Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Funds Emergency Rescue Excavations of Ancient Thracian Burial Mound Targeted by Treasure Hunters

A 2013 image of the Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as Pamuk Mogila near the town of Brestovitsa in Southern Bulgaria. A similar Thracian mound is now to be excavated in Tatarevo near Plovdiv. Photo: PlovdivLive

A 2013 image of the Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as Pamuk Mogila near the town of Brestovitsa in Southern Bulgaria. A similar Thracian mound is now to be excavated in Tatarevo near Plovdiv. Photo: PlovdivLive

A total of BGN 40,000 (app. EUR 20,500) in funding have been allocated by the City Council in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv for emergency rescue excavations of a large Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) located near the town of Tatarevo.

The emergency funding has been allotted after a police operation discovered that treasure hunters have started to dig up and destroy the Ancient Thracian archaeological monument near Tatarevo, Parvomay Municipality, reports local news site Plovdivski Novini.

Plovdiv’s City Council provides the funding even though the Thracian tumulus is located in a different municipality because the rescue excavations will be carried out by archaeologists from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, and whatever artifacts might be found in the burial mound will be added to the Museum’s permanent collection.

The funding is allocated at the recommendation an inter-departmental commission of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture and National Institute and Museum of Archaeology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences to conduct emergency excavations to save whatever can be saved in the Thracian mound from the local treasure hunters’ vandalism.

The unexplored Thracian tumulus near Tatarevo is a large one, and the team of Kostandin Kosyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, is said to expect interesting finds from there.

Another Ancient Thracian mound in Plovdiv’s region, Pamuk Mogila located in the town of Brestovitsa, was saved with emergency excavations, after archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov had spent five years trying to find funding for the digs.

Local archaeologists have found at Pamuk Mogila about 80 unique artifacts in the grave of a Thracian aristocrat from the 2nd-3rd century AD. Before the excavations local treasure hunters had dug up a 13-meter tunnel trying to reach the grave under the mound.

Artifacts discovered in the Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as Pamuk Mogila by the team of archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov in 2013. Photo: Plovdiv24

Artifacts discovered in the Ancient Thracian burial mound (tumulus) known as Pamuk Mogila by the team of archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov in 2013. Photo: Plovdiv24

Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, showing finds from the Ancient Thracian mound near Brestovitsa known as Pamuk Mogila, back in 2013. Photo: Plovdiv24

Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, showing finds from the Ancient Thracian mound near Brestovitsa known as Pamuk Mogila, back in 2013. Photo: Plovdiv24

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) known as Pamuk Mogila near the town of Brestovitsa, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria, was excavated in emergency rescue excavations in 2013 since it had been targeted by treasure hunters. It was excavated by a team led by Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, after local treasure hunters had dug up a 13-meter tunnel into the burial mound in search of the graves inside, and Kisyov himself had been trying to find funding for five years. The emergency digs were funded by Plovdiv Municipality and Rodopi Municipality a total of BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 25,500). Luckily, the treasure hunters had not managed to find the graves inside the mound, and Kisyov and his team discovered them. The huge tumulus, which was 14 m tall and had a diameter of 70 m, harbored a total of six graves, including the grave of a Thracian aristocrat from the 1st-2nd century AD. The archaeologists discovered about 80 artifacts, including a golden ring, a silver ring, a bronze ring, a parade combat helmet, two iron swords, three spears, a bronze coin (an obol for Charon, the ferryman of Hades who, according to Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman mythology, carries the souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron in the underworld), 4 glass balsamaria with essential oils, 4 clay vessels, 2 bronze hydria for water and wine, bronze phiales (pateras), two candelabra, among others. Kisyov believes that because of the proximity of the Pamuk Mogila mound to ancient Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) it might have been a tomb for an aristocratic family that ruled the city. The Ancient Thracians believed in afterlife and they placed a lot of personal belongings in the graves and tombs of their dead.

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.

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