An opinion on the NSFB – the story of an archaeologist
Professor P. Haralampiev has been famous for the work throughout the country. He is best known for his research on Thracian and Proto-Bulgarian culture, more specifically on site archaeological research Thracian tombs. Thousands of Thracian tombs, like small pyramids, are waiting to be uncovered after more than 2 millenniums after the last Thracian kingdom on the Balkans. The archaeologists are struggling with the little financing they have to save the unexplored tombs from thieves. The professor tells about his experience with the NSFB and the difficulties he encountered throughout the years.
Ever since my earliest years I have had a passion for history. I remember, when I was a little kid, my parents took me to the National Archaeological museum. I was really impressed оf what I saw there – amazing bronze masks of warriors and rulers, tiny glass bottles for medicine, ceramic toys and weapons that are over 2000 years old. I had so many questions that needed answers and I started looking for them in the books.
Today I am a professor of archaeology and, for many years, each summer I have been going on archaeological expeditions with my students. This is the best and only way to teach a young historian how to fill the missing gaps in history. Things used to be a bit different back in the days – the state used to care a lot more about culture before the 10th of November 1989* (Note: This day marks the transition of Bulgaria from Socialism to Democracy). Today the lack of funding for researchers and work on uncovered sites threatens the preservation of the archaeological heritage of Bulgaria.
As you know, Bulgaria has thousands of uncovered archaeological sites, which keep hidden treasures and tell us about the lives of our ancestors and the people who lived here before them – the Thracians. In my vision the civilization of the Thracian people is as exotic as the heritage of Ancient Egypt. The difference is that there is still is a lot of research to be done here. Precious knowledge lies buried under the ground, waiting for us, archaeologists. Even the language of the Thracians still remains a mystery – we know very little about it.
Among the more interesting topics that we are working on is the research on ancient medicine on the Balkans. It is known for quite some time that the Scholars in Ancient Greece and the Empire of Alexander the Great have had deep knowledge about the human body. They have even been familiar with cancer as a disease and have probably been the first to study it and try to treat it. Today we can proudly show in our museums the medical tools that these people have used.
After every expedition we have new findings that bring new insight on the life in ancient Thrace. A colleague of mine uncovered a perfectly preserved carriage in a tomb last year – you can observe its replica in the History Museum of Stara Zagora.
During the many years of my work as a scientist and university professor in Bulgaria, the circumstances got me to interact with the NSFB (Bulgarian Scientific Research fund) more than once. At some point the University could no longer fund our expeditions completely. I thought that turning to the NSFB would help me and my students.
I learned a lot about to the NSFB during the years. To get approved you need compete, you have to fight for your right to be out there and do your research with everything you’ve got. That’s what I did. However, no matter how hard you try, no matter how good your project is – they still may choose someone with a poor project. There is a lot of room for speculation here, things may be a matter of bribery or even luck, but you never know for sure. That’s how things in Bulgaria have been working in the last 25 years and I see no hope for change in the near future.
While I was fighting to get funding for my projects, I met a lot of scientists and inventors who shared their stories with me. Inventions which improve people’s lives are financed with a priority all over the world. Things are a bit different back here. The state is doing almost nothing to help young scientists and they are forced to finance their projects by themselves.
They spend years working on their inventions and even when they have a final product, they have to go through a process of patenting which is long, bureaucratic and expensive. For these reasons many of them choose to leave their homeland – Bulgarian scientists are famous for their intelligence and creativity, and Bulgaria is famous for making some of its brightest individuals flee to Western countries, so they can achieve their dreams.
I want to get back-up the conversation a little bit. As you see, it’s not just about the financing and whether I get the change to go out and work on the field with my students. The most important thing here is the preservation of the sites. In many of the tombs which are scattered in the Valley of the Thracian kings in South Bulgaria, there have been found large gold treasures, and believe me, this is more than tempting for the thieves. If the state does not change its policies towards scientists like us, this cultural heritage could fall into the hands of the wrong people, get sold to foreign private collectors and thus lost forever. To illustrate the significance of this research, it is more than enough to mention that two of the Thracian tombs discovered in the 20th century, are recognized UNESCO World Heritage sites.