Thursday 12 May 2016

Plovdiv Helmet Surfaces Again

The Plovdiv Helmet

A 1st century AD Thracian-Roman mask helmet made of iron and silver,which was stolen in an armed museum robbery back in 1995, and was recovered by the Bulgarian intelligence in 2015, has now been placed on display in the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology. It required conservation after having been kept in unsuitable conditions for twenty years.
The Thracian-Roman artifact was stolen on a slow Sunday afternoon when the museum was closed. Two men rang the doorbell, and attacked and wounded the security guard who came to the door by hitting him on the head with a pistol handle and dragging him inside. After that, they used one of the guard’s shoes to break the window where the 1st century AD mask helmet was exhibited.  The entire robbery took three minutes. The police arrived exactly five minutes after the window breaking sounded the alarm but discovered no-one but the wounded security guard.
Interestingly, this looks very much like a case of theft-to-order:
The robbers stole only the Ancient Roman – Thracian mask helmet even though at that time it was exhibited together with other archaeological treasures found in the same aristocrat’s tomb in the Kamenitsa Mound [...]  two gold laurel wreaths, silver and bronze vessels, and two gold rings but they remained untouched. [...]  The museum chief adds that some 700 ancient coins in the same window were also ignored by the criminals, and this makes him believe the robbery had been targeted solely at the ancient silver mask. He also emphasizes that there are only a total of three mask helmets of its kind known in the world, and that the other two are kept in museums in France and Italy. The archaeologist estimates that the Plovdiv mask helmet would be worth EUR 2-3 million if sold at an international auction house.
at the moment there is a lack of transparency about what happened subsequently: 
Kisyov says the mask had been smuggled abroad and resold. However, Bulgaria’s law enforcement authorities, including the State National Security Agency (DANS), have refused to reveal any details about the artifact’s fate after it was stolen, and how and where it has been recovered. There have been reports that on this case Bulgaria’s Specialized Prosecutor’s Office is prosecuting an organized crime group of four persons smuggling archaeological items, and that the Thracian-Roman mask helmet had ended in the antique collection of a collector from Switzerland.
('Stolen Thracian Roman Mask Helment Restored, Showcased in Bulgaria's Plovdiv 21 Years After Theft' Archaeology in Bulgaria  )

This helmet was impossible to launder as it had been excavated in 1908 and would have been recognized, but another helmet from the region, freshly but clandestoinely excavated could have been laundered by pretending it had been found somewhere else, somewhere where artefact hunting and collecting are officially sanctioned by law, rather than being restricted by the legal constraints on the destruction of the archaeological heritage. This is why we need to be very careful about verifying the reported findspots of items like this, after all, as pointed out, cavalry helmets like this are worth a lot of money on the antiquities market as long as one can get some kind of a legal-sounding provenance for it. Where could one do that?


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