February 11, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
U. S. Embassy announces the return of an ancient helmet along with a new program to protect Bulgarian antiquities
On February 10, U.S. authorities announced the return to the people of Bulgaria of an ancient helmet, which originated in Bulgaria, near modern-day Pletena, Satovcha Region. The helmet, dating to around 400-300 B.C. and valued at approximately $200,000, was seized in January 2022 by U.S. authorities from a collector who had acquired it illegally. The return of this cultural treasure to Bulgaria follows a successful multi-year, multi-national criminal investigation, that included close collaboration between Bulgarian and U.S. law enforcement.
In conjunction with the return of this prized artifact, the U.S. Embassy is proud to announce the awarding of an $80,000 Cultural Property Agreement Implementation Grant (CPAIG) to create a pilot digital registry to prevent the trafficking of Bulgarian antiquities. Under the terms of the grant, the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, together with the Balkan Heritage Foundation, the Bulgarian National Police, the National Archaeological Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NAIM BAN), and the Pazardzhik Regional History Museum, will work to address the ever-growing threats of the theft of antiquities from Bulgarian museum collections. The project, titled “Bulgarian Museum Collections at Risk: Digitization and Prevention”, will create theft prevention tools: a risk assessment toolkit to identify at-risk artifacts, a data-sharing system for museums, and a registry of trafficked artifacts returned to Bulgarian museums. Various expert groups will work on the creation of these tools and will then train museum staff and police officers to use them.
Bulgaria and the United States have a long history of working together to protect Bulgaria’s cultural heritage, including through professional exchanges, trainings, law enforcement cooperation, and restoration projects. Our cooperation in this area was boosted by the signing of the Bilateral Memorandum of Understanding for the Protection of Bulgaria’s Cultural Property in 2014, which was renewed in 2019. Through programs like the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, the Embassy has spent more than $1.1 million dollars (1.8 million leva) on preserving and protecting some of Bulgaria’s most historic and endangered cultural sites.
“I welcome the return of this invaluable artifact to Bulgaria and applaud the efforts of the law enforcement groups from the United States and Bulgaria that made it happen,” said U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa. “The U.S. government is committed to working with our Bulgarian partners to defend and preserve your country’s rich past through the CPAIG grant, the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, and more.”