Antiquities Problems in Bulgaria

Malcolm Moore has an excellent article in the Telegraph on antiquities smuggling in Bulgaria. Don’t miss the excellent slideshow.

Not a lot is written about antiquities smuggling there, but perhaps more work needs to be done, as Bulgaria is behind only Greece and Italy in terms of antiquities in its soil. Bulgaria has taken the approach of most source nations and declared an ownership interest in undiscovered antiquities. As I’ve argued, those declarations do very little of their own accord. A comprehensive policy and education of the public is needed, as has been done successfully in most of the UK with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

A police spokesperson, Volodia Velkov estimated that tomb raiding generates £4 billion per year for organized crime. That number seems a bit inflated, but there is no way to make a definitive accounting. This Thracian gold vase would be worth a few pounds surely. Just last week a man was arrested smuggling 100 objects to Germany worth £345,000.

Mr. Velkov says “Since last October, when we started the new department, we have seized 16,000 artefacts,… More than 30,000 people are involved in tomb-raiding. The business is very well-organized and the expeditions are financed by rich Bulgarians living in the US, Britain and Germany…The main route is through Germany, where there are huge warehouses full of our antiquities,…”.

One approach may be to license private collectors. Archaeologist Nokolai Ovcharov says “The government cannot afford to excavate all the sites itself. So they should give out concessions and carry out rigorous checks on what is found. The longer it takes to pass a new law, the more treasure we will lose.”

That seems to be the only solution available short of eliminating the antiquities trade completely, or requiring comprehensive provenance research. Until that happens, expect more looting from Bulgaria.

(hat tip to David Gill)

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