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As crisis bites, illegal digs are on the rise

Prompted by Greece’s severe economic crisis, a growing number of treasure hunters are scouring the country in search of antiquities and other treasures.

The trend, which is more evident in the country’s northwestern Macedonia region, is not only driven by economic necessity but also by the cash-strapped state’s failure to protect its ancient heritage.

“Illegal digs have always been carried out around the mountains in this area,” Kavala archaeologist Sofia Doukata told Kathimerini. “But the practice has recently turned into a sport,” she added.

Mount Paggaio near the city of Kavala appears to have attracted an usually large number of would-be looters. The illicit diggers, Kathimerini understands, are conducting excavations around archaeological sites hoping to find something and sell it.

In the process, they often destroy the clues that led them there in the first place: numerous rock carvings dating from the late Bronze Age to the early Christian period. The carvings were first discovered by scientists in the 1960s, but no systematic records have been kept to date.

An estimated 15 holes as deep as 2 meters and up to 5 meters wide can now be found within an area of 3 to 4 kilometers, according to witnesses. “It looks like meteorites landed there,” said Thodoros Spanelis, publisher of the Kavala’s online Chronometro newspaper. Local archaeologists took interest in the case after his newspaper carried a firsthand account of the sighting.

Greece’s economic crisis, now in its third year, has taken a hefty toll on the security of museums and archaeological sites, leaving them seriously unprotected and understaffed. Earlier this year police cracked a big antiquity smuggling ring in northern Greece, recovering thousands of ancient coins and Byzantine icons.

Doukata, who works at the 12th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities in Kavala, is set to investigate the Paggaio site targeted by hopeful looters. It won’t be an easy task. The 12-kilometer-wide zone contains some 102 archaeological sites, all of which are only accessible by foot. To make matters worse, the archaeological service covering Kavala, Serres, Drama and Thassos only has a staff of two.

ekathimerini.com , Friday June 15, 2012 (21:13)  
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