six-legged altar model. So these sites are only 7 kilometers away by air distance but their craftspeople had different views. There are also distinctions between the decorations.

The prehistoric settlements near Sadovets are not far from the site of the late medieval monastery which we researched and restored partly back in the early 1970s, and which has now been completed abandoned and left to collapse. With its three-story tower with a chapel it was the best preserved monastery from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire – but nobody is making any efforts to save it.

The ruins of a 14th century monastery, said to have been the best preserved monastery from the Second Bulgarian Empire, located on the Vit River near Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. The monastery was destroyed by Ottoman bandits in 1822, was partly excavated and restored in 1970, and has been abandoned ever since. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The ruins of a 14th century monastery, said to have been the best preserved monastery from the Second Bulgarian Empire, located on the Vit River near Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. The monastery was destroyed by Ottoman bandits in 1822, was partly excavated and restored in 1970, and has been abandoned ever since. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The ruins of a 14th century monastery, said to have been the best preserved monastery from the Second Bulgarian Empire, located on the Vit River near Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. The monastery was destroyed by Ottoman bandits in 1822, was partly excavated and restored in 1970, and has been abandoned ever since. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Across from it, on the other bank of the Vit River is the Ginena Cave (pictured below – editor’s note), a two-floor cave (actually, it has a total of 4 floors if you count carefully, with wall inscriptions by Bulgarian monks who hid there from repressions in the 18th century when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Inside the cave there is an archaeological layer measuring 1 meter in depth from Prehistory, the early Chalcolithic. No excavations have been carried out there, I have done checked just one pit dug by treasure hunters.

It shows that the chambers of the Ginena Cave were inhabited during the Chalcolithic. However, they are not so large – individual families inhabited them and used them for defense.

Above the monastery is the Golemanovo Kale fortress, a Roman fortress with Chalcolithic layers underneath, with very nice pottery from the Sadovets Culture.

Across from it the Sadovsko Kale fortress, also a Roman military outpost. By the way, in those times enemy attacks weren’t the only problem – a problem was also the presence of numerous wild beasts, especially wolves. So people actually built barriages and enclosures in order to be able to keep them at bay.

A view from across the Vit River of the Ginena Cave near the town of Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. Sadovets, located 7 kilometers away from Telish, is also the home of several highly intriguing settlements from the Chalcolithic civilization, alongside settlements from later historical periods such as the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A view from across the Vit River of the Ginena Cave near the town of Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. Sadovets, located 7 kilometers away from Telish, is also the home of several highly intriguing settlements from the Chalcolithic civilization, alongside settlements from later historical periods such as the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

A view from across the Vit River of the Ginena Cave near the town of Sadovets, Northwest Bulgaria. Sadovets, located 7 kilometers away from Telish, is also the home of several highly intriguing settlements from the Chalcolithic civilization, alongside settlements from later historical periods such as the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

You have researched also the prehistoric remains in the Devetashka Cave in the Lovech District, also in Central North Bulgaria, which is famous as a natural landmark but also largely ignored by the public as archaeological site. Of course, in the communist period, it was used as a military facility, which hasn’t helped in that regard. What have you discovered there?

The first excavations in the Devetashka Cave were done in 1952 because of the construction of military storage depots – fuel tanks for the military airfield in Kamenets – by archaeologists Vasil Mikov and Nikolay Dzhambazov. These weren’t exactly excavations – heavy machines were sent in the cave machines, and the archaeologists studied the material that they removed.

But the Devetashka Cave is a prehistoric site dating back to 70,000 years ago, from the Early Paleolithic until the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, the Bronze Age, the Thracians. It has been in use until the Modern Era.

The cave generally offers good living conditions – but I’ve also been there in the winter and they aren’t that great because the water inside freezes. It is nice and cool in the summer.

Yet, the prehistoric people didn’t actually live directly in the cave. They used it as a shelter. They still built their own homes but inside the cave. It was more of a shelter since there was a settlement right in front of it.

Although much of the material in the Devetashka Cave has been destroyed by the Bulgarian military during the communist period, there are still well preserved archaeological layers and great finds, especially from the period in which I am interested the most – from the Neolithic until the Late Chalcolithic.

By the way, a very intriguing find is a fragment from a vessel decorated with white and red paint from the end of the Neolithic – about 6,000 BC – which features a depiction of a swastika.

The swastika is widely deemed an Ancient Indian symbol brought to Southeast Europe about 2,000 BC. However, the swastika from the Devetashka Cave dates back to 6,000 BC. Of course, it is just a decoration, nothing more.

