Sunday 3 May 2009

Roman Urban Complex Absolutely Destroyed by Artefact Hunters

According to Evgenia Gencheva, an archaeologist of the Institute of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in an interview with Focus News Agency, the site of the Roman town of Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria) close to the northern Bulgarian city of Vidin in north-western Bulgaria has now been absolutely destroyed (Alexander Shabov: ‘Ratiaria is the site most severely hit by treasure hunters in Bulgaria: archeologist’, Focus News Agency May 3rd 2009 ). It once was a capital of a Roman province an enormous, very rich town, a center of metalworking industry and other activities. It is also one of the areas most heavily hit by artefact hunters, including many of the 1,500 inhabitants of the village of Archar just by this site who made money by digging up and selling precious finds to middlemen who supplied the global no-questions-asked antiquities markets with a flood of small metal antiquities. This is despite the existence of archaeological resource protection laws which make such artefact mining illegal, and export procedures which are supposed to hinder it going abroad. Those involved in the process however pay scant attention to the law, those who have been buying these artifacts also. This artefact hunting began in 1990 just after the collapse of the “Iron Curtain” and the pillaging continued between then and 2000-2004. At that time it proved impossible to open a police station in the village of Archar, where Ratiaria is located, to protect the site. Gencheva asked whether the finds made by these artefact hunters have brought something beneficial to archeologists, she replied that she did not think they have. Like their counterparts in other countries, the artefact hunters gain access to the scientist’s information (made available to society as a whole) and abuse it in this way, targeting areas known to be productive of artifacts. In this way they did not discover any new information about the existence of sites, but destroyed any evidence that existed in them. “They have not unearthed something we do not know about,” she highlighted.

Of course all this digging and metal detecting use failed to find a single one of the ancient coins that have been flooding the US market, since... well, since about 1990... officers of the coin dealers lobby group ACCG assure us that the no-questions-asked sales methods of its members have nothing to do with this damage to archaeological sites, since the coins they sell were - they insist - buried in hoards at the edges of battlefields, or were brought to the market by elves, or something.
Photo: just one of the many treasure-hunters' holes in Archar (Photo: Valentina Petrova/AFP/Getty Images)

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