Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bulgarian Archaeologists Fight to Save the 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

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 centerpiece of the National
Archaeological Museum in Athens. "Bulgaria has more ancient artifacts
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.


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