Inside the cave, among the many other finds, we have discovered lion bones from the Late Chalcolithic, and we know that lions inhabited parts of Bulgaria and the Balkans until the Antiquity period.

It is easy to dig in the Devetashka Cave because the soil inside it is loess. We have found in the cave prehistoric wooden planks which are so smooth they might as well have been produced with modern-day machinery. There have also been plenty of pottery vessels with decorations, arrow tips, etc. I don’t know what is on display now since I don’t know the situation now in the Lovech Regional Museum of History which keeps the finds.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov (left) shows German artist and film maker Jan Peter Hammer the prehistoric home he built based on his discoveres in Telish during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The front side and entrance of the prehistoric home built by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov based on his discoveries at the cultural community club in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The front side and entrance of the prehistoric home built by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov based on his discoveries at the cultural community club in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The back side of the prehistoric home built by archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov based on his discoveries at the cultural community club in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Based on your archaeological excavations and research, you have built several museums demonstrating the life of the people from the Chalcolithic civilization of Southeast Europe ca. 5,000 BC, including by building replicas of their actual clay homes. How did you go about doing that?

I have created several museums. One is an open-air museum with a fully recreated prehistoric home from the Chalcolithic near the cultural community club (chitalishte) in Telish (pictured above – editor’s note).

It was built with development under MATRA, a development program of the government of the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, it is not managed well by those in charge of its management, and is getting dilapidated. It is also unfinished – there was supposed to be a second home as well as opportunities for prehistoric crafts and practical archaeology. If developed further and managed well, it still has the potential to become a major cultural tourism landmark, and to generate employment for the locals because it does feature an authentic replica of a prehistoric home. Right now, though, the whole project is falling apart.

I’ve created a second open-air museum of this kind in Dyadovo, Nova Zagora Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, not far from the Dyadovo Settlement Mound. And I have also created a nice museum of replicas of many of the Chalcolithic pottery finds from Telish and other sites in the Tera ceramics plant in the town of Cherven Bryag (Telish is part of Cherven Bryag Municipality).

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov back in 2010 showing schoolchildren around the prehistoric home he recreated in Telish, Northwest Bulgaria, based on his research. Photo: archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

It is an undisputed fact that Bulgaria is the land of the oldest gold in the world, or, more specifically, the world’s oldest gold treasure, the Varna Gold Treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, or the world’s earliest gold processed by humans through metallurgy. Yet, a number of other gold artifacts and items have been discovered all over Bulgaria, and many of them claim the title of the oldest (processed) gold (treasure) in the world. So in your view as an expert in the Chalcolithic, which is the oldest gold in the world?

In my view, it is the Varna Gold Treasure. There have been small finds such as gold beads or even larger finds in various sites in recent years but they don’t resolve the main issue, that is, they are not big enough in order to be representative enough. Not to mention the fact that an individual gold bead could always have fallen deeper from the later archaeological layers above.

Chronologically, the prehistoric gold treasure from the Hotnitsa Settlement Mound (near Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria) is even older than the Varna Gold Treasure, it is from the Early Chalcolithic.

But you need the whole picture, the big picture, when it comes to gold processed through metallurgy. Because the prehistoric people knew gold much earlier thanks to nuggets and native gold. In my view, the finds from Durankulak, Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit"), Hotnitsa, other places, aren’t representative enough of this major shift in which humans began processing gold through metallurgy.

The Durankulak gold is also too small to be characteristic of that. Even older gold beads might found but, again, that wouldn’t resolve the main issue the way the Varna Gold Treasure does. What solves the main issue is when you discover a find that is large enough and therfore with a fundamental historical meaning, and can thus be considered a benchmark. This is my personal view, and you can construe it any way you like.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

You and I have already helped with two international documentaries about Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight: the horrendous destruction that rampant treasure hunting does to the global archaeological and historical heritage that is found in Bulgaria. As early as 2001, 17 years ago, you compared Bulgaria’s treasure hunters to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Why? What’s the situation with treasure hunting in Bulgaria?

That had to do with what the Taliban did in March 2001 when they blew up and destroyed the two statues of Gautam Buddha in the Bamyan Valley in Afghanistan.

Bulgaria’s treasure hunters have been doing basically the same thing for decades – they have been destroying not just the movable but also the immovable part of Bulgaria’s immense archaeological wealth! Or, rather, in order to steal the artifacts they are after, when looting, they also destroy the actual archaeological sites, monuments, structures that harbor them. That’s what the Taliban did when they dynamited the Buddhas of Bamyan.

