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Lockdown Looting: Massive Hoard of Stolen Serbian Artifacts Seized

Lockdown Looting: Massive Hoard of Stolen Serbian Artifacts Seized

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Described as a discovery of “great historical and archaeological value,” Serbian customs officials have seized a hoard of over 2,000 ancient artifacts.

According to  Archaeology News Network , on the 29 th December, officials seized a truck with Romanian license plates at the Srpska Crnja border, attempting to cross between Serbia and Romania. The 46-year-old Serbian citizen claimed he was innocently transporting a load of parquet from Ukraine to Serbia and that he was only carrying two bags of sweets and a couple of pots. However, what the customs officials discovered is being described as of “great historical and archaeological value.”

The sheer scale of hoard, numbering over 2,000 Serbian artifacts, is astonishing. (Serbian Customs)

The sheer scale of hoard, numbering over 2,000 Serbian artifacts, is astonishing. (Serbian Customs)

Caught in the Act: Serbian Artifacts Seized at the Border 

Hidden in plain sight in the cab of the truck, causally piled up in a tool box, customs discovered the hoard of undeclared  illegal Serbian artifacts which they say date to the Bronze Age, the Byzantine period and the Middle Ages. However, they also recovered rare items dating back to the time of the ancient Slavs and Celts. Ancient Roman and Greek historical sources refer to the early Slavic peoples as Veneti and Spori, while in the 5th and 6th centuries they were called Antes and Sclaveni. With so little known about these peoples, this artifact seizure is of immense heritage value.

After the Serbian artifacts were discovered, the driver was interrogated and told the customs officers that he had agreed to transport them from  Ukraine to Serbia for a small fee. He claimed that was told that someone would contact him after he arrived in the country. It has to be said that this is perhaps the oldest excuse in the book to avoid having to reveal one’s criminal buyers. That old “waiting for an anonymous call” gambit which features in so many movies.

The seized hoard of Serbian artifacts included items from the Bronze Age, the Byzantine period, the Middle Ages, the ancient Slavs and Celts, and even Roman and Greek artifacts. (Serbian Customs)

The seized hoard of Serbian artifacts included items from the Bronze Age, the Byzantine period, the Middle Ages, the ancient Slavs and Celts, and even Roman and Greek artifacts. (Serbian Customs)

2020: The Year of International Criminal Artifact Gangs

This discovery came less than a month after a French treasure hunter was described as being “among the greatest archaeological criminals in European history” having been arrested with over 27,000 ancient  illegal artifacts . Detailed in a news article I wrote for  Ancient Origins  at the time, when this criminal was caught red-handed he told Belgian customs officials that he had dug up the 14,154 Roman coins “by chance” from two fields near Gingelom to the east of Brussels. 

The Belgian Agency for Immovable Heritage  reported that the treasure hunter told authorities that he bought the fields “because he liked to come for a walk in the area and set up a caravan there,” and he said he had “accidentally” come across 14,000 of the allegedly  illegal artifacts . The word “accidentally” becomes increasingly suspect due to the fact he had with him a  metal detector  and a spade at the time. This bandit’s entire story collapsed, according to an article in  The Connection , when the archaeologists determined it was “impossible for the coins to come from this site.”

High Level Artifact Crimes During Lockdown

Returning to Serbia, on the 14th December 2020 the Serbian member of  Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, gave an ancient gilded Orthodox icon to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to the country. This 300-year-old icon became a point of fury, with Ukraine’s embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina pointing out that it was actually “an object of Ukrainian cultural heritage” stolen from eastern Ukraine, which is ruled by Russian-backed separatists. However, in this instance, when the holder of the  stolen artifact  was accused, on December 23rd, Russia formally handed the icon over to the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s embassy in Moscow. 

The point is, that at the lowest and highest level of society, while the honest people of the world are locking down and dealing with the misery of quarantine, others are taking advantage of the empty streets and unpoliced rural areas which have become prime targets for  artifact hunting En mass  it would appear. 

Top image: Over 2,000 Serbian artifacts, said to be of “great historical and archaeological value” were seized from a truck by Serbian customs official. Source: Serbian Customs

Editors Note: This article was edited to remove the incorrect information regarding the artifacts origin being Siberia, when it was the territory that is now Serbia and Romania.

By Ashley Cowie

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