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Bulgaria: The Looting of Ratiaria

Published on 20 July 2010

Author(s): Bulgarian Archeological Association

Type:  Feature

The introduction of metal detectors in modern treasure hunting has been desastrous for Bulgarian archaeological sites. The Bulgarian authorities fail to act

Destruction of archaeological sites via illegal treasure hunter activities is nothing new in North-Western Bulgaria. This is especially clear from Ratiaria and for the entire Vidin area, and can be show as follows:

  1. This concerns one of the biggest and most representative ancient towns in Bulgaria. Ratiaria was the provincial capital of the Roman province Dacia Ripensis. It can be compared in terms of cultural and historic value to towns such as Viminasium, Singindunum, Novae, Oescuc.
  2. Despite the lack of funding, following the changes in 1989, currently all other ancient towns in Bulgaria of similar scope and significance are being examined, and the excavated remains are being conserved and exhibited, turning into attractive aspects of the urban environment.

The Regional Historic Museum of Vidin is responsible for a large of area 3033 sq. Km, rich in sites of archaeological significance, and infact the richest in Roman sites. However the studies undertaken in 2007 amounted to the insignificant 1.35% of the total archaeological studies in Bulgaria (data from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences study of Archeological finds and excavations during 2007). From 295 studied archaeological sites in Bulgaria, Vidin has only 4. The details of this statistics are even more striking, as from the 4 mentioned projects; two are financed from the international exploratory project (LEA BINEK "European Associated Laboratory: The Balkans and the beginning of European Culture") and have no participation of local specialists; one is associated with construction of the Danube Bridge 2 and one has been organized by the Historic Museum in Belogradchick. Thus, according to this data, during 2007, the Regional Historic Museum - Vidin has not undertaken even one study!

The Regional Historic Museum of Vidin is responsible for a large of area 3033 sq. Km, rich in sites of archaeological significance, and infact the richest in Roman sites. However the studies undertaken in 2007 amounted to the insignificant 1.35% of the total archaeological studies in Bulgaria (data from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences study of Archeological finds and excavations during 2007). From 295 studied archaeological sites in Bulgaria, Vidin has only 4. The details of this statistics are even more striking, as from the 4 mentioned projects; two are financed from the international exploratory project (LEA BINEK "European Associated Laboratory: The Balkans and the beginning of European Culture") and have no participation of local specialists; one is associated with construction of the Danube Bridge 2 and one has been organized by the Historic Museum in Belogradchick. Thus, according to this data, during 2007, the Regional Historic Museum - Vidin has not undertaken even one study!

bulgaar 1.jpg
Ratiaria on an antique map

The history of the destruction by the treasure hunters of Ratiaria is very simple, in fact, the destruction came about result of the 18 years of absence of any government approved archeological or historical studies of Ratiaria . For these 18 years only one report on problems facing the site was made in 2001, which shows that:

  • During 2000 there have been 10 investigations against persons caught undertaking illegal excavation works - and 8 investigations in 2001. Most of these cases were presented in the regional court - Vidin and have been discontinued, and the guilty persons cleared of any charges.
  • Dimovo municipality, in which Ratiaria is situated, should allocate funds for the protection of sites under its jurisdiction. However Dimovo does not spend any money on protection of monuments, and the funding allowing for a warden to oversee the site has been cut. 
  • Despite the various Bulgarian laws denoting how land containing sites of archaeological of significance can be used, for example the owners should not rent or dig below 30cm, and how the sites protecting perimeter is being maintained the laws are not being followed. For many the temptation of bribes from treasure hunters is too strong, a problem which not only applies to the owners the land but those public officials who should be implementing those laws protecting the sites.
  • Now (2009), 8 years later, we can conclude that the problems continue. These are directives from the 2001 report:
    - Oblast Administration - Vidin, Oblast directorate and Police - Vidin and Dimovo municipality should ensure 24 hour protection of the site.
    - The mayor's office at Archar village should implement fully the laws denoting use of the land at the site, and the owners of land within the area of the site should be notified in writing and the landplots should be entered into a database; new maps should be issued against a signature from the owners.
     
  • The "Territorial and settlement directorate" at Dimovo municipality and Dimovo land commission should do what is necessary in order to enter the territorial boundaries of the monument onto the land registry of the area and the cadastre of land plots out of regulation.
    - Dimovo municipality should repair the fences and signs of the archaeological site.
    - Dimovo municipality should seek possibilities for financing of emergency and/or salvage drilling studies.
    - Dimovo municipality should finance the filling of the trenches, undertaken by treasure hunters.
    - The Historic Museum - Vidin should apply for the opening of a procedure to protect Ratiaria under the status of an archeological reserve.
    - Dimovo municipality should explore the possibilities for financing of regular archaeological excavation on the territory of Ratiaria.

