Archaeology in Bulgaria

By Velkov, V. | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Archaeology in Bulgaria


Velkov, V., Antiquity


Modern Bulgaria, which includes regions both north and south of the Haemus mountains (Stara Planina) as well as part of the western shore of the Pontos Euxinos (Black Sea), is a country with a rich archaeological heritage from the Palaeolithic down to the late medieval period.

This poses serious difficulties in organizing research -- that is, in the provision of specialists for each of the archaeological periods (pre- and protohistory, classical and late antiquity, and the Middle Ages) and in the provision of an adequate research institute to carry out archaeological investigation.

The National Archaeological Museum was founded as early as 1892 and over the years it has developed into a remarkable treasure-house of monuments and finds from all periods. The numismatic collection alone contains hundreds of thousands of coins, all found in Bulgaria. In 1921, Professor Bogdan Filov founded the Archaeological Institute, created by statute. Until World War II, the members of these two institutions, though few in number, were responsible for archaeological excavations, assisted by the staff of museums in Varna, Plovdiv, Shoumen, Stara Zagora, Kiustendil, Burgas and Razgrad.

The imposition of the Communist regime in Bulgaria after 1944 led to a reorganization of all scientific research, including archaeology. The Bulgarian Academy, founded as early as 1869, was reorganized on the Soviet model and along socialist lines. This new Academy included institutes for the humanities and for the natural sciences and the number of institutes continued to grow -- to the extent that, by 1990, the Academy was responsible for as many as one hundred!

During this reorganization, the two independent institutions, the National Museum and the Archaeological Institute, were compulsorily united into a single body, renamed 'The Archaeological Institute and Museum'. The consequence of this decision was that the Archaeological Museum became the base for the Institute and its role as a museum suffered. On the other hand, the Archaeological Institute lost its financial independence which until then had provided adequate resources to fund its own research activities. Thanks to endowments, the Institute had possessed its own building and also a number of important funds, the interest from which covered all its expenses. During this reorganization, these funds were, confiscated by the state, and the members of the Archaeological Institute and Museum henceforth received their wages from the general budget provided for the Academy of Sciences. The Academy undertook to ensure that funds were also provided to carry out excavations. These academic and financial arrangements only lasted a few years, when the system was changed again. Under this second arrangement, the state guaranteed to provide funds for excavation on an annual basis, but they were to be made available through the Ministry of Culture, which allocated funds through local administrative authorities (the counties), each of which had sections responsible for the cultural heritage.

Under the law on museums and cultural heritage of 1969 (which covered the archaeological heritage) the Archaeological Institute was given the primary responsibility for organizing excavations throughout the whole country while another organization, the National Institute of Cultural Monuments, was responsible for the conservation of standing archaeological remains. Section 15 of this law stated that 'archaeological excavations, trial digs, underwater research, geophysical and other forms of activity within the boundaries of Bulgaria for purposes of research on the cultural monuments will be organized by the Archaeological Institute, attached to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, but the consolidation, restoration and conservation of these monuments shall be carried out by the National Institute of Cultural Monuments, attached to the Ministry of Culture'. This law guaranteed the academic side of archaeological excavation and research because the Institute had the sole right to determine that only its own archaeologists could conduct excavations and staff the archaeological museums. …

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