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National Geographic: Bulgaria is El Dorado for Looters

Date: 21.11.2006

For looters, Bulgaria is El Dorado, a vast trove of buried treasure where some graves have harbored gold since at least 4000 B.C., the National Gepgraphic wrote in its December issue.

The article, entitled "Bulgaria's Gold Rush", points out that the country's rich history left artifacts that now mean money in the bank for anyone who succeeds in digging them up.

"The royal tombs of the Thracians, built between the fifth and third centuries B.C., are easy marks for looters.... Many show the fresh scars of illegal excavations - jagged trenches of rusty earth that cut through their tangled cover of grass and brush. Sometimes the looters break into a tomb that was already robbed in antiquity. And sometimes, instead of gold or silver, they find painted vases or bronze sculptures or fragments of murals - any of those things will earn a handsome profit on the antiquities market."

The author A. R. Williams says ancient treasures are property of the state in Bulgaria, but that was taken very seriously only before the crash of the Soviet system.

When the Soviet system began to crash in 1989, it took Bulgaria down, too. Factories were forced to close, and to this day many remain empty. Hundreds of thousands of people are still unemployed, and those who have jobs earn an average of just $200 a month. With the former middle class flat broke, many have taken up looting to earn a living. They call it black archaeology.

"The business of artifacts is more lucrative than drug trafficking," says Nikolai Ovcharov, a charismatic archaeologist.

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