Front cover of the book “Plunder Paradise” by Ivan Dikov, publisher of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com*
Three “species" of treasure hunters dubbed “diggers", “yuppies" and “super experts", whose a total number is in the low six figures, are destroying the world archaeology and history heritage found in Bulgaria in a criminal industry worth up to 1 billion US dollar per year, reveals the new book “Plunder Paradise" by Ivan Dikov, the founder and publisher of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com.
What is likely the most comprehensive popular book on treasure hunting looting in Bulgaria is based on the author’s wide-ranging, in-depth experience of covering the topic for more than 11 years as an English-language journalist in international online media, and as the fixer in two international documentaries on treasure hunting and archaeology in Bulgaria: the 2009 documentary “Plundering the Past" shot for SBS TV Australia’s Dateline program by journalist David O’Shay in 2009, and the DUG documentary shot by German director and visual artist Jan Peter Hammer in 2016.
“Tackling treasure hunting and the trafficking of archaeological artifacts is extremely crucial the preservation and survival of the immensely impressive global historical and archaeological heritage found on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria," says Ivan, who is presently also the editor-in-chief of EU-focused news site The European Views.
“This heritage is important in itself, just as important all pieces of world history at any place. Its constant destruction by an estimated hundreds of thousands of treasure hunters “mining" and “harvesting" artifacts worth at least hundreds of millions of US dollars per year is robbing the entire world of its history – not to mention that it’s robbing Bulgaria of its gigantic cultural tourism potential," he elaborates.
Set against the backdrop of the scary legacy of post-communism and the rule of law failures of post-communism, the book “Plunder Paradise" tackles the tragedy of modern-day treasure hunting in Bulgaria through the lens of the author’s diverse personal experience of raising awareness about the topic, starting in the sixth grade in a middle school in Central North Bulgaria, and eventually progressing to the founding of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, a web portal dedicated to telling the world of Bulgaria’s astounding archaeological and historical riches, but also of how they are being destroyed.
“Apart from my other travels off the beaten path all over Bulgaria, being able to participate in two documentaries on the treasure hunting topic, seven years apart, really gave the chance to compare the treasure hunting destruction from the perspective of time. Both filming trips included many of the same locations, and it has seemed as if treasure hunter looting is just business as usual. I’d say it’s getting worse, others say it’s doing just the same daily and annual destruction as 10 years ago. The consensus is that the situation is definitely not getting better," Ivan elaborates.
During at least one point of his international documentary filming trips, Ivan’s life – and the lives of the entire filming crew members – were in very serious danger when they tried to film treasure hunters digging on the spot in Ratiaria, a once huge Roman arsenal city on the Danube River in today’s Northwest Bulgaria, which used to be a colony of the city of Rome but today symbolizes the barbarian devastation caused by looters hunting for treasure, i.e. archaeological artifacts, all over Bulgaria.
“As somebody who cares tremendously about history, world history, the global historical heritage, just the theoretical knowledge of what’s been happening with the treasure hunting plunder in Bulgaria is devastating enough. When you happen to see it with your own eyes, when you manage to catch those plunderers “at work", it’s just stupefying. You just get hypnotized by the abyss of nothingness that’s being dug up, both figuratively and literally, right in front of you!" Ivan says.
“Archaeologists and other experts have been comparing modern-day Bulgaria’s treasure hunters to the Taliban or the Huns… But they are probably even worse. There are these incredible historical and archaeological riches from the variety of human civilizations that have developed in Bulgaria – from the Prehistory to the Modern Era – which have survived for many thousands of years, and then a predator from some of the three treasure hunting species shows up and shatters them in our very day," the book author elaborates.
Back cover of the book “Plunder Paradise” by Ivan Dikov, publisher of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com
In addition to personal experiences and impressions, the book “Plunder Paradise" uses lots of anecdotal evidence, case studies, experts’ estimates, and lots of current news stories all put together as the pieces of one giant puzzle in order to look in-depth into the criminal industry estimated to have an annual turnover of up to 1 billion US dollars, and whose greatest beneficiaries are said to be a handful of top-level traffickers and numerous collectors in Western Europe, North America, the Persian Gulf, the Far East, and even Australia.
The book traces the origins of treasure hunting all the way to the time of the Ottoman Empire and the communist regime in Bulgaria in the second half of the 20th century – each of those “yokes", as they are usually seen in Bulgarian history, had people in leadership positions with soft spots for treasure hunting.
It then reveals how the end of communism in 1989 has happened to have the unfortunate effect of “democratizing" treasure hunting in Bulgaria as well in the sense that it has made metal detectors easily accessible even for the poorest looters in the Bulgarian countryside, equipping the armies of lowest-level “diggers" with a weapon far more powerful than their shovels and pickaxes.
“I love it how in the West there are amateur archaeologists or hobby detectorists, people who try to discover artifacts and sites for the thrill, who then immediately notify the local museums and archaeologists and turn over their finds. In know that’s the case in the US and Canada with their rich pre-Columbian and post-Columbian history, in the UK with its rich Roman and medieval history, in Denmark and Norway with their rich Viking history, etc. In Bulgaria, however, whose land’s history is even richer – if it’s even possible to compare the history of different places on Earth – the treasure hunters are in it for the money – many out of desperation, many because of the dream of getting rich, and some because they are highly trained “professionals" who get special orders and execute them," Ivan explains on the comparison between the looters in Bulgaria and the hobby metal detectorists in the West.
Depressing as it is, the picture of treasure hunting in Bulgaria and the smuggling abroad of the “harvested" treasures as revealed in the “Plunder Paradise" book is also incredibly complex, including also the industrial-scale forgery and exports of artifacts as well as numerous cases of museum theft, all set against the backdrop of the government’s failure to make any tangible progress against treasure hunters, and the Bulgarian society’s failure to even recognized the looting of archaeological sites as that serious a crime, especially given the many order key issues of the post-communist period.
Finding the solutions to Bulgaria’s treasure hunting crisis is highly challenging but the book attempts to do that nonetheless, while exposing for the entire world both the country’s largest unknown historical and archaeological riches, and the criminal industry that’s taking constant advantage of them.
The book “Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria” is available for purchase through the ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com website’s online store here and on Amazon.com here.
Archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov, 71 at the time, an expert in prehistory, and especially the Chalcolithic (Copper Age), is seen here showing a German filming crew a fresh pit dug up by treasure hunters in the archaeological preserve of Ulpia Oescus, a huge Ancient Roman city near the Danube in today’s Northwest Bulgaria.
As Gergov was explaining the gist of the archaeology and history destruction that had just occurred here – white-haired, white-clothed, somber, his arms wide open – he looks like an angel-like figure in mourning.