More than 90% of the artifacts harvested on a daily basis by treasure hunters from all over Bulgaria goes to exports, i.e. gets smuggled to auction houses and collectors in Western Europe, the USA, Japan, the Arab world, you name it.

The newest trend in treasure hunting in Bulgaria is plowing with tractors in order to be able to reach the deeper layers. Regular metal detectors can detect finds at a depth of 30 centimeters (1 foot). So now there is more and more plowing. These people are destroying our heritage every day.

In other countries which are as rich in terms of archaeology as Bulgaria is – such as Italy, Greece, and Turkey – archaeological sites are much better protected. In Turkey, they might even shoot you if you transgress.

There has been treasure hunting in what are today’s Bulgarian territories since at least the Antiquity.

Yet, the old time treasure hunters (i.e. from before the 1990s) with their shovels and pickaxes and maps of hidden coin hoards and treasures caused minimal damages.

Whereas since the 1990s when treasure hunters have been equipped with metal detectors, scanners, tractors, bulldozers, excavators, the scale of treasure hunting and the respective destruction of archaeological sites all across Bulgaria has grown exponentially.

Pits and craters dug by treasure hunters on the site of the huge Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria which has been utterly devastated by modern-day Bulgarian treasure hunters over the past 30 years. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Pits and craters dug by treasure hunters on the site of the huge Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria which has been utterly devastated by modern-day Bulgarian treasure hunters over the past 30 years. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Pits and craters dug by treasure hunters on the site of the huge Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria which has been utterly devastated by modern-day Bulgarian treasure hunters over the past 30 years. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The Danube River, with the Romanian (northern) bank in the background, as viewed from the site of the huge Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria which has been utterly devastated by modern-day Bulgarian treasure hunters over the past 30 years. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

It is safe to say that every single small town or village in Bulgaria has at least 5 – 10 active treasure hunters, not to mention those from the bigger cities who eagerly practice it as a hobby or are outright professionals.

Bulgaria’s legislation and law enforcement practices provide for catching only the small fish, those treasure hunters who haven’t or are unable to cover their backs.

Of course, in its gist, treasure hunting is largely due to the fact that since the dawn of civilization people have been trying to find riches in the easiest way possible – we have all read stories about pirates and treasures, bandits and robbers.

Then there is the excitement of seeking and finding something like, and the addition to this sort of activity. It often becomes a craze.

Take the alleged treasures supposedly hidden by legendary Valchan Voivode, a 19th century guerrilla freedom fighter against the Ottoman Empire – the treasure hunters are searching for his riches on a daily basis all across Bulgaria.

The treasure hunting craze has been pronounced in weird ways. I have seen correspondence from treasure hunters during the communist period who wrote the then Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov insisting that Bulgaria’s then foreign debts could be paid off by discovering treasures (or coin hoards) such as those supposedly stashed somewhere by Valchan Voivode.

Of course, the vast majority of modern-day treasure hunters in Bulgaria aren’t searching for coin hoards – they directly target and rob archaeological sites. And while precious metals finds are their favorite, all kinds of artifacts are of interest – clay figurines, pottery vessels, ancient armaments, icons, even architectural fragments – anything you can think of that is prehistoric, ancient, or medieval, and can be sold or smuggled.

Part of Bulgaria’s huge treasure hunting problem is indeed connected with the post-communist economic collapse in the 1990s when all over the provincial regions Communist Era factories were shut down, and the workers were laid off creating large-scale unemployment.

Of course, that is just part of the picture. There has been greater lawlessness and impunity, improved access to technology, and when somebody actually finds something – a small coin, for example, their imagination starts working. They keep hoping for greater finds, it’s addictive, sort-of like gambling.

There are many who find very little but keep toiling on a daily basis. And there are many who find good stuff but have to sell it for small change to the next level of buyers up the trafficking chain.

The rampant treasure hunting in today’s Bulgaria is indeed a complex, complicated phenomenon

Impunity is a huge factor. There are laws that aren’t good enough, and still aren’t enforced. The local police, especially in the small towns and villages in the provinces often prefer to shut their eyes.

Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage – or, rather, the part of the global archaeological heritage found in Bulgaria – is immense. It is known that Bulgaria is third in Europe after Italy and Greece in terms of archaeological monuments.

That is partly due to the fact that the territories of all three of them were the center of the Greco – Roman world. I’ve already discussed in detail above the impressive prehistoric civilization from the Chalcolthic, and the Middle Ages in this part of the world were also very, very dynamic.