However, none of these have been put into action!

  • Oblast Administration - Vidin, Oblast directorate, Police - Vidin and Dimovo municipality should ensure 24 hour protection. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • The "Territorial and settlement directorate" at Dimovo municipality and Dimovo land commission should do what is necessary in order to enter the territorial boundaries of the monument onto the land registry of the area and the cadastre of land plots out of regulation. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • Dimovo municipality should repair the fences and signs of the archaeological site. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • Dimovo municipality shold seek possibilities for financing of emergency and/or salvage drilling studies. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • Dimovo municipality should finance the filling of the trenches, undertaken by treasure hunters. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • The Historic Museum - Vidin should apply for the opening of a procedure to protect Ratiaria under the status of an archeological reserve HAS NOT BEEN DONE!
  • Dimovo municipality should explore the possibilities for financing of regular archaeological excavation on the territory of Ratiaria. HAS NOT BEEN DONE!

The conclusion that is obvious:

  1. Local authorities, as well as the management of the Regional Historic Museum - Vidin, do not wish to take any measures, connected to the preservation of archaeological and historic heritage in and around the Oblast area.
  2. Despite the fact that laws exists to deal with the problems in the area, they as rendered usless due to the lack of implementation. 
  3. The only people benefiting from the inactivity of the local authorities and the Regional Historic Museum of Vidin are those who plunder, trade and deal in ancient artifacts. Therefore the unwillingness of institutions responsible to do their jobs can be seen as support for the illegal activities, undertaken in the area. This is also evident from other crimes that have occurred in the area in question.

For example in 1991, 11 valuable objects were stolen from the Vidin museum, including the magnificent bronze head of a young man (probably emperor Trajan),a statue of the "resting Heracles"and Roman copy of a Latin work by Licip, originating from Ratiaria. Several years later, an employee of the museum saw on television an interview with a famous industrialist from Bavaria, with the backdrop of his collection, contained in the collection the statue of Heracles from the Vidin museum.

Most recently in the beginning of 2009 the director of the Regional Historic Museum Vidin - Fionera Filpova received 1 year suspended sentence and a 3 years on probation for lowering the her expert opinion on the price of ancient objects caught at the border. According to her 4483 ancient coins, arrowheads, cult hatchets, lead seals and ancient applications, rings, ancient medical appliance, statues and medallions were valued as 2751 BGN (1 BGN = 1.95 EUR), which meant that according to Bulgarian law the attempt to take these items across the border in one load was not a criminal offence. Secondary expert assessment has shown, that the combined value of the artifacts is 1,444, 477 BGN. Fionera Filpova is still the director of the Regional Historic Museum Vidin despite having not been able to justify the reasons for her criminal conviction.

During 2004 an the area of the bridge constructed on the Danube near the town of Vidin, an archaeological site has been registered, for whose exploration the construction company FCC Consgtruction has provided the financing required by law. A contract has was drawn up for the necessary excavation, which was never not signed by the Regional Historic Museum - Vidin. Due to this the site has been destroyed without record, as a consequence of the building works.

During 2008 regular archaeological studies of a Roman site, Cambustica, have started about 20 km form Ratiaria, financed by the Bulgarian Archaeological Association. The site, as in Ratiaria, has been significanlty affected by treasure hunters and their trenches and the protection required by law has not been given. Infact, instead of taking immediate measures to protect the site by the responsible institutions, on 16.06.2009 Regional Prosecutor's Office in Vidin charged the archaeologists in the area of treasure hunting.This demonstrates the very real problems facing archaeologists in the area.

The conclusions that can be made in reference to the attempted archaeological studies in the territory of Vidin have convinced us that within the framework of the current Bulgarian legislation and its execution, as well as in the indifference associated with the protection of cultural artifacts, the only opportunity for protecting the archaeological sites here is attracting the attention of the international community. The "Bulgarian Archaeological Association",the "Initiative Committee for the protection of the archaeological heritage of Northwestern Bulgaria"and the "Help to Save Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria" have all set themselves goals to raise funds to protect the site. Money raised would go to both protecting the site via the 'Bulgarian Archaeological Association and would also raise the profile of what is going on this area. The problems ranging from tacit neglect, active looting and the abuse of power from those in positions of responsibility, can in my opinion only be solved when international interest raises the profile of the problem in this area of north western Bulgaria.

Many thanks to Lizzie Jackson (student of Archaeology and Ancient History at Newcastle University) for her help with the complexities of the English language.
 

See also Prosecutor: Bulgarian Archaeologists Work for Treasure Hunters at...

 

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