Published: January 2007
Carol Kaufmann

Writer Carol Kaufmann's approach to covering a story about ancient artifacts is to "find the living person who's passionate about them," which wasn't hard to do in Slovenia. "People are absolutely crazy about what comes out of the Ljubljanica River," she says. "The treasures excavated from that little river could make curators of many American museums cry."

What was your best experience during this assignment?

The water was exceptionally clear the day I dived into the Ljubljanica River. While the archaeology team surveyed part of the riverbed, photographer and dive master Arne Hodalič showed me around the river he's been photographing for the past three years. We could see sherds from medieval pots and bits of Roman glass popping out of the mud. Rivers in the United States may have their share of Coke cans and hubcaps, but rarely anything older than, say, 1986. So I was like a kid in a chocolate factory, all wide-eyed and impressed. But the glimpses of riches that stunned this American gal were no big deal to the Old World Slovenians. Medieval? To them, that's so yesterday.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

I'd had a baby ten months before the Slovenia trip, so I haven't quite returned to the former me and, uh, severely underestimated my wet suit size. When we arrived on the river around noon on that blistering July day, I tried to stuff myself into the hot, miserable neoprene by jumping up and down. But the skintight material never budged past my knees. In the end, I couldn't dress myself. The photographer held the sides of the suit together, and the archaeologist inched the zipper upward as I sucked in. Horrific. Thank God it was hot! Sweat helped.

What was the oddest experience that you encountered during this assignment?

Photographer Arne Hodalič and I were invited to the home of a collector who'd been diving into the treasure-laden Ljubljanica River for about 20 years. He'd been down to the bottom of the river maybe 200 times, more than any archaeologist, and had become quite skilled at finding and recognizing artifacts. His home was a museum, minus the good lighting and fancy displays. Up in a dusty attic-like room crowded with magazines, religious symbols, portraits, scuba equipment, and yoga mats were boxes of priceless archaeological artifacts. A crate full of deer-antler axes looked old—about 6,000 years to be precise. He pulled out his laptop and showed us similar objects for sale on an auction house's website. Each ax was worth 500 euros ($650) apiece. Bronze swords, the pride of his collection, would net a cool 3,000 euros ($3,950), at least.