Against the backdrop of Bulgaria having thousands of archaeological sites, many of them have been dug up, and re-excavated dozens of times, especially the upper layers.

It is hard to determine whether treasure hunting in Bulgaria is growing or declining. But it is safe to say that it is a constant trend.

Now that many of the fortresses have been plundered and researched, the treasure hunters have started just heading to the fields with their metal detectors, and looking for random finds. And the largest finds actually are from outside the fortress, not inside them.

The solution to Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight is to enforce the laws but there is nobody to do that. In Greece, you are not allowed to pick up a single pottery fragment from a site, and in Turkey they directly shoot at you.

Today every Bulgarian village of, say 500 inhabitants, has at least 7-8 active treasure hunters. They have tractors, bulldozers, there is nobody to stop them. When you consider also the “professionals" and those who get in the car on weekends to get away from the city by looting archaeological sites, the figure is huge.

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov is seen here examining fresh digging by treasure hunters in the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oscus in Central North Bulgaria during the filming of German documentary “Dug”. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

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Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov: Chalcolithic Civilization from 7,000 Years Ago Was the Height of Southeast Europe, Bulgaria (Interview, Part 1)

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Appendix: Selection of Papers Published by Archaeologist Ventsislav Gergov

(Bibliographic reference by Vili Tomova, Hristo Smirnenski Regional Library, Pleven – 45 articles, Bulgarian, Russian, English, French, German, Romanian, drafted November 2016)

1. Разкопки в м. „Пипра" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1976 г. – София, 1977, с.24.

2. Разкопки в м. Чаира при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1977. – София, 1978, с. 33.

3. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1977 г. – София, 1978, с. 34.

4. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1978 г. – София, 1979, с. 29.

5. Праисторически находки от пещерата при с. Муселиево, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите от Северозападна България, 3, 1979, с. 35-55.

6. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1979 г. – София, 1980, с. 38-39.

7. Археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Окръжна археологическа конференция. – Плевен, 1980, с. 10-14.

8. Разкопки в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1980 г. – София, 1981, с. 29-30.

9. Праисторическото селище при с. Телиш и неговото място в етнокултурния комплекс Криводол – Салкуца – Бубани / Венцислав Гергов. // Научна сесия „История на Плевенския край" посветена на 1300 години от създаването на българската държава : Резюмета на докл. и науч. съобщения. – Плевен, 1981, с.17-19.

10. Epee de bronze du village Odarne, department de Pleven. / V. Gergov // Stud. Praehist., 5-6, 1981, p. 152-153 : с ил.

11. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1981 г. – София, 1982, с.17-18.

12. Разкопки на праисторическото селище при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1982. – София, 1983, с. 20.

13. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1983 г. – София, 1984, с. 29-30.

14. Праисторическо селище в местността Редутите при с. Телиш [Плевенско] / Венцислав Гергов. // Музеи и паметници на културата, 1985, №1, с.31-33.

15. Кремъчни оръдия от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов, Иван Гацов, Свобода Сиракова. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 10, 1985, с. 9-23.

16. Идолната пластика от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Юбилейна научна сесия на СНР [Съюз на научните работници] съвместно с ВМИ : Резюмета. – Плевен, 1985, с. 124.

17. Медни находки от праисторическото селище в м. Редутите при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археология, 1987, №4, с. 44-54.

18. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Плевенски окръг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 1986 г. – Разград, 1987, с. 24-25.

19. Разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. „Редутите" при с. Телиш, Ловешка област / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки за 1987 г. – Благоевград, 1988, с. 33.

20. Праисторические исследования пещер в Центральной Северной Болгарии / Венцисла Гергов. // International congress of Speleologie, X. Budapest, 1989 : Proceedings-comminications. – Т.2. – Budapest, 1989, p. 340-343.

21. Мястото на селището Телиш – Редутите в проблема за Преходния период в България / Венцислав Гергов. // Археология, 1992, №2, с. 49.

22. Глинен олтар от праисторическото селище [в местността „Редутите"] при Телиш, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 18, 1992, с. 29-33 : 4 с. ил.

23. Доисторическое поселение Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Stud. Praehist., 11-12, 1992, с. 347-357.

24. Праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите и проблема за прехода между енеолита и бронзовата епоха в България / Венцислав Гергов. // Год. на Департамент Археология – Нов български университет, 1, 1994, с. 303-306.

25. Каменни зооморфни скиптри от праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Експедиция „Марица-Изток" : Археологически проучвания. – Т. II. – София, 1994, с. 73-78.

