| 1 October 2006
Bulgaria fights to save its past from gangsters
Luck is only sometimes on the side of Bulgaria's archaeologists, as they race gangsters to unearth the treasure of the ancient Thracians. It was with Daniela Agre last month when she came across a Black Sea hotel owner flattening a 2,000-year-old burial mound and found a horde of gold and silver jewellery that she thinks belonged to a Thracian priestess. Another archaeologist was served in a remote rural shop by a woman wearing a string of 5,000-year-old gold beads, found by her husband in sunflower fields where a large Thracian treasure trove was later discovered.
Famed for their ferocity and horsemanship, the Thracians - who lived between modern-day Ukraine and Turkey - were long considered a barbarian race whose greatest contribution to history was Spartacus, the slave who rebelled against Rome. But just as a series of spectacular finds is deepening their understanding, academics fear the violent mafia are beating them to vital pieces of the historical jigsaw.
Gavrail Lazov, head of archaeology at Bulgaria's National History Museum, is celebrating another remarkable find while lamenting his country's failure to crush crime. Last month, his colleagues unearthed 20,000 Thracian ornaments, one a dagger made of platinum and gold. "It is 5,000 years old and still so sharp a man could shave with it. Perhaps it belonged to a king, but it is too early to be sure," Lazov said.
Indeed the riches of Thracia may rival those of ancient Troy. The most spectacular find is the 2,500-year-old burial mask of a Thracian ruler, a solid gold visage more than 10 times heavier than the Mask of Agamemnon, which is the centrepiece of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. "Bulgaria has more ancient artefacts than any European country except Greece and Italy," said Lazov. "We have 15,000 Thracian burial mounds, and 400 ancient settlements - but it is terribly hard to protect them all. Looting has boomed since the end of communism 15 years ago."
Under pressure from Brussels, Bulgaria has tightened border controls and pledged to crack down on crime. But in a country where the average monthly wage is £120, Lazov fears the criminals will always prosper.
Source: The Observer (24 September 2006)
Share this webpage: