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Ancient Treasures and Treasure Hunters

Bulgaria has been inhabited and ruled by many prestigious dynasties from the Roman and Byzantine Empires to the Ottomans. Over the last century hundreds of valuable archaeological finds of great historic significance have been found here, in fact it is not unusual to see recreational divers pulling Roman amphoras from the sea as though they were common shells.


When the Communist regime fell in the early Nineties investment and interest in archaeological digs declined due to a lack of finance, however interest in Bulgaria’s rich heritage has soared again both from government funded agencies and international private institutions and many new digs have opened revealing a wealth of hidden treasures.

Treasures Uncovered

Any visitor to Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv is immediately aware of the mass of history from a multitude of eras; a walk round the Revival buildings in the old town or a trip to the Roman amphitheatre are testimony to this, however experts from Bulgaria’s Archaeological Museum have unearthed several exceptional finds here after a thirty year pause, which include the ruins of no less than five Roman suburbs and three roads. Many smaller items were also uncovered including many clay idols and over 200 clay lamps. The excavations were restarted this year after a 30-year pause.

Veliko Tarnovo is another stronghold of Bulgarian history and culture and has yielded some fascinating finds recently. During the excavations of a necropolis near the St. John of Rila Church, archaeologists discovered a large gold signet ring portraying a two-headed eagle, which was a medieval emblem of royal power. Professor Nikolai Ovcharov who led the excavations said that there were very few aristocrats who were allowed to use this symbol.

It’s not just large towns and cities, which are revealing their ancient treasure; on the southern Black Sea coast, the village of Brodilovo is now home to a 4th century B.C., half-domed Thracian tomb. Lead archaeologist Daniela Agre said that this was a unique find for this area and that she is certain that it belonged to one of the rulers of Southeast Thrace. The tomb constructed of soft, white limestone has suffered some damage by treasure-hunters, however it yielded many amphorae and Thracian ceramics, all of which will be on display at new museum in nearby Tsarevo.

In the village of Kipra many relics have been found which date back to 3,200 years before Christ. An ancient urn found in a Thracian tomb here was decorated with a cross identical to the swastika.

In another village, Staro Selo near Sliven the grave of a 2nd century Thracian healer was discovered. Inside the grave archaeologists found two solid gold earrings and two thin silver bracelets, which hung from a belt. Next to the healer’s skeleton, they found a needle, a bronze spoon and a smooth stone tile, which was used to grind medicines on and the spoon was used in the administration of the drugs.

The Best Find of All

The largest Thracian treasure discovered so far was found close to the mountain town of Vratsa in northern Bulgaria. Dubbed the Rogozen treasure, archaeologists discovered an impressive collection of 165 hand crafted silver vessels believed to have belonged to a wealthy Thracian family who governed the local Triballi tribe. Experts believe that the ornamentation on the vessels shows they were produced locally and were unique to the Triballi tribe. Some of the jugs are decorated with geometrical designs depicting animals and plants, whilst others portray mythological scenes of the pagan deity of the time. Three precious goblets were also found and one of them depicts a sombre march of animals, which includes a bird of prey with its claws round a hare and a fish in its beak, three stags and a bearded goat with enormous. Interestingly, it wasn’t just archaeologists who stumbled on this spectacular find; local Rogozen man Ivan Dimitrov dug up 65 silver vessels from his garden!

Treasure Hunters

Bulgaria’s rich and varied heritage is often discovered long before archaeologists discover an ancient site. The growth in organised treasure hunters and the strong demand for stolen relics means that many ancient items are secretly smuggled out of Bulgaria each year to adorn the homes of private collectors. Archaeologist Daniela Agre urged the government to bring in stiffer penalties for smugglers and treasure-hunters. Famous Bulgarian archaeologist, the late Dr Georgi Kitov supported her in this belief saying, "There is a law but it is being broken. The government need to make a serious law forbidding illegal digs and if people find artifacts, they must be encouraged to hand them in to the museum for a reward.” Tomb robbers continue to steal treasures amounting to millions of dollars and are in effect robbing the Bulgarian people of their unique and precious heritage.
The Illegal Trafficking Squad, who are responsible for detecting and investigating crimes of this nature have managed to salvage several hundreds of ancient relics, but many crimes still go undetected. Dr Kitov said, "Bulgaria is a poor country, the government doesn't have the money to invest in history and culture, so many artifacts are being sold into foreign collections and no one knows they even originated from here. They are stealing our past."



Volodya Velkov, head of the unit responsible for detecting these crimes claims, "The artifacts are stolen to order by rich Bulgarians living abroad and foreigners too. They not only buy the pieces, but finance the illegal digs too. This is upsetting, as a Bulgarian, as a citizen of Europe. They are stealing our children's heritage."

Bulgarian law states that anything found in the soil belongs to the state, but only a few pieces make it into their hands. One lucky find was made by an honest farmer who dug up a collection of 3rd century drinking vessels made from solid gold. Recently foreign reporters posed as interested buyers looking for valuable artifacts. They were directed by local people to a private courtyard where they were shown coins worth thousands of dollars. They were also directed to a market where they made contact with a treasure hunter who assured them that he had no problem in providing valuable artifacts.

 

 

 

 

Preserving the Past for Future Generations

Bulgaria’s rich heritage particularly from the 1st through to the 6th century is of crucial importance to the nation and future generations and archaeology must be subject to good practice through the adoption of rules and regulations guaranteed to preserve and control sites and potential sites of historical importance.

Our Member Area contains an interview with Dr Georgi Kitov and more in depth information about Bulgaria's Thracian treasures