With an incredibly rich history it is no surprise that Bulgarian metal detectorists are amongst the most active. Beginnings of metal detecting as a hobby in Bulgaria can be traced to early 1980’s, although some detectorists were active even earlier, often using home-made machines based on micro-electronics already manufactured in Bulgaria. Until 2009 the law was pretty clear and was based on legal act called “Law on Cultural Monuments and Museums”, which was passed in 1969. One of the main paragraphs clearly stated that:
“Cultural monuments are national property and it is important duty of whole nation to keep them and contribute to their increase according to article 14 paragraph 1 persons who unintentionally have found out some cultural heritage are obliged to declare it within 7 days in the nearest museum and are rewarded or if there are any hidden remains they are confiscated in favour of state.”
In 2008 Bulgarian Commission of Culture started to prepare a new act, which was supposed to be a response to a growing number of hobbyists, estimated in 2009 to be between 3000-5000 people. New law was passed by the Bulgarian Parliament in March 2009, despite a negative opinion expressed by the Council of Europe, and superseded the act from 1969. It introduced a lot of unclear terms and definitions such as „cultural valuables” (article 7, item 1), „archeological cultural troves” (article53, paragraph 1) and „archeological site” article.146, paragraph1),. Inexactness and ambiguities of definitions resulted during the following years in lots of cases of excessive and unnecessary reprisals by the state through the police, prosecution services and law courts, directed against metal detectorists.
Even though the new act was almost universally criticised, also within the scientific community, it’s still in force today. One of the reasons cited by the authorities is the growing number of detectorists – according to them there were about 5000 hobbyists until 2009 and then the number grew within three years to 50 000 by the end of 2012 and then to 250 000 by the end of 2013! This is obviously absurd and to counter the effects of the new act as well as to safeguard the interests of responsible metal detectorists “Bulgarian National Federation of Metal Detecting” – BNFMD was formed. Thanks to the involvement of this organisation, which relentlessly made enquiries, posted questions and protested against unjust prosecutions, the number of cases where metal detectorists in Bulgaria faced criminal proceedings ONLY for possession of metal detecting equipment, greatly diminished. Although thanks to BNFMD activities a lot of positive results were achieved and a great number of criminal proceedings were terminated, there are still policemen and prosecutors who consider metal detecting a criminal action. According to them metal detectors are used only and entirely for field archaeological excavations and activities, connected with searching of historical past. Even though many meetings have been held between BNFMD representatives and the authorities, situation is very tense with many top officials from the prosecutors office and the police claiming publicly that metal detecting should be banned and that BNFMD is a half-legal organisation. For them such a term like “positive British experience” (where metal detectorists actively cooperate with archaeologists) does not exist since metal detecting is completely useless and even criminal act on the territory of Bulgaria. In 2014 there was some hope of a positive change when BNFMD presented a petition for an update in law signed by 5000 people. Unfortunately due to unstable political situation, plans for talks on such an update were abandoned.
Bulgarian National Federation of Metal Detecting continues to work for a positive change in law in Bulgaria. Recently a contract was signed for active cooperation with the Regional Historical Museum in Russe. Similar proposals were sent to all regional history museums in Bulgaria. In the beginning of 2016 BNFMD sent to all regional police directorates a newsletter which explained that searching for archaeological sites without necessary authorisation is not amongst its aims. It is hoped that slowly both sides will reach a workable compromise, letting people who are passionate about metal detecting and history work alongside archaeologists in preserving artefacts from the past of this beautiful country.
Text based on “Metal Detecting in Bulgaria. Current State and Perspectives”., a report prepared for first ECMD conference.