26. Палеолитно находище при село Муселиево / Венцислав Гергов. // Плевен 95 : 90 г. археологически разкопки и проучвания : [Култ.-информ. бюл.]. – Плевен, 1995, с. 3.

27. Праисторическото селище Телиш – Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Плевен95 : 90 г. археологически разкопки и проучвания : [Култ.-информ. бюл.]. – Плевен, 1995, с. 4.

28. A Dwelling of Telish IV / Ventsislav Gergov. // Early bronze age settlement patterns in the Balkans (ca. 3500 – 2000 BG, Calibrated dates) : Reports of prehistoric research projects, V. 1, Nos. 2-4, Apr. – Dec. 1995 (1996) : Part 2 / Comp. and ed. by : Lolita Nikolova. – Sofia, 1996, p. 309-322.

29. Научна конференция „Археологически данни за ползата и присъствието на кучето в бита на човека от Югоизточна Европа" / Венцислав Гергов. (Из живота на музеите през 1996-1997 г.) / Венцислав Гергов. // Известия на музеите в Северозападна България, 25, 1997, с. 407-408.

30. Керамични статуетки на седящи богини от Телиш-Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Тракия и съседните райони през неолита и халколита : Сб. докл. от V нац. конф. по праистория, Караново, 31 май-1 юни 1999 / Под ред. Васил Николов. – София, 2000, с. 101-106 : с ил.

31. Селища от късния неолит в Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Палеобалканистика и старобългаристика : Втори есенни междунар. четения Проф. „Иван Гълъбов". – В. Търново, 2001, с.397-413.

32. Catera date despre aserazlie neoliticului tarzin olin imprejurimite orasului Plevna-Bulgaria / Ventsislav Gherghov. // Oltenia Studii si comunicari Arheologie – Istorie. – Craiova, 2001, p.29-32.

33. Спасителни археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Езерото при с. Садовец, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов и др. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2003 г. : XLIII Нац. археолог. конф. : Резюмета. – София, 2004, с. 39-40.

34. Телиш – Редутите: синхронизация със селища в Тракия / Венцислав Гергов. // Праисторическа Тракия : Докл. от междунар. симпозиум в Стара Загора, 30.09-04.10.2003 / Ред. Васил Николов и др. – София-Стара Загора, 2004, с. 437-448.

35. Спасителни археологически разкопки в Деветашката пещера / Венцислав Гергов, М. Валентинова. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2004 г. – София, 2005, с. 60-62.

36. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. Стражица при с. Лепица, Плевенско / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2005 г. – София, 2006, с. 32-33.

37. Спасителни археологически разкопки в Деветашката пещера / Венцислав Гергов, М. Валентинова. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2005 г. – София, 2006, с.33-34

38. Археологически разкопки на праисторическото селище в м. Лъга – с. Телиш, община Червен бряг / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2006 г. – София, 2007, с. 32-33 : с ил.

39. Die pastos bemalte Keramik aus der finalkupferzeitlichen Siedlung Telis-Redutite, Zentral-Nordbulgarien. / V. Gergov. // Prae Honorem Henrieta Todorova / Ed. M. Stefanovich, Ch. Angelova. – Sofia, 2007, p. 135-141.

40. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езеро" при с. Садовец, община долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2008 г. – София, 2008, с. 81-83.

41. Петрографска и типологична характеристика на каменни оръдия от халколитното селище Телиш, Плевенска област / Венцислав Гергов. // Геология и минерални ресурси, XVI, 2009, №1-2, с. 51-53.

42. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езерото" при с. Садовец, община Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2008 г. – София, 2009, с. 106-108 : сх.

43. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езерото" при с. Садовец, общ. Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2009 г. – София, 2011, с. 83-84.

44. Керамични тарамбуки от праисторическото селище Телиш-Редутите / Венцислав Гергов. // Златното Пето хилядолетие: Тракия и съседните райони през каменно-медната епоха : Докл. от межд. симпозиум, Пазарджик, Юндола, 26-30.10.2009. – София, 2011, с. 265-271.

45. Археологически проучвания на праисторическото селище в м. „Езеро" при с. Садовец, община Долни Дъбник / Венцислав Гергов. // Археологически открития и разкопки през 2011 г. – София, 2012, с. 80-82.

Sources: Pleven Regional Library; Pleven Regional Museum of History; St. Cyril and St. Methodius National Library in Sofia; Library of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”; Library of New Bulgarian University in Sofia; personal archive.

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