The 5-meter-deep hole dug up by the arrested treasure hunters in an ancient burial mound near Brod in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: TV grab from BNT
Two treasure hunters have been arrested while digging near a chapel in Southern Bulgaria leading the archaeologists examining the site to discover that the looters had actually exposed a necropolis of ancient burial mounds.
The two men aged 54 and 61 were arrested in early May during illegal excavations close to the St. Nedelya (Holy Sunday) chapel in the town of Brod, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District, in Southern Bulgaria, close to the Maritsa River, in a region was historically part of Ancient Thrace, and, in particular, of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st AD).
“We are witnessing just another treasure hunting raid, so to say, which, however, has been intercepted successfully by the police this time," Stanislav Iliev, archaeologist and head curator at the Archaeology section of the Haskovo Regional Museum of History, has told BNT.
“This is a site of burial mounds. For the time being, we are unable to say what period they date back from because we are just about to examine the necropolis and the material that has been mined there," he adds.
Neli Krasteva, an archaeologist from the Dimitrovgrad Museum of History, points out that there are many legends about the site where the treasure hunters have been arrested because it is considered a holy place.
Before they were busted, the two arrested treasure hunters had dug up a hole that was 5 meters deep and 1.5 meters wide. The police have found their shovels and pickaxes near the hole, and a metal detector in their car.
Each one of what seem to be five burial mounds located near one another near the chapel in the town of Brod appear to bear traces from treasure hunting raids. The entire site of the ancient necropolis is yet to be thoroughly explored by archaeologists.
The destruction of archaeological sites for treasure hunting purposes is punishable with 1 to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to BGN 50,000 (EUR 25,000) under Bulgarian law but first-time offenders usually get away with suspended sentences.
A total of five burial mounds have been identified around the site where the arrest has been made. Photos: TV grabs from BNT
Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites is a rampant crime in Bulgaria and takes its horrendous toll on the country’s enormous cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, the public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement fails to crack down on them sufficiently and is often suspected of collaborating with the respective organized crime groups, and many people in the countryside see treasure hunting as a form of decent full or part time employment.
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 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.