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Mountain hike Jablanica - illegal excavations above Vevčani

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Mountain hike Jablanica - illegal excavations above Vevčani

Our already described hike on the Jablanica mountain range had brought us together with a team of trail markers, who wanted to re-mark the path up to the mountain lakes above Vejčani from Gorna Belica as a starting point.

Soon we were involved in conversations, which also led to the road of the former Roman road Via Egnatia. While some reports describe the course of the road along the lake, which then must have led through marshy coastal regions, we are more convinced "followers" of the course of Via Egnatia along the slopes of Jablanica from the Pass Quafe Thane in direction to Ohrid.

Now the interest of the road markers became much more open, who also represent this view, so we arranged a meeting the following day in Vevčani, where we were to be lead to possible ruins of a Roman observation post and the possible part of a fortified settlement at the road. We were curious but for sure interested. Even Rino, from the Campsite Rino on the Ohrid lake, otherwise rather reserved, when it comes to mountain hikes, was with enthusiasm. After an hour-long hike, we reached the destination, which was already predestined for its location as an observation site. The plain along Lake Ohrid opened wide before our eyes, the masonry ruins, the burned clay roof tiles and the mortar remains in the unfortunately open ground made some conclusions about Roman times possible regarding the buildings. We will get in touch with our friend the Archaeologist Goce from the Stobi lateron. Unfortunately, the site was also destroyed by numerous excavations, which in the long run not only deprived local people of their cultural heritage, but also destroyed to use the heritage as a tourist destination and thus a continuous source of value for the region.

Various interest groups ("treasure hunters", antiques dealers) who are interested in excavating and destroying the monuments for the collection of finds are always in conflict with each other (preservation of monuments, archaeological research). The resulting conflicts are governed by public law almost everywhere in the world, mainly in the area of the protection of historical monuments, in which a "digging or research permission" has to be given before the investigation of an archaeological site. The approval may be subject to conditions eg. restricted to specific areas or to establish that findings shall be documented to a prescribed standard. Unfortunately many treasure hunters do not adhere to this legislation.

Consequences of an infringement of the rules referred to may be:

  • in case of breach of the monument protection laws fines according to the Act on the Conservation of Natural Heritage;
    criminal prosecution;
    Collection of used equipment (metal detectors, digging tools, etc.);
    Confiscation of the finds;
    possible recourse in case of damage caused;
    civil rights claims of the owner, whether the owner, on whose property the find was taken, or the state whose treasury was violated.

If an excavation is contrary to one of the above regulations, it is referred to as a robbery excavation.
In addition, the term is used outside these legal categories when an excavation is carried out with the legally required permits, but without the necessary care of archaeological and scientific documentation with regard to the findings, so that the soil monument is damaged or destroyed in its original substance, without this loss being substituted by a documentation (plans, photographs, drawings, excavation daybook).

In the meantime, robbery diggers are equipped with technical equipment, with which they search specifically for finds. This began with metal detectors. A growing, largely illegal, market for antiquities provides financial incentives for grave excavations. Furthermore, the search for metal detectors has become a popular hobby in the past few years, with only a fraction of the probes working together with the scientific and monument conservation departments.

The excavation is, however, an old phenomenon in the form of the grave raid, the "treasure hunt". These have existed since the prehistory, since valuable additions were put into graves. At the time, as today, such perpetrators of financial interest - and today also often because of the "fun" of an exciting search - passed over existing protection regulations.

To this day, robbery excavations are often trivialized as a treasure trove and perceived as a cavalier offense. Drastic prison sentences for predators were imposed in the years 2011 and 2012, for example, in Great Britain, Greece and China. In principle, imprisonment for robbery and antiques was threatened in the 19th century.

For decades already, in all states with ancient high cultures, some organized excavations have taken place, so that, for example, whole necropolises have been transformed into funnel fields. Currently, predators are particularly active in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where archaeological finds are being destroyed on a large scale.

In Apameia on the Orontes during the civil war in Syria between 2011 and spring 2013, the archaeological site was almost completely destroyed by robbery excavations. The scope indicates a planned procedure with the aim of supplying the illegal international markets.

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