Thursday, August 27, 2009


Recently, the archaeological blogosphere has been full of appeals to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria in Bulgaria from the ravages of treasure hunters. It has now been reported that donations from that appeal have been used to fund archaeological investigations at the site. See

Interestingly, the appeal itself suggests that the situation at the site contrasts with that in the rest of the country:

Ratiaria lies close to the village of Archar in the Vidin region of Bulgaria and was first excavated from 1958 - 1962 and then later from 1976 - 1991. However, since then no archaeological work has taken place at the site. This is at a time when all other significant ancient cities in Bulgaria are being studied, conserved and opened to the public as part of a commitment to the nation's cultural heritage.


In any event, it is a scandal that Bulgarian authorities have failed to sponsor digs at Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria since 1991 and have similarly failed to protect the site from looters. After all, Bulgaria is certainly wealthy enough to be part of the EU. Under the circumstances, why hasn't the site been protected?

After reading the appeal further, one suspects it is really more an issue of governmental priorities than anything else.

As the appeal further notes,

This is not a new problem though, it has in fact been going on for at least ten years and just occasionally the Bulgarian government are shamed into taking action. In 2001 in response to public pressure the government set out a series of recommendations requiring Dimovo Municipality and the Regional Heritage Museum of Vidin to take action regarding Ratiaria:

Construct a guard hut for 24 hour protection

Implement all local land use laws

Create a database of local landowners

Define the monument's boundary

Repair the fences and signage

Carry out archaeological salvage work

Back fill the looter trenches

Obtain protected status for Ratiaria

Carry out regular archaeological excavations

These of course are only recommendations and the various bodies involved do not need to act upon them. Indeed promises to build a guard hut on the site never materialised and funding for a monument warden was cut. Of those actually caught in the act of illegal excavation and put on trial before the regional court in 2000 and 2001 every single person has had their charges dropped. Eight years later despite extensive coverage by the Bulgarian newspapers to highlight the problem not one of the 2001 directives has been implemented.


While I sympathize with those who want to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria, one must ask why have the funds that have been raised for the site appear only to have been used to carry out archaeological investigations and not to address any of the other recommendations?

Is the appeal designed to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria or to "save" the jobs of Bulgarian archaeologists?

One hopes monies will in fact at some point also go to the former, particularly because the "appeal" to save the site certainly suggested they would.


Voz Earl said...

On their website it states that the "Bulgarian Archaeological Association is a non-government organization set up in Bulgarian in the beginning of 2000. Our team consists of young people students and specialists of Archaeology."

If you click on the list of donors to the project you can see that the total contributions as of 8/21/09 were approx. 220 euros.

So in their defense it seems that this is an organization of young enthusiasts and professionals who are doing what they can to salvage the site while also attempting to shame the government into following through on its commitments. By all appearances a laudable effort and a worthy use of 220 euro.

Voz Earl

Cultural Property Observer said...

The fact that only 220 Euros has been raised to date also says something. I guess 220 Euros won't go too far, but at least some of the site protection efforts probably can also be done with volunteer labor. Frankly, I would not have made much an issue of this, except for the fact that this appeal is also being utilized by those publicizing it to vilify the ACCG and collectors. If you are soliciting monies to save the site from looters, then the money should be used for protective measures whatever the amount. It would not seem that archaeological investigation is directly related to that purpose.

Peter Tompa