The Dig (Treasure Hunters – The Art of War)

Jan Peter Hammer, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Academy of Fine Art

In 1977, Bulgarian archaeologist Vetsislav Gergov discovered a circa 6500-year-old Early Bronze Age settlement in Telish, district of Pleven.  The oldest known European settlement, the Telish archeological site contained forty-one unique clay figures of aeneolithic deities, hundreds of pieces of glazed pottery, manifold tools made from stone and copper, and a small cylindrical object, whose function is unknown. Gergov told me he believes it represents an alien spaceship; it reminds me of a Brancusi.

Since Paleolithic times, the area corresponding to present-day Bulgaria has been continuously inhabited, and, at times, densely populated. Due to the wealth of archeological artefacts, “treasure hunting” is a popular activity. The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in an era of deindustrialization and staggering unemployment rates. The coincident availability of affordable metal detectors and easy accesses to the Western auction house market—with its endless appetite for antiques—turned archeological looting into one of the few available sources of independent income. The resulting blight has remained widely unnoticed in the European Union, of which Bularia is a part, though its scope is considered by some to be on par with the much more publicized destruction carried out by the Taliban or the IS.

With its mounds peppered with recently dug holes, amidst the ruins of Soviet-era steel plants, vacant factories, and a deserted military spaceport, twenty-first century Bulgaria inhabits a strange temporality, its history undone. These sites, which once signified progress, feel so alien to the reality of an economy that has devolved into barter and scrapping that one would think they were built by another species—much in the same way that images of Yugoslav World War II memorials called spomeniks, circulate online as purported evidence of alien presence on Earth.

 

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