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Thracian Gold Fever Volume 58 Number 2, March/April 2005
by Matthew Brunwasser

Archaeologist and showman Georgi Kitov's spectacular discoveries raise questions about managing Bulgaria's past.

[image] Archaeologist Georgi Kitov sips wine from a gold drinking cup found in a tomb believed to belong to late-fourth-century B.C. Thracian king Seuthes III. (Tsvetan Tomchev/Noshten Trud Newspaper) [LARGER IMAGE]

On a soft, gray fall afternoon, a crowd of several hundred waited patiently outside the Iskra History Museum in Kazanluk, the unprepossessing main town in central Bulgaria's rose-growing region. The blank concrete facade of the museum, like that of most Communist-era cultural institutions, created a notably joyless impression.

But inside, the 15 visitors allowed at a time into the small exhibition hall were awed by fantastic Thracian gold, silver, bronze, and ceramic objects, 28 in all, recently discovered only eight miles away and on public display for the first time. An ancient amphora housed on a wobbly metal stand rocked ominously as a woman brushed by. The excitement of the visitors washed over the tiny provincial museum as they carefully studied the objects that have been heralded across the world.

[image] Finds from the tombs of the Valley of Thracian Kings include decorative equestrian ornaments and a delicate gold kylix, or drinking cup. (© Raphaël Gaillarde/Gamma) [LARGER IMAGE]

"We are filled with history from the land to the sky," remarked Albena Mileva, who is 24 and unemployed. She hitchhiked 20 miles from the neighboring city of Stara Zagora with two friends to see the exhibit. "So long ago the Thracians were so developed in so many ways. You can touch their spirit and their way of life."

"I have no words," sighed Nadka Nenkova, a 66-year-old retired economist who had just seen the exhibit. "All this time it's been underground, and we didn't even know it was there."

While the sensational finds from a 2,500-year-old necropolis dubbed the "Valley of the Thracian Kings" have fired the imagination of the Bulgarian public and the world beyond, the story behind the discoveries, centered around the controversial methods of the archaeologist who made them--unorthodox excavation practices, shady business deals, allegations of collaborations with looters--raises questions about how this poor former East Bloc nation will manage the future of its past.

Matthew Brunwasser is an investigative journalist based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America