In a rare occurrence, a Bulgarian treasure hunter has been sentenced to a jail term for digging for archaeological artifacts in the Ancient Roman arsenal city of Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria located on the Danube in the northwestern District of Vidin.
The man has pleaded guilty to conducting illegal digs in search of ancient items within the Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria, which has come to symbolize the rampant savagery of treasure hunting in post-communist Bulgaria since from an archaeological site almost intact in the 1980s, in the past 25 years it has been reduced to rubble and craters.
In the case of Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria it is alleged that in the 1990s the Roman city was bulldozed by the local mafia with the alleged participation of some government officials, while local Roma clans have been picking at the archaeological site by hand for decades. The treasure hunting plight of Ratiaria (and Bulgaria, for that matter) was documented in a 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past”.
The sentenced treasure hunter committed the crime on March 8, 2015, with a metal detector, shovel, and pickaxe, reports local news site Tribali.
The Vidin District Court has sentenced him to six months in prison, and since this is the man’s second treasure hunting offense, the Court added a one-year term from his previous suspended sentence for a total of 1.5 years.
Jail sentences of treasure hunters are rare in Bulgaria regardless of the rampancy of this kind of savage crime; in the few instances of jail sentences, it is usually individual low profile diggers who get sent to prison, while the organized groups of diggers, and the antique traffickers up the chain are rarely busted and imprisoned